B-61 Bomb Project Expense Projection Hits $6B, Report Says

The projected expense of U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension efforts has risen to $6 billion, $2 billion more than projected in 2011 by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an independent analysis on Wednesday quoted informed insiders as saying (see GSN, April 27).

The change stems from poor oversight as well as planned risk reduction alterations sought for the weapons by the semiautonomous Energy Department agency as well as the Defense Department and U.S. nuclear-weapon research facilities, according to the assessment by Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

The weapons presently have the least accident-prone configuration of any in the nation's atomic arsenal, the expert said, noting that the "second-most ambitious" proposal for updating the bombs received the Nuclear Weapons Council's endorsement five months ago.

Close to 200 B-61 bombs are kept at six bases in five NATO states in Europe. The life-extended weapons would be “critical” to “deterrence of adversaries in a regional context, and support of our extended deterrence commitments," according to the Air Force (see related GSN story, today).

The Defense Department hopes to replace four variants of the bomb with a single model, dubbed the B-61 Mod 12, in part to reduce expenses  (see GSN, June 3, 2011).

Still, "we have yet to see the budget justification for that and it is not clear how much of the savings will come from consolidation or from simply reducing the overall number of B-61s in the stockpile," Kristensen wrote. "Already the consolidation part is turning out to be much more expensive than we were led to believe."

Lawmakers have previously placed spending limits on the life-extension program for 2012 and 2013. The Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office at the Defense Department is due in July to issue a review of the NNSA expense projection for the project. "After that, NNSA is expected to release a validated cost, schedule and scope estimate for the B-61 LEP, a precondition for Congress releasing the program funds for Phase 6.3 of the program," Kristensen stated.

He noted that lawmakers have also requested a review of the program by the JASONs, a prominent panel of independent scientists.

The analyst called for development of the new version to cease pending a review of the project's expense and objectives (Federation of American Scientists release, May 9).

May 11, 2012
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The projected expense of U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension efforts has risen to $6 billion, $2 billion more than projected in 2011 by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an independent analysis on Wednesday quoted informed insiders as saying.

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