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Highlights

U.S. nuclear weapons are aging, with key components reaching the end of their service life. In September 2008, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) began a study of military requirements and design options for extending the B61 bomb's service life. The B61 is used to support the U.S. strategic deterrent and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). GAO was asked to assess the extent to which DOD and NNSA have (1) considered the time available to begin producing refurbished bombs when determining the scope of the study; and (2) taken actions to avoid operational gaps in U.S. nuclear weapons commitments to NATO during the life extension program. To evaluate these objectives, GAO analyzed DOD and NNSA policies, guidance, and reports on life extension programs, and interviewed officials responsible for B61 operations, life extension program planning, management, and oversight. This is the unclassified version of a classified report issued in December 2010.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy 1. To reduce the risk that future Phase 6.2 studies for nuclear weapons life extension programs are not properly scoped given available time for completing a life extension, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to revise the "Procedural Guideline for the Phase 6.X Process" to require that the council factor in the time available for completing a life extension program when establishing the scope of a Phase 6.2 feasibility study of military performance requirements and design options.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. In January 2015, DOD and DOE officials provided GAO a draft of the revised "Procedural Guideline for the 6.X Process." The draft guideline included language that addresses this recommendation. It states that the Nuclear Weapons Council shall factor in the time available for completing refurbishment activities when establishing the scope of a Phase 6.2 feasibility study of military performance requirements and design options. Officials stated they expect to publish the revised 6.X guideline in September 2015. As a result of the substantial progress DOD and DOE have made in this effort, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense 2. To mitigate the risk that U.S. operational commitments will be affected by life extension program schedule delays, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to direct the appropriate DOD components, in coordination with NNSA, to prepare an operational risk management plan identifying the measures that would be required to ensure that the United States is able to maintain its commitments to NATO with no gaps in operational capability while the B61 life extension program is being carried out.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. The Nuclear Weapons Council tasked the Air Force to provide an operational risk assessment plan and mitigation scenarios ensuring there is no gap in supporting U.S. commitments to NATO. The Air Force completed an initial risk management plan in September 2011 for two early stages of the B61 life extension program and for a first production date in 2017. In March 2013, the Air Force issued a second risk management plan for the third phase of the program and for a revised first production date in 2019. The Air Force plans on issuing risk management plans for each subsequent phase in the B61 life extension program or when program management deems necessary. Based on the Air Force issuance of the two risk mitigation plans and the plans to issue additional risk mitigation plans as the program advances, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Energy 3. To mitigate the risk that U.S. operational commitments will be affected by life extension program schedule delays, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to revise the Procedural "Procedural Guideline for the Phase 6.X Process" to require the council to direct the preparation of operational risk management plans during the planning and execution of future life extension programs.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. In January 2015, DOD and DOE officials provided GAO a draft of the revised "Procedural Guideline for the 6.X Process." The draft guideline included language that addresses this recommendation. It states that the Phase 6.2. study report should document operational risk management plans to ensure U.S. operational commitments are not affected by the refurbishment activity. Officials stated they expect to publish the revised 6.X guideline in September 2015. As a result of the substantial progress DOD and DOE have made in this effort, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense 4. To reduce the risk that future Phase 6.2 studies for nuclear weapons life extension programs are not properly scoped given available time for completing a life extension, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to revise the "Procedural Guideline for the Phase 6.X Process" to require that the council factor in the time available for completing a life extension program when establishing the scope of a Phase 6.2 feasibility study of military performance requirements and design options.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. In January 2015, DOD and DOE officials provided GAO a draft of the revised "Procedural Guideline for the 6.X Process." The draft guideline included language that addresses this recommendation. It states that the Nuclear Weapons Council shall factor in the time available for completing refurbishment activities when establishing the scope of a Phase 6.2 feasibility study of military performance requirements and design options. Officials stated they expect to publish the revised 6.X guideline in September 2015. As a result of the substantial progress DOD and DOE have made in this effort, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense 5. To mitigate the risk that U.S. operational commitments will be affected by life extension program schedule delays, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to revise the Procedural "Procedural Guideline for the Phase 6.X Process" to require the council to direct the preparation of operational risk management plans during the planning and execution of future life extension programs.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. In January 2015, DOD and DOE officials provided GAO a draft of the revised "Procedural Guideline for the 6.X Process." The draft guideline included language that addresses this recommendation. It states that the Phase 6.2. study report should document operational risk management plans to ensure U.S. operational commitments are not affected by the refurbishment activity. Officials stated they expect to publish the revised 6.X guideline in September 2015. As a result of the substantial progress DOD and DOE have made in this effort, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Energy 6. To mitigate the risk that U.S. operational commitments will be affected by life extension program schedule delays, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy should direct the Nuclear Weapons Council to direct the appropriate DOD components, in coordination with NNSA, to prepare an operational risk management plan identifying the measures that would be required to ensure that the United States is able to maintain its commitments to NATO with no gaps in operational capability while the B61 life extension program is being carried out.
Closed - Implemented
DOD and DOE concurred with this recommendation. The Nuclear Weapons Council tasked the Air Force to provide an operational risk assessment plan and mitigation scenarios ensuring there is no gap in supporting U.S. commitments to NATO. The Air Force completed an initial risk management plan in September 2011 for two early stages of the B61 life extension program and for a first production date in 2017. In March 2013, the Air Force issued a second risk management plan for the third phase of the program and for a revised first production date in 2019. The Air Force plans on issuing risk management plans for each subsequent phase in the B61 life extension program or when program management deems necessary. Based on the Air Force issuance of the two risk mitigation plans, and the plans to issues additional ones as the program advances, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

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