NNSA Priorities in Today’s World

Good morning. It is an honor today to represent the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration at the 15th Annual Strategic Weapons in the 21st Century Symposium. I would like to thank Thom Mason and Kim Budil for inviting me to participate in this important event, and to everyone from Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories who helped put this symposium together under the challenging – and rapidly changing – COVID conditions.

I’m pleased that so many of you from across the enterprise, whether here in person or participating virtually from your home or office, are attending this event which has become an important, annual opportunity for the U.S. nuclear enterprise to take a step back and assess our strategic environment and our strategic direction with the help of others in Congress, the Government, and from around the world.

While I’m still adjusting to being on the government, not the laboratory, side of the issues confronting our community, I think we all agree this is a pivotal time for nuclear deterrence and nuclear security. And I think we also agree that we are fortunate the Congress is supporting the Nuclear Security Enterprise even through debate and differences of opinion; that the NNSA has been well-managed by previous senior leaders and the federal workforce; and that our laboratories, plants, and sites enjoy strong leadership. I thank all of you for the work you do and for your ability to manage the aggressive schedule of deliverables in what has been a time of considerable distraction due to the pandemic, rising social justice concerns, and a significant political transition. You are the reason I feel confident in our future and why I agreed to lead the NNSA for the Biden Administration under the guidance of Secretary Granholm and Deputy Secretary Turk.

That makes this occasion a perfect time to share with you my thoughts on the NNSA’s priorities in today’s environment.

Geopolitical Environment

Briefly, it is worth summarizing the geopolitical conditions that affect nuclear deterrence today. At best the environment is complicated, and at worst, it is threatening and moving in the wrong direction. In a nutshell, Russia is doubling down on nuclear weapons as a means to counter US conventional superiority; China is increasing the number and types of nuclear weapons it has while not advancing its transparency on nuclear doctrine or plans; North Korea has expanded its number of nuclear weapons and range of delivery capabilities; and Iran may or may not agree to the conditions needed to get back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Other states with nuclear weapons and allies protected under the nuclear umbrella are watching the situation carefully and are feeling the need to be prepared for action if conditions worsen. It is a tenuous time in nuclear arms racing and proliferation.

Recognizing these global security challenges, President Biden's Interim National Security Strategic Guidance commits to "ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective, and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible."

Towards this end, the Biden Administration is interested in developing an integrated deterrence strategy and conducting its nuclear posture review quickly. Although there are many policy decisions to make in these two reviews, I do not intend to delve into the details in my talk for the simple reasons that I don’t expect the debated policy changes will have significant impact, at least in the near-term, on the requirements for NNSA. I think there are likely to be impact from the NPR in the details of our work element, but we are still going to have a science program, a weapon modernization program, and a infrastructure program.

Priorities for the U.S. Nuclear Enterprise

So, I would like to concentrate on outlining the priorities for the NNSA Enterprise as I see them.

First, we need to continue to certify the stockpile without nuclear testing. There is no compelling technical reason to resume testing and doing so would distract from and undermine the science-based stockpile stewardship program that has been designed and executed for nearly 30 years. Of course, if political or technical conditions change, we need to be prepared to resume testing in a reasonable timeframe. However, I assume that we do not need testing to certify the stockpile, but rather that we need continued science and infrastructure investments to bolster our confidence. I would also assert that the science-based stockpile stewardship program is the most mature of all of our current activities, but by no means complete.

Second, we are approaching the end of the era of refurbishment. Although we adopted the terminology of modernization instead of refurbishment some time ago, we have largely been in a mode of refurbishing existing weapons and existing infrastructure, while allowing minor modernization for safety, security, or other new requirements. This refurbishment era made complete sense in an environment when we were decreasing the number of weapons on a hoped-for path to zero and when we had reasonably modern weapons and infrastructure. That is not our environment now - over the last 27 years of stockpile stewardship, we must face the realities that refurbishment is no longer adequate as a long-term strategy for either weapons or infrastructure.

That leads to my third point, that we are now legitimately entering the era of modernization. The simple fact is that we can no longer technically justify a refurbishment-only strategy for our weapons and infrastructure. We need to replace, not just life extend, components, subsystems, buildings, and equipment.

Weapons Modernization

It is critical, however, that we modernize smartly and cost-effectively. As we start down this modernization path, it is important that we don’t catalyze or contribute to an arms-race, that we reassure our allies, and that we make good use of science and technological breakthroughs. We need to clearly define not only the military objectives for the stockpile but also recognize the opportunity this investment has on, for example:

  • Creating the systems to enable us to face whatever challenges the national security environment will hold not only today but 30 or 40 years from now;
  • Setting an example of restraint and diplomacy and to reassure our allies;
  • Honoring the spirit of the Non Proliferation Treaty; and
  • And providing flexibility for future decision makers

So, let’s review where we are on our systems. Our sub-launched ballistic missiles will have two refurbished weapons, the W76-1 or 2, and the W88. We are refurbishing two weapons for the air-leg of our triad: the B61-12 and the W80-4. And the land-based leg of our triad is now getting attention, and we plan to have a modernized weapon for it, the W87-1. And consideration is underway for a third weapon for our SLBM force, the W93. There are potentially other new systems – or systems to be retired – that will be determined through the nuclear posture review process. As you all know, this is the most active weapons refurbishment and modernization program in decades and is pushing the limits of both our workforce and our infrastructure. The tools developed during stockpile modernization are now required to not only certify but to help optimize the weapons of the future. New manufacturing capacity and innovation is needed as we not only reuse but replace weapon components.

