The Nuclear Weapons Joint Flight Test Program Needs Stronger Management Controls (Unclassified Digest of a Classified Report)

PSAD-78-98: Published: May 30, 1978. Publicly Released: May 30, 1978.

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Joint flight tests play a key role in determining the combat readiness of deployed nuclear weapons and have been instrumental in identifying and correcting serious problems that were found only under operational flight conditions. The Joint Flight Test Program verifies that nuclear weapon systems function correctly in the flight environment, confirms the continued compatibility of Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE)-designed systems and procedures, and provides input to the reliability assessment of the system. The tests permit system components to be tested in an operational environment, except those which would lead to radiation releases or a nuclear detonation.

DOE and DOD are not realizing maximum benefits from the program because management controls are not clearly defined. DOD has not always cooperated with DOE in providing carrier systems, missiles, or aircraft when required for joint flight tests. Consequently, fewer tests were performed than the minimum required by DOE to accurately assess the combat readiness of the remaining weapons in the stockpile. Serious reliability problems may continue to go undetected because some nuclear warhead components are not tested, weapons tested are not selected from the total population, and some test weapons and environments are not representative. DOE weapons reliability assessments are not as meaningful as possible because large amounts of nonjoint test data dilute recent test results. Memoranda of understanding, which were formulated by the Departments to guide program operations, do not place responsibility for the timely and proper performance of program operations or provide adequate criteria to ensure uniformity in testing and reliability assessments.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Secretaries of Defense and Energy should enter into a new agreement which: (1) assigns responsibilities and priorities for scheduling and timely performance of tests; (2) specifies procedures for selecting and preparing weapons for tests and for conducting tests to ensure that they are representative of the stockpile and operational environments; and (3) prescribes uniform criteria for evaluating test results used in making weapon reliability assessments. Congress should require DOD and DOE to provide assurance that they have taken action to improve interdepartmental agreements and guidance for the program.


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