New US nuclear warhead move after decades

According to the Energy Ministry, "W93 will also incorporate modern technologies to enhance safety and security as well as resilience against future threats."

4 mins read
New US nuclear warhead move after decades
A view of the entrance to the Los Alamos National Security Science Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, US, on February 20, 2024 (AFP)

The United States is producing a new nuclear warhead for the first time in decades, but will do so without nuclear testing, Energy Department officials announced Wednesday.

The warhead, known as the W93, will be used in submarine-launched ballistic missiles. According to the Washington Times, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the warhead was produced using $19.8 billion in funding requested by the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) for fiscal year 2025.

The warhead is in its initial design phase at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the headquarters of the Manhattan Project, where the first nuclear bombs were produced during World War II.

Officials said production of the warhead would begin in the mid-2030s.

Updating its nuclear capability is a top priority for the Pentagon, and nuclear-armed submarines are at the heart of US nuclear forces. Other parts of the strategic capacity include bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“W93 is a new program created to meet requirements set by the [Department of Defense],” the NNSA writes on its website.

The Navy’s ballistic missile submarine force is the most survivable leg of the Triad and is already equipped with two types of warheads: W76 and W88. These warheads account for about two-thirds of the total US deployed force. The W93 will reduce the current over-reliance on the W76 system and allow the US to keep pace with future enemy threats.

“All W93 vital nuclear components will be based on already deployed and/or previously tested nuclear designs, as well as extensive stockpile component and material experience,” NNSA adds.

However, the W93 will also incorporate modern technologies to enhance safety and security as well as resilience against future threats, and will be designed for ease of production, maintenance and documentation.

The W93 will be lighter than the W76 and W88 warheads, meaning it will have a longer range. Submarine nuclear forces will be downsized from 14 Ohio-class submarines to 12 Columbia-class missile boats.

The Energy Department will also update 5 existing warheads using funding from a $2.84 billion request, officials said. These warheads include the B61, a nuclear gravity bomb dropped from airplanes. The updated version will be completed by 2025.

“W93 is a new warhead program based on existing designs that will not require new underground nuclear explosive testing,” Granholm and Hruby said.

The Washington Times noted that W89 and W92 were canceled after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“The W93 will meet Department of Defense requirements to increase the operational effectiveness of the US ballistic missile submarine force,” the officials added.

The Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina will create plutonium wells for the new warhead that retired Admiral Charles Richard requested while on duty in late 2020.

The warhead will be produced with the help of the UK, which could use the weapon. Admiral Richard has warned about nuclear developments in China, which has doubled its stockpile of nuclear warheads.


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