“We have to find a way to stop this from happening,” Feinstein said. “We've asked that we receive monthly reports, that one person be put in charge . . . . The purpose of that is to make people solve problems quickly, before they are left and they just continue to grow.”
The outsized cost of the B61 has already had an impact on other parts of the arsenal. The administration has slowed work on other programs, including the W76 warhead, used on the Navy's Trident D5 submarine-launched weapon system, according to a congressional aide.
And the cost and schedule slip-ups have some blaming the NNSA. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, says the cost growth is evidence that NNSA is “incapable of performing its basic mission.”
“For the third time in two years, NATO reaffirmed recently that it wants U.S. forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons to remain in Europe,” Turner said last week. “Yet, we are faced with the risk, of our own doing, that we may fail to honor that commitment. Why? Because the latest NNSA estimate is that this LEP, originally projected to cost $4 billion is now going to cost at least $8 billion, and, while it has already been delayed once by NNSA, from fiscal 17 to fiscal 19, there is a risk of further delay.”
The Air Force is also working on a $1.2 billion tail kit program that would add a guidance capability. A competition among top contractors for assembly of that tail kit is already underway, and the service expects to award a contract by the first quarter of fiscal 2013.
The Air Force stresses that the tail kit would not use GPS or provide “precision” level accuracy similar to a Joint Direct Attack Munition. Rather, it would “maintain the current military effectiveness given the reduction in yield.”
Merging the four versions of the B61 into one has been used to argue for removing more nuclear material from the arsenal.
But movement to lower-yield, more precise nuclear weapons is a shift that is only now coming into public view, says Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists. In the past, movement toward more precise and even lower-yield nuclear weapons has been rejected by Capitol Hill. “Suddenly this weapon becomes more useable,” he says.