August 18, 2016

National Nuclear Security Administration’s Management of the B61-12 Life Extension Program

The primary mission of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Defense Programs is to ensure the safety, reliability, and performance of the Nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.  One of the oldest nuclear weapon systems in the stockpile is the B61.  NNSA has raised serious concerns regarding its future reliability.  To address these concerns, in 2012, the Nuclear Weapons Council approved the refurbishment of the B61 through a life extension program (LEP), which extends the bomb’s life 20 years and consolidates several existing modifications of the B61 into one modification.  The current total estimated cost for the B61-12 LEP is $8.1 billion, with a First Production Unit by March 2020.

To help ensure delivery of the updated weapon within cost and schedule, NNSA Defense Programs identified the B61-12 LEP as a pilot program through which it sought to change its approach to LEP management.  This added several enhanced project management tools to the suite of tools already required for the management of nuclear weapon refurbishments, and the B61-12 LEP has overcome significant challenges in implementing several of these tools.  While these accomplishments are noteworthy, we also identified issues within the tools that, in our view, if not corrected, could make it more difficult for the B61-12 LEP to proactively ensure that its mission and functions are properly executed.  Specifically, we found program management issues in the following significant areas: master and site schedules, risk management, quality assurance, and technically justifiable management reserves.

We believe without further improvement to its project management tools, it will be difficult for the program to proactively manage the costs, schedule, and risks of the B61-12 LEP to ensure it can deliver the First Production Unit within cost and meet its critical national security schedule.  In addition, there is uncertainty whether the original cost estimate for the B61-12 LEP contains sufficient management reserve to allow the program to respond to the numerous risks identified in the program.  Finally, not having documented assurance that unresolved significant finding investigations are a part of weapons design input significantly reduces management’s ability to ensure that redesigned nuclear weapon components have addressed prior safety and reliability concerns.

Topic: Management & Administration