Nuclear Weapons:

NNSA and DOD Need to More Effectively Manage the Stockpile Life Extension Program

GAO-09-385: Published: Mar 2, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2009.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David Trimble
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

As a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administers the Stockpile Life Extension Program, whose purpose is to extend, through refurbishment, the operational lives of the weapons in the nuclear stockpile. NNSA encountered significant management problems with its first refurbishment for the W87 warhead. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which NNSA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have effectively managed the refurbishment of two other weapons--the B61 bomb and the W76 warhead. This report summarizes the findings of GAO's classified report on the refurbishment of the B61 bomb and W76 warhead.

NNSA and DOD have not effectively managed cost, schedule, and technical risks for either the B61 or W76 life extension program. Regarding the B61 program, although NNSA completed the refurbishment of the strategic variants of the B61 bomb--the Mods 7 and 11--on schedule in November 2008, the refurbished weapons do not meet all refurbishment objectives. According to NNSA and DOD officials, NNSA established an unrealistic schedule and failed to fully implement its refurbishment guidance, known as the Phase 6.X process. NNSA was able to meet its refurbishment schedule and avoid significant cost overruns for the B61 program only because (1) some of the refurbishment objectives were changed, (2) NNSA was able to reuse, rather than manufacture, a critical component when B61 bombs were decommissioned, and (3) the Nuclear Weapons Council significantly reduced the number of B61 bombs in the stockpile. Despite DOD concerns about the adequacy of NNSA testing of the B61 bombs under certain conditions, NNSA continued refurbishing the weapons. Some of the B61 refurbishment problems could have been avoided if DOD had fulfilled its roles and responsibilities in overseeing NNSA's life extension program activities. For example, the Air Force did not adequately review NNSA's design, engineering, and testing activities--a review that would have alerted DOD that NNSA was missing some of its refurbishment objectives. Regarding the W76 program, NNSA did not effectively manage a high risk associated with manufacturing an essential material, known as Fogbank, needed to refurbish the W76 warhead. NNSA had developed a risk mitigation strategy to avoid potential cost overruns and schedule delays related to the manufacture of this key material but failed to effectively implement this strategy. As a result, NNSA's original plans to produce the first refurbished W76 weapon in September 2007 slipped to September 2008; NNSA spent $69 million to address Fogbank production problems; and the Navy faced logistical challenges owing to the delay. Furthermore, NNSA did not have a consistent approach to developing a cost baseline for the W76 program, which makes it difficult to track refurbishment costs over time and to know the actual cost of the program.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to develop a realistic schedule for the W76 warhead and future life extension programs that allows NNSA to (1) address technical challenges while meeting all military requirements and (2) build in time for unexpected technical challenges that may delay the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: In past and ongoing work, GAO has identified areas where NNSA's modernization plans may not align with planned funding requests over the Future Years Nuclear Security Plan (FYNSP) and post-FYNSP periods. Based on the FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), NNSA plans to work on five LEPs or major alterations through 2038. The FY 2014 SSMP states that the LEP workload represents a resource and production throughput challenge that requires improvements in LEP planning and execution. GAO?s Preliminary analysis indicates there is limited contingency time built into the LEP schedules, all of which are technically ambitious. Any delays in schedules could lead to an increase in program costs or a reduction in the number built for any of the LEPs, both of which have occurred in prior and ongoing LEPs. While NNSA has acknowledged issues and identified some steps to improve the LEP process, this is recommendation will remain open and unimplemented until NNSA demonstrates successful LEP and refurbishment execution.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to assess the cost and include funding in the baseline for risk mitigation activities that address the highest risks to the W76 and future life extension programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Nuclear Posture Review originally identified a complete production date for the W76 LEP in 2017. However, the complete production date for the W76 LEP has been delayed until 2019 and the total number of units has been reduced. Officials determined that if they decreased the number of units they could free up resources to work on other LEPs. The Navy and Nuclear Weapons Council have endorsed the revised schedule and number of units in terms of meeting the Navy's requirements. Originally NNSA started a reprogramming request for the W76 LEP in FY 2013; however, because NNSA is under a continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year they were able to move some funding--$57 million from operating expenses in the Weapons Activities account to the W76 LEP. According to the officials, they completed a throughput analysis and found that Pantex and the sites that will be making components have the facility space to meet these requirements. For example, at Y-12 most of the components for the W76 LEP will be completed before the B61 LEP reaches full capacity. The officials said that employees at Y-12, as well as Kansas City and Los Alamos, will have to transition from one project to the other, but there is sufficient capacity to complete all of the needed work. As such, this recommendation is closed.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to, before beginning a life extension program, assess the risks, costs, and scheduling needs for each military requirement established by DOD.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This issue appears to be resolved in the upcoming B61 refurbishment. Specifically, requirements were jointly addressed by DoD and NNSA. For example, draft military characteristics (MC) and stockpile to target sequence (STS) were submitted to Nuclear Weapons Council in Dec 2011 with the request for Phase 6.3 authorization. Final MC submission with updated STS was made in July 2012. According to the B61 lead project officer, these were coordinated with all agencies, and are under change control. Furthermore, trades were conducted in Phase 6.2/6.2A, that included all agencies including USSTRATCOM. Options presented to NWC during the request for Phase 6.3 included recommendation for Design Option 3B (now the B61-12) as the most cost effective option that met military requirements. We will continue to closely monitor this issue.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to ensure that the program managers responsible for overseeing the construction of new facilities directly related to future life extension programs coordinate with the program managers of such future programs to avoid the types of delays and problems faced with the construction and operation of the Fogbank manufacturing facility for the W76 program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: The FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) states that the life extension program (LEP) workload represents a resource and production throughput challenge that requires improvements in LEP planning and execution. The officials elaborated that the main area that will be strained is pit production. The alternate plutonium strategy needs to be resourced fully to support the W78/88-1 LEP. Additionally, the officials said that the UPF transition needs to go as planned or there will be challenges in completing all of the planned LEPs. As such, this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to ensure that program managers for the construction of new facilities for future life extensions base their schedule for the construction and start-up of a facility on the life extension program managers' needs identified in their risk mitigation strategies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: The FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) states that the LEP workload represents a resource and production throughput challenge that requires improvements in LEP planning and execution. The officials elaborated that the main area that will be strained is pit production. The alternate plutonium strategy needs to be resourced fully to support the W78/88-1 LEP. Additionally, the officials said that the UPF transition needs to go as planned or there will be challenges in completing all of the planned LEPs

