NW Monitor Aug 2
Senate appropriators have again dealt a significant blow to
the B61 refurbishment program, this time slashing funding
in the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Appropriations Act for
Air Force work on a new tailkit for the refurbished bomb.
The Senate Appropriations Committee this week cleared
its version of the bill, providing only $6.2 million for the
Air Force portion of work on the B61, $61.7 million less
than the Obama Administration’s $67.9 million request.
The committee also zeroed out a $10 million request to
study outfitting the F-35A joint strike fighter to drop the
B61 bomb because the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements
Oversight Council hasn’t approved the capability content
of the F-35A Block 4.
The committee did not provide any rationale for its drastic
cut to the B61 program and did not respond to a request for
comment, but this is not the first time Senate appropriators
have taken a shot at the controversial refurbishment effort.
In their version of the FY 2014 Energy and Water Appropriations
Act, Senate appropriators provided only $369
million of the Administration’s $537 million request for
National Nuclear Security Administration work on the
bomb refurbishment over concerns about the rising cost of
the life extension program. In contrast, House appropriators
provided $560.7 million for the B61 refurbishment, an
increase of $23.7 million. The B61 refurbishment could
cost as much as $10.1 billion, according to a Pentagon
estimate of the project, but the NNSA’s own estimate is
$8.2 billion, which is nearly double the original $4.5
billion estimated price tag for the project. The $8.2 billion
cost estimate is also about $200 million more than the
NNSA said it would cost last year due to expected delays
from sequester impacts.
Language in the Energy and Water bill would give the
NNSA the ability to reprogram the $168 million funding
shortfall if the Secretary of Energy and Defense can certify
that the life extension program can be completed within the
NNSA’s current $8.2 billion cost estimate, though it’s
unclear whether the agency will be able to do provide such
A Focus on Reducing the Scope
At least on the Energy and Water side of things, the focus
of Senate appropriators has been on reducing the scope of
the warhead. The money provided in the bill allows for
continued “design, engineering, and testing of critical
non-nuclear components, such as the radar, neutron
generator, power source, and gas transfer system, that are
reaching the end of their lives and would affect the
long-term reliability of this weapon system.” Refurbishing
nuclear components, however, remain a concern for the
committee, and Energy and Water Chairman Dianne
Feinstein (D-Calif.). “The question is do you have to take
a Cadillac model to do the work or can you take a lesser
model, a Ford model, and repair those components that are
necessary,” she said.
Feinstein has proven to be a skeptic about refurbishment
efforts, a critic of cost increases on major NNSA projects,
and an advocate of the Obama Administration’s push for
new nuclear reductions, which has fueled her position on
the B61. “I doubt very much whether a B61, candidly, in
my view, is ever going to be used, and a pox on the house
of the people that use it, because they’re big bombs,” she
said after the markup. “And I happen to agree with what
the President is doing, which is working for reductions in
nuclear arms on a bilateral basis with Russia. The [New]
START Treaty I think was a beginning.”
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