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Since the end of the Cold War, the Defense Department's nuclear forces and programs have been refocused and reconfigured to respond to new requirements. The proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not a hypothetical threat. A number of nation states already have such weapons; a larger number are capable of producing such weapons, potentially on short notice. In future confrontations, the United States may not be the sole decider of nuclear use.

In the National Security Strategy of the United States,(go to footnote *) the President has defined the key tasks that must be accomplished:

The Nuclear Posture Review, approved by the President in September, 1994, developed a new strategic nuclear posture responsive to these requirements.

Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs are not a new mission for the Department of Defense. The Defense Department has successfully accomplished such sustainment for a half century. At the same time, the department recognizes that adjustments to existing programs and new initiatives are warranted to respond to new circumstances impacting accomplishment of the DoD nuclear mission. Actions that have been taken to underwrite the effectiveness of the new DoD nuclear force posture are outlined in this report.

While significant activities are underway, the Defense Department recognizes that it must accomplish sustainment in a new environment in which no new nuclear delivery systems are under development and there is not an ongoing nuclear test program. The Department of Defense has limited experience in this new environment. Accordingly, this report identifies areas in which consideration is being given to additional initiatives.

Stewardship of national nuclear capabilities is a responsibility shared by the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The two departments are working together to meet national needs; action will be taken to foster and increase this collaboration.

William S. Cohen

Cover PagePreface


Strategic Requirements
Strategic Force Redirection
Nuclear Sustainment Responsibilities
Pathway to Nuclear Sustainment
Maintaining Nuclear Skills
Organizations and Procedures
Ensuring that Sufficient Numbers of Qualified Personnel Support
DoD Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment
Navy Team Concept
Nuclear Education
Nuclear Engineering Programs
Military Service and Department Programs
The Defense Nuclear Weapons School (DNWS)
Operational Training
Cooperation with the Department of Energy
Assignment of DoD Personnel to DOE Labs
Dual Revalidation
The Alliance Program
Weapon System Hardware Technology
OSD, Service, and Interagency Programs
Joint Air Force/Navy Nuclear Weapon System
Sustainment Programs
Reentry Systems Applications Program (RSAP)
Guidance Applications Program
Radiation Hardened (Rad Hard) Microelectronics
Strategic Technology IPT Initiatives
Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology
Navy Programs
Navy SLBM Warhead Protection Program (SWPP)
Trident D-5 Backfit Program
Air Force Programs
Nuclear Weapons Capabilities Protection Assessment
Bomber Technologies
Minuteman III Technologies
Nuclear Effects Phenomenology and Hardening Technology
Status of Requirements
Nuclear Effects, Weapon-Target-Interactions, and Hardening R&D
Defense Radiobiological/Biomedical Research
Computational and Simulation Programs
Weapon Effects Simulators
Additional Initiatives
Integrated Hardening Methodologies
Testable Hardware
Preservation and Application of the Defense Department's Nuclear Weapons Effects Knowledge






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This report summarizes the activities that develop and maintain the core competencies, technical and operational, needed for accomplishment of the Defense Department's nuclear missions. It responds to issues regarding the Defense Department's core nuclear competencies raised in recent Senate Armed Services Committee and House National Security Committee reports.

The Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 expresses concern about "the ability of the Department of Defense (DoD) to maintain the core competencies of expertise necessary to sustain its nuclear forces in the absence of nuclear testing in the foreseeable future(go to footnote **)". It goes on to state that "The safety, security and reliability of all nuclear weapons systems, to include the delivery system and the related command and control and other associated subsystems, is the responsibility of the Department of Defense." It notes that "In order for the DoD to ensure the safety and reliability of its nuclear forces, its military and civilian personnel must maintain their nuclear expertise and core competencies (go to footnote **)". Echoing these concerns, the House National Security Committee Report "recommends that the Department take additional steps to sustain nuclear expertise within the military and civilian personnel of the Department". The House Report also noted that "Immediate action should be taken by the Department to establish attractive career paths, including formal education and training, in the services and DoD civilian workforce to insure that the future nuclear deterrent can be responsibly supported." (go to footnote ***)

The Senate Armed Services Committee requested the Department of Defense to submit a report on "potential initiatives to retain core competencies that would involve developing key science and technology programs; potential opportunities for conducting cooperative training programs between educational institutions, industry, the Defense Nuclear Weapons School, the national laboratories and the military services; and potential career paths for entry level engineers and scientists and the funding necessary to sustain a program of this nature"*. This report specifically responds to the Senate Armed Services Committee request, but also addresses issues raised in both the House and Senate Reports.