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the stockpile life extension program, the Administrator of NNSA should direct the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to develop and use consistent budget assumptions and criteria for the baseline to track costs over time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NNSA plans to improve the LEP process are ongoing, including implementing a new system that uses enhanced value management and resource-loaded schedules to better manage the LEPs. NNSA is beginning to use a software system called Primavera for scheduling. The changes to the process will provide consistency in how NNSA manages the LEPs so that each LEP is not a unique or custom process. In addition, NNSA is taking steps to improve its cost estimates of the LEPs by integrating more information from past LEPs into the models. For example, the cost estimates for some of the LEPs in the FY 2012 SSMP were based on modeling that used data from the never-produced Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The officials said that one reason the data are not the best input into the models is that the program was never executed; however, they noted that it was the best information available at the time. The cost estimates in the FY 2014 SSMP were based on the costs of the ongoing W76 LEP. This change in modeling led to significant increases in the cost estimates because the estimating approach has changed. This is a positive step in that it provides NNSA with the tools to better manage its programs. We will continue to monitor progress in this area.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct STRATCOM and the Secretary of the responsible Service to comprehensively review military requirements for a weapons system prior to entering Phase 6.2A of a life extension program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The schedule and cost estimate for the B61 LEP changed from the FY 2012 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) to the FY 2014 SSMP because the FY 2012 SSMP was issued before the B61 LEP completed phase 6.2a, the stage of the 6.x process in which NNSA defines the design and completes a cost study. The B61 LEP completed phase 6.2a in July 2012 with a new, increased cost estimate of $8.0 billion, including $800 million of DOD funding, and a delay in the time frame for the first production unit (FPU) to 2019. Since that time, DOE and NNSA officials said that the current phase 6.x process is being reviewed and an interagency group is working to update the process and guidance. The group plans to present the revised guidance to the Nuclear Weapons Council in 2013. One significant change is that a rough order of magnitude for costs will be required before the down select to a single LEP model. According to these officials, previously, cost was not a factor in the program, but in the current budget environment cost is a factor in decision making. The W78/88-1 LEP will likely use the new 6.x process. As such, we view DoD has having made progress in this area sufficient to close this recommendation. However, we will continue to closely monitor DoD and NNSA nuclear weapons refurbishment programs.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) and the Secretary of the responsible Service to work with NNSA to assess the cost and schedule implications for meeting each military requirement prior to entering Phase 6.3.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This issue appears to be resolved with the planned B61 refurbishment. Specifically, requirements were worked jointly addressed by DoD and NNSA. For example, draft military characteristics (MC) and stockpile to target sequence (STS) were submitted to Nuclear Weapons Council in Dec 2011 with the request for Phase 6.3 authorization. Final MC submission with updated STS was made in July 2012. According to the B61 lead project officer, these were coordinated with all agencies, and are under change control. Furthermore, trades were conducted in Phase 6.2/6.2A, that included all agencies including USSTRATCOM. Options presented to NWC during the request for Phase 6.3 included recommendation for Design Option 3B (now the B61-12) as the most cost effective option that met military requirements. We will continue to closely monitor this issue.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's oversight over NNSA's life extension activities and ensure that refurbished weapons meet all military requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to ensure that their respective Lead Project Officers have the technical and managerial expertise and resources to review NNSA's progress and technical challenges throughout the life extension program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Our report found that the Air Force did not adequately review NNSA's design, engineering, and testing activities. This review would have alerted it to the fact that NNSA was unable to meet all refurbishment objectives. According to Air Force officials, the Lead Project Officer failed to provide the necessary oversight because he lacked the technical and managerial expertise to do so. He did not alert the Air Force to significant concerns with the testing of the refurbished B61. In particular, the Air Force did not raise concerns about NNSA?s failure to complete all agreed-upon tests until NNSA had completed a majority of its tests and was preparing for full-scale production. Since that time, Air Force (AF) officials report that this issue has been addressed, both in response to nuclear weapons incidents and GAO's report. For example, since a significant 2009 nuclear weapons security incident, according to these officials, the AF has made a significant effort, and provided resources, to improve its management of nuclear weapons. Notably, the AF has added two General Officers (the AFNWC commander and the PEO for Strategic Systems), as well as an SES-level AFNWC Executive Director to manage nuclear operations. In addition, the service created dedicated AF Nuclear Weapons Center. In addition, according to officials, technically qualified staff are supporting LEP programs. More specifically, officials sated that the B61 lead project officer is a nuclear and systems engineer and supervised has over 30 personnel in a variety of technical specialties working B61-12. We will continue to monitor this issue and will seek to independently evaluate AF actions in future work.

    Apr 16, 2014

    Apr 11, 2014

    Apr 10, 2014

    Apr 9, 2014

    Apr 8, 2014

    Apr 3, 2014

    Apr 2, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here