The National Nuclear Security Administration continues to defend a controversial project to modernize the U.S. stockpile of B-61 nuclear gravity bombs, even though further cost increases appear likely as a result of congressionally mandated federal spending cuts.
The most recent NNSA program cost projection anticipates that $8.2 billion could be required for refurbishing and consolidating four different versions of the air-dropped munition, according to a classified report given to Congress in the spring.
The initial production batch is not anticipated to come before March 2020 -- a half-year longer than earlier timelines. The delay is due to fiscal 2013 sequestration reductions, which tacked on roughly $200 million more to the project's overall cost, according to Donald Cook, NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs, who spoke with Inside the Pentagon.
Potential fiscal 2014 sequestration cutbacks could mean even more schedule delays, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional program costs, Cook said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this summer approved spending legislation that would reduce funding for the program by $168 million. If that spending cut passes into law, it would lead to even more lengthening of the project schedule, according to Cook.
"And if we stretch out the program, that means it's going to cost more," the NNSA deputy administrator said.
The B-61 refurbishment program has come under criticism from legislators and arms control proponents, who contend that the semiautonomous Energy Department agency could pursue instead a less-costly overhaul of the gravity bomb.
Cook defended the more expensive and sweeping approach that the agency is taking.
"We were learning that the less expensive ways of approaching this weren't going to work because we had more problems with the bomb," he reportedly said.