There are many tradeoff decisions to be made, including the details of accuracy, yield, missile and air defense evasion, and technology maturation efforts in many areas. Additionally, our work needs to be closely mated to the development of the new delivery platforms and to the new nuclear command, control, and communications system.

The NNSA complex will need more talent to accomplish all of this and between retirements and increased work load we plan to hire at least 4,000 people in the next seven years.

Over the last couple of decades or so, the NNSA complex has demonstrated it can deliver weapons that meet military requirements, work with partners in D-O-D and the commercial sector, and better estimate cost and time to deliver. We still have work to do, but with diligence, attention, and funding, there is reason to believe our abilities will continue to develop and improve.

Infrastructure Modernization

In contrast, while we have been gearing up for weapon modernization for a number of years, infrastructure modernization efforts are still relatively new and growing substantially. Our ability to identify and prioritize needs, define and explain projects, and deliver on-time and on-budget need to continue to mature. We are undoubtedly on the steep, and somewhat painful, part of the learning curve.

The infrastructure modernization efforts are currently dominated by the urgency and visibility of producing new plutonium pits. And this is indeed an important, time critical issue. And just for the record, both the Secretary and I are committed to the two-site solution for pit manufacturing and hope to gain the support of Congress. But there is so much more to the infrastructure needs, including radiation cases and explosives, uranium and tritium, new polymers and new metal alloys, and new office buildings and light labs. The list is long and daunting, and we will need to prioritize honestly and collaboratively, to bring new science and technology to the effort, to shape our narrative and improve the key partners understanding of it, and to accept this is a long-term activity.

The approach we have taken to date is to establish the minimum capability we can foresee in the decades ahead. When we sized non-nuclear component production for Kansas City over a decade ago, we thought we understood what the capacity requirements for the Nuclear Security Enterprise would be in the 2020’s. Today we have found it is under-sized for today’s requirements as well as for future weapon production requirements. Similarly, we have defined a minimum pit capacity of 80 pits per year in the future. Given this approach, I would propose that we stick with this strategy but also understand how we might expand beyond “minimum” as needed and go into this with our eyes, and those of our stakeholders, wide open.

No matter how we approach our priorities, we need to produce weapons more quickly, more environmentally and energy friendly, and with the best use of human resources. This is a business operating in the 21st century with a talented workforce and resources. We can’t afford to merely rebuild what we had, although I know time and resources tend to push us in that direction.

Role of Science

Finally, if there is a coin of our realm over the last 25 years, it is science. The science-based stockpile stewardship program has supported the creation of new simulation tools backed by new experimental data from a completely new and sophisticated set of facilities both computational and physical. The phenomenal new results from the National Ignition Facility last month underscore the tremendous advancements we have made in making these investments pay off to the program. The stewardship effort has also provided better insight into aging phenomena and new surveillance concepts. We are by no means done, and there so many new areas to address.

For example, what science is needed to support advanced manufacturing, process-based quality, and automated assembly? How can we develop modular infrastructure approaches so that we can quickly and cost-effectively expand and contract the enterprise? What weapon architectures allow for faster production and more adaptable weapon systems? I’m sure you have others to suggest, and we need to open the applications of science.

Nuclear Non Proliferation

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time on NNSA’s non-proliferation efforts, since I firmly believe that nuclear deterrence and nuclear nonproliferation are not only synergistic, but are both responsibilities that we have as a nuclear weapon state. This is why President Biden's interim National Security Guidance expressed our duty to "address the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons" and pledged America's commitment to "arms control arrangements and renewed American nonproliferation leadership."

Our nuclear nonproliferation efforts remain largely focused on decreasing the threats from nuclear terrorism, providing relevant sensor technologies for US space-based platforms, and developing monitoring and verification technologies for treaties and agreements. These missions are all evolving. The materials management program, for example, is moving toward a risk management program recognizing that nuclear materials will remain part of our world forever. Additionally, the Biden administration has two major new initiatives that we must support – nuclear power as a clean energy source around the world, and a desire for more strategic stability and/or arms control with Russia, China, and others. Both of these initiatives will require significant new efforts from our Defense Nuclear Non Proliferation program. In addition, we have recognized the need to have a nonproliferation stewardship program to create new relevant experimental facilities, and to keep pace with technological advancement on nonproliferation. In my opinion, there are real needs to amplify what we do in nuclear nonproliferation and new technologies us in our missions. I see great potential to contribute to this area and strongly support new initiatives including re-establishing science and technology interactions with our allies and competitors to be better prepared for the world we hope to live in. I look forward to the confirmation of Corey Hinderstein to help us accomplish our aggressive goals in nuclear nonproliferation.

Doing it as only NNSA Can

In closing, I believe the NNSA has a tremendous opportunity to bring science, product, and infrastructure to the next level of innovation and maturity. We must develop an approach that builds on what we have already done, accepts the complexity of the geopolitical environment, and takes advantage of science and technology to open new ideas. Our work must be responsive to geopolitics, relevant to the potential of a world without nuclear weapons and the assurance of our allies, and resilient to changing conditions.

I look forward to accomplishing this mission with your support.

I welcome your questions and thank you for your attention.