Navy Strategic Missile Boss: Interoperable Warhead Not Yet Required
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy currently does not have a requirement for a third type of re-entry body and warhead for its Trident D5LE submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the admiral in charge of its strategic weapons told Congress, referring to the Interoperable Warhead (IW) proposed to arm Navy and Air Force strategic missiles.
The Navy’s W76 warheads arm the Trident D5LE SLBMs deployed on the 12 Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines. The W88 warhead will reach initial operational capability in the ballistic-missile submarines in 2020 to supplement the W76. Eventually, the Trident missiles and their warheads will arm the future Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines.
“The life-extension programs are a 30-year extension to the existing life of the weapon itself,” said Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of Strategic Systems Programs for the Navy, testifying May 25 before the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. He was responding to questions from Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.
The Nuclear Weapons Council directed the Navy, Air Force and National Nuclear Security Administration to conduct a study beginning in 2020 to include a technical and cost analysis of the Interoperable Warhead, with results to be reported in late 2021 or 2022 for review, concurrence and approval, Benedict said.
“However, as we look at the [nuclear weapons] complex in total, this issue of IW is larger than just a single Navy issue,” he said. “It involves Navy, the Air Force and NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration].
The need date for the IW was deferred till 2030, said Frank Kotz, director of the NNSA, also testifying at the hearing.
“Our expectation is that we will begin very serious work on that in 2020, because it’s about a 10-year process,” Kotz said. “The reason why we have been proceeding down the path to having an Interoperable [Warhead] is there is an Air Force system that will require a life-extension program in about the 2030 timeframe, the W78 warhead. The thinking when this strategy was developed was that, if we’re going to do a life extension to an Air Force system, wouldn’t it make sense in terms of long-term cost and efficiency is as you did that particular warhead, you designed it in such a way that it could be used by both the Air Force and the Navy and subsequent interoperable warheads so that you had some commonality back and forth between the two services as you got into the 2030, 2040, 2050 time frame.”