The Department of Energy is seeking $53 million in fiscal year 2021 for the proposed W93 sea-based, ballistic-missile warhead: two years sooner than the agency previously thought it would need funding for the weapon.
A spokesperson for DoE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) confirmed the figure Thursday morning.
In the 2020 budget request it released in March 2019, NNSA estimated it would need $56 million for W93 starting in fiscal year 2023. In its 2020 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, NNSA said the first production unit (FPU) would arrive in 2034. In both documents, the NNSA referred to the proposed weapon as the Next Navy Warhead.
The NNSA spokesperson on Thursday said the agency “has not committed to a specific FPU date” for W93. A first production unit is a proof-of-concept copy of a nuclear weapon that is dissected and inspected to prove that its final design is ready for mass production and deployment.
The NNSA had not publicly released its detailed 2021 budget request at deadline Thursday for Defense Daily. However, NNSA has said it will request $19.8 billion in total for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1: nearly a 20% increase over the roughly $16.7 billion Congress appropriated this year.
Nearly all of the increase is for the Defense Programs office that manages the refurbishment of nuclear weapons, and the rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex. The NNSA seeks more than $15.4 billion for Defense Programs, or some 25% more than the 2019 appropriation.
The NNSA plans “concept and Assessment Refinement activities” for W93 in 2021, according to a 2021 budget in brief published last week. This early W93 work could include “[r]esearch and development efforts for critical national capabilities, such as fuses and aero shells,” Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said last week in congressional testimony.
The NNSA thinks W93 might cost about $14 billion to complete, according to the 2020 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.
Senior NNSA and Pentagon officials last week confirmed that W93 is the planned tip for the sea-launched ballistic missile that eventually will replace the Trident II D5. The planned fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missiles submarines, which will replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class boats starting in the 2030s, will carry the W93 and the Trident replacement into the 2080s.
NNSA and Pentagon officials also said that the W93 will share technology with a new warhead planned by the United Kingdom, which has a single-leg nuclear arsenal consisting of submarine-based Trident missiles tipped with Trident Holbrook warheads. The nuclear tips of these missiles are similar to the U.S.-designed W76-1 warhead, according to the Washington-based non-profit, Federation of American Scientists.
As first reported last week by Defense Daily, W93 would begin life as a ballistic missile warhead but could be designed for rapid upgrades that allow it to ride on other delivery vehicles, someone familiar with plans for the weapon said.
W93 could also be serviced outside of the NNSA’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, where the civilian agency performs nearly all needed tuneups for deployed warheads, this person said.