When one project ends, the other begins. This is the mantra for employees at the Pantex plant, as well as other sites associated with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), helping to execute necessary updates and changes to the states’ nuclear weapons stockpile. United.
Officials from the NNSA and the Pantex factory released details of recent milestones that have been made regarding modifications to two weapons, one for the completion of its last production unit and the other for the completion of its first production unit.
The modification process is essential for these types of weapons, said Charles Verdon, acting deputy secretary for nuclear security and administrator of the NNSA, as well as the deputy administrator for defense programs.
An amendment serves as a “life extension program” for these weapons and involves several stages. These milestones include a first production unit, which shows that they are confident that the initial updates to a weapon meet requirements, as well as a final production unit, which completes the process of upgrading a weapon. armed.
“During the Cold War, the United States developed nuclear weapons for its nuclear deterrent stockpile. Everything that is built by man begins to age, begins to show its age, ”said Verdon. “Periodically you have to upgrade them. You need to replace those things that wear out and bring them up to modern standards and make sure they continue to meet the Department of Defense requirements for the nation’s nuclear deterrence.
Last production unit of the W-80 Alteration 369 weapon
The process of modifying the W-80 Alteration 369 weapon began in 2014, with its first production unit being completed in late 2017. Completion of the last production unit for this modification was completed in May.
According to a press release, this first level project involved the replacement of “critical components and upgraded hardware to support the weapon system.” The weapon is an “airgun system”, meaning that the weapon is “mated to an air-launched cruise missile which is launched from a B-52”.
“The completion of this program was the culmination of several years of effort at Pantex with the support of the entire nuclear security company,” Pantex site manager Todd Ailes said in the statement. “Being able to complete this Alt here at Pantex, especially during COVID, is an incredible effort. Even in a pandemic and faced with its unique challenges presented to the team during production, we triumphed. When these challenges arose, our team looked for unique ways to resolve any issue and did so successfully. ”
First production unit of the W88 Alteration 370 weapon
As Project W-80 Alteration 369 neared completion, Project W88 Alteration 370 also achieved a key milestone, with the first system-level production unit for the project being completed earlier this month. Verdon said this project also involved modifying an existing warhead to bring it up to modern standards.
According to a press release, the W88 Alt 370 is centered around a strategic deterrent ballistic missile. This warhead first entered the reserve in 1988 and is deployed on the US Navy’s Ohio-class guided missile submarines.
The process of this specific modification began in 2011, taking more than 10 years to complete the first modification of the production unit, Verdon said. This step was taken a month in advance.
“It’s a very long process. This is something… that takes a lot of upfront effort on how to design the changes to ensure that the warhead, which met the requirements, will still meet the requirements, ”he said. “Now, especially in the absence of underground nuclear explosive testing, we cannot test weapons, so you have to be much more careful how you approach them to make sure you still have confidence that the weapons are being tested. The warhead will continue to meet the demands of the military.
The changes that occurred with this weapon were upgrades to the non-nuclear component of the warhead, including its electronics. Verdon said this was an extensive and complicated part of the process, requiring multiple NNSA facilities and entities to work on different parts.
“It took quite a bit of effort to redesign and rebuild it, refurbish it using new technologies, new approaches, then certify it, offer tests to show that it will perform as required,” he said. -he declares. “All the parts and pieces across our entire complex, if you will, come together here at Pantex, and Pantex has the responsibility of bringing it all together, testing and ensuring that the integrated system will meet the requirements. , will meet quality standards … to have confidence that it will meet the requirements (of the Ministry of Defense).
Now that the first production unit for this modification is complete, Verdon said the process can move forward.
“Now we are confident that all the pieces are working, we know how to put them together and now we can move forward,” he said. “We know that all of this work has been done. Now it’s mostly about the work being done here at Pantex, putting them together safely and sending them back to services.
In a press release, Verdon said the weapon is a “crucial part” of the United States’ strategy for the “maritime phase of the nuclear triad”. He said he saw this as a major step in the modernization of these weapons.
“As we continue to modernize the stockpile, the successes and lessons learned from this program will strengthen our future warhead activities to provide a safe, secure and reliable deterrent,” he said in the statement.
Other projects and impact on the Texas Panhandle
Verdon said these weathering processes are “very complex”, making sure all parts and pieces fit together properly. Five of those decade-long modification projects are underway, with Pantex at the center, Verdon said.
“They all have to function… as an integrated unit. Pantex having one site, being responsible for doing it, is key, and Pantex has been doing it… well for many, many years, ”he said. “This extends the life of this warhead by more than 20 years. We cannot predict the future, but we are now confident that this warhead will continue to meet military requirements as stated today for another two decades.
Because these warheads are no longer tested underground, part of the trust in these updates comes from the people working on the warheads. Verdon said it sends a message to the community, the country as a whole, as well as potential adversaries, that guns are legitimate and those who work on them at Pantex know what they’re doing.
“For me, I think nuclear deterrence has been the foundation of the nation’s security for years now,” Verdon said. “This continues to demonstrate that we have the confidence (and) that the country can be confident in deterrence. I think it’s a credit to the workforce here to be a key part in helping to demonstrate that the country can be trusted.
For more information about the Pantex factory, visit https://pantex.energy.gov.