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In his March 1996 Annual Report to the President and the Congress, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry noted that:

"Although emphasis has shifted in the post-Cold War period from global, possibly nuclear war to regional conflicts, strategic nuclear deterrence remains a key U.S. military priority. The mission of U.S. strategic nuclear forces is to deter attacks on the United States or its allies and to convince potential adversaries that seeking nuclear advantage would be futile. To do this, the United States must maintain nuclear forces of sufficient size and capability to hold at risk a broad range of assets valued by potentially hostile foreign nations. The two basic requirements that guide U.S. planning for strategic nuclear forces therefore are: the need to provide an effective deterrent while conforming to treaty-imposed arms limitations, and the need to be able to reconstitute adequate additional forces in a timely manner if conditions require."

Under Secretary Walter Slocombe recently reiterated these points in his testimony before the International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on February 12, 1997, noting that :

"For the foreseeable future, we will continue to need a reliable and flexible nuclear deterrent, survivable against the most aggressive attack, under highly confident constitutional command and control, and assured in its safety against both accidental and unauthorized use. We need such a force because nuclear deterrence, far from being made wholly obsolete, remains an essential, ultimate assurance against the gravest of threats. A key conclusion of the administration's national security strategy, released just a year ago, is that 'The United States will retain a triad of strategic nuclear forces sufficient to deter any future hostile foreign leadership with access to strategic nuclear forces from acting against our vital interests, and to convince [him] that seeking a nuclear advantage would be futile. Therefore, we will continue to maintain nuclear forces of sufficient size and capability to hold at risk a broad range of assets valued by such political leaders."

At the conclusion of the Cold War, the Defense Department accomplished a comprehensive appraisal of nuclear mission requirements and of the nuclear force structure responsive to these needs. This encompassed post-Cold War military requirements and arms control and other political-military considerations. Results from this DoD Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) were endorsed by the President in 1994.

The key parameters for DoD Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs are provided by the NPR objectives and posture approved by the President, and by concurrent requirements to ensure the continued effectiveness of DoD forces and systems that must be able to withstand any threats posed by nuclear-armed antagonists during regional contingencies.(go to footnote ****)

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Consistent with the NPR, significant reductions in numbers of strategic delivery systems and deployed nuclear weapons are anticipated. Table 1 depicts the anticipated evolution of the nuclear force structure from levels at the conclusion of the Cold War (1989) through the first years of the next century, by which START II will hopefully be implemented. Reductions are significant, e.g., the number of ICBMs will be cut in half, and the number of ICBM warheads will be reduced by 80%.

For the first time in the half century over which the Defense Department has accomplished Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs, no new strategic delivery systems are in development. Plans call for retention of a reconfigured subset of existing strategic delivery systems in the force structure for an extended period of time, well-beyond the originally programmed service lives of these systems. Concurrently, the Department of Energy has no new nuclear weapons under development, with the plan being to retain existing devices in the deployed posture for periods that exceed initially programmed service lives.

In a period of DoD reconfiguration to respond to new, post-Cold-War requirements there have been significant reductions in DoD spending on strategic offensive forces. As outlined in Figures 1 and 2, spending on strategic offensive forces is at less than one-half of the Cold War level; concurrently, the percentage of total DoD spending invested in these capabilities has declined.

Planning assumes that there will be no underground nuclear testing in the foreseeable future. This impacts DoD activities to validate the survivability of systems and forces as well as DOE warhead development and sustainment programs.

Figure 2

Secretary of Defense Annual Report to the President and Congress, March 1996, p. 217

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Public law, notably the Atomic Energy Acts of 1946 and 1954, as amended, assigns responsibilities for national nuclear capabilities to the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DoD). DOE has responsibility for the design, production, and end-of-service-life disposition of nuclear warheads. DoD is responsible for the other facets of national nuclear capability, including definition of military requirements for warheads, delivery systems, operational deployment of forces, and the ensemble of end-to-end capabilities needed for the planning and conduct of operations by nuclear forces. Stated in simpler terms, DOE provides stewardship for nuclear warheads; DoD is responsible for everything else.

National decisions that resulted in the termination of nuclear testing and the end of development work on new nuclear weapons have had far-reaching impact on DOE weapon programs. As outlined in Appendix A, the Department of Energy has responded by developing a completely new approach for accomplishment of its nuclear stewardship responsibilities. These efforts are based on a comprehensive Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP).

