U.S. to Spend Hundreds of Millions to Replace a $5 Part in Revamped Nuclear Weapons

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October 8, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: October 8 on

Concerns about the reliability of commercial-off-the-shelf capacitors, each of which cost just $5, and that the Department of Energy had been planning to use in two future nuclear warhead designs will delay both programs by at least a year and a half and could result in up to a whopping $850 million in additional costs. The W88 ALT 370 warheads for the U.S. Navy”s Trident D5 submarine-launch ballistics missiles and the U.S. Air Force B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs, the latter of which are already set to be worth literally twice their weight in gold each, are seeing impacts from the decision to switch to a more robust piece of circuitry.

Charles Verdon, the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), informed members of Congress of the issue during a hearing on September 25, 2019. NNSA oversees the development, construction, and dismantlement of U.S. nuclear weapons. The W88 ALT 370 is an upgrade for existing W88 warheads that reportedly consists of improved arming, fuzing, and firing components. The B61-12 is a modernized variant of the B61 family of nuclear gravity bombs that leverages warheads from older B61-4 bombs and various components from those weapons, as well as from B61-3s, -7s, and -10s. It also adds a precision guidance tail kit. The B61-12s, which you can read about in much more detail in this past War Zone feature, will replace these older B61s, and potentially other nuclear bombs.