ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Whatever changes the Joe Biden administration’s nuclear posture review prescribes to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national defense strategy, the nuclear production complex will have the same needs as it does now, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) defense programs office said here Tuesday.
“I recognize that changes to the current program of record could result from this review,” Charles Verdon, deputy administrator for defense programs, said at the Exchange Monitor’s annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit. “However, it is my assessment, I repeat, my assessment, that as long as the U.S. requires the maintenance of a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile, what I discussed today, particularly regarding the continued development of the science [and] the modernization of the stockpile and the supporting infrastructure will change little.”
Verdon spoke to the summit’s mostly industry audience with the conclusion of the Biden nuclear posture review still perhaps half a year away. Administration officials have said they will publish a nuclear posture review as part of an updated national defense strategy: a document nominally due in January.
If the posture review arrived in the first month of calendar year 2022, its conclusions could radically alter the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) budget request for fiscal year 2023, compared with the Trump administration’s projection for that fiscal year. The White House is supposed to publish its budget request in early February each year.
NNSA is the semi-autonomous part of the Department of Energy responsible for the maintenance of nuclear weapons, bombs and the industrial complex required to produce and maintain those weapons.
An attempt by the House of Representatives to get a jump on the nuclear posture review, by withholding some or all of the funding requested in fiscal year 2022 for a pair of warhead programs, drew a rebuke from the White House in July.
The administration warned the House not to prejudge the outcome of the review, which the non-government disarmament community around Washington hopes will be a vehicle for substantial reductions to the long-planned expansion of the nuclear weapons production complex.
The Nuclear Weapons Council, the joint Pentagon-Department of Energy body that coordinates nuclear-weapons procurements, warned late in July that the NNSA 2022 budget request was barely enough to keep the agency’s raft of infrastructure upgrades and nuclear-weapons maintenance programs afloat.
This story first appeared in Defense Daily affiliate publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.