This year, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will finish an integrated master schedule for building a new plutonium pit manufacturing complex and this summer it will quantify delays to the W80-4 nuclear cruise missile warhead, the head of the agency told Senators Thursday.
“We are in the process of integrating those schedules so that we have a master schedule for the entire plutonium project including all the peripheral things like the security that goes with that and we are committed to provide you that this year,” Jill Hruby, administrator of the NNSA, said Thursday during the final scheduled hearing of her Capitol Hill marathon, during which she appeared at three hearings in as many days.
Hruby provided the update on the integrated master schedule, which Congress has been asking for this hearing season, in response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Later in the two-hour hearing, during which the NNSA administrator testified alongside her boss, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Hruby acknowledged to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) that the first production date for the W80-4 cruise missile warhead will likely slip from the agency’s fiscal year 2025 target date.
“There are a few components, a handful of components on the W80-4 which will have difficulty making that FPU [first production unit],” Hruby told Rounds. However, she said, the warhead should still be ready to be mated with the Long Range Standoff weapon cruise missile by 2030, when the Air Force wants the weapon system — a replacement for the AGM-86b carried by the B-52H — to be ready.
The NNSA acknowledged earlier this year that it was assessing the effects of COVID-19- and supply-chain-related delays to W80-4’s first production date after saying last year that such delays might be possible. First production units are proof-of-concept articles that are torn down and scrutinized by experts to verify that the design and manufacturing line are ready for mass production.