DoD has increased its cooperation with DOE for nuclear-weapons-related matters. This includes Defense Department participation in significant new programs, such as Dual-Revalidation of the nuclear stockpile. DoD is closely monitoring technical activities within DOE that provide potential lessons learned for application in Defense Department programs, e.g., technologies for enhanced surveillance of aging materials and components.

In addition to its responsibilities and functions as the provider of national nuclear weapon systems capabilities, the Defense Department must also support national strategy by being an informed customer for the nuclear stockpile product produced and sustained by the Department of Energy, and by being a capable, effective partner in cooperative activities with DOE.

As the course of sustainment activities within the two departments progresses, additional initiatives may be warranted. In the past, much of the needed cooperation was accomplished on a weapon-system-specific basis; such activity continues for the weapons and systems comprising the nuclear stockpile and force structure. As the Department of Energy makes progress in SSMP implementation, Defense Department nuclear activities and procedures can and will be adapted to ensure that DoD has an appropriate interface with the DOE program. Specifics necessarily depend on the course of activities within both departments.

For example, in its SSMP effort the Department of Energy is developing new experimental and computational capabilities to provide the enhanced predictive capabilities needed to assess the complex problems associated with an aging stockpile and to redress important shortfalls in our fundamental understanding of nuclear weapon physics. There must be corresponding improvements in DoD experimental and computational capabilities to support cooperation with DOE on stockpile confidence activities and to ensure that Defense Department nuclear weapon effects programs are based on the best possible understanding of fundamental weapon physics, and to allow DoD to take advantage of new technical capabilities developed by DOE that are relevant to the Defense Department's nuclear mission.

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Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs are not a new mission for the Department of Defense. DoD has accomplished such programs for more than 50 years. Some important lessons can be learned from past successes. A prominent success story involves the successive improvements that have allowed the B-52 strategic bomber to be an effective nuclear delivery system from its introduction in the 1950s through the 1990s. A number of critical factors have been identified.

The B-52 strategic bomber was a priority program during the Cold War, when the nuclear deterrence mission was at the top of the Defense Department's agenda. Effective strategic bombers were a "must have" capability.

Because the B-52 was a priority, associated career paths existed for large numbers of military and civilian personnel. It was literally possible to spend a career working with or on this aircraft.

The B-52 was an active program. While the scale of activity has varied, technical effort to support modernization has been continuous from development of the A series in the 1950s through sustainment of currently deployed H series aircraft. There was concurrent large-scale operational activity. This was critical because the best way in which to validate the accomplishment of sustainment is through the demonstrations provided in stressing, realistic exercises.

The B-52 program involved continuous modernization over a course of decades. Engines were replaced with new models. Avionics and other electronics were updated or replaced with more modern technologies. Aircraft were under constant surveillance. Everything was managed as a limited life component that would be (and was) replaced at some point.

Due to its size, the B-52 was a robust program. If 50 officers elected to take early retirement or pursue other career paths, there were many candidates for these positions. If a major subcontractor went out of business, other firms were available to take on new work.

Based on these and other experiences in sustaining operational and technical military capabilities, some general principles can be identified. These considerations have influenced the Defense Department's planning for Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs.

Sustainment is most likely to be successfully accomplished for nuclear systems or other military capabilities when and if a set of interrelated conditions are achieved:

Sustainment will be a DoD mission for the foreseeable future. While the composition of the nuclear force structure and stockpile will necessarily impact activities, so long as one weapon and delivery system remain in our force structure, action will have to be taken to ensure that DoD nuclear weapon systems are effective, safe, secure, reliable, and survivable.

Some activities can and have been scaled to the size of the nuclear force structure; as the number of weapons in the active stockpile has declined, there have been corresponding cut-backs in numbers of weapon inspection personnel. Many key activities, however, do not scale, one-to-one, with the size of the nuclear force structure.

While there is considerable continuity in Defense Department Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs, there are also significant new considerations which have prompted initiatives summarized in this report. Key developments include:

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This section provides an overview of DoD programs to sustain nuclear weapons systems. These programs are being accomplished in accordance with standard Defense Department management practices, which involve centralized policy and requirements development and decentralized program execution by DoD Components. Information concerning the officials and organizations involved in these programs is provided in Annex B.

Interdependent program activities are summarized under a number of headings; special priority is given to measures to ensure that sufficient numbers of competent personnel (operational and technical) are available to support DoD Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs: