Pentagon: B-61 Bomb Update Faces Possible Delays

A U.S. B-2 strategic bomber drops a red mockup of the B-61 nuclear-armed gravity bomb. A developmental tail component for the weapon might not be ready on schedule, the Pentagon's Systems Engineering office warned in a March report.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
April 7, 2014, 7:12 a.m.

U.S. De­fense De­part­ment ex­perts see a danger of delays in work on a key nuc­le­ar-bomb com­pon­ent un­der de­vel­op­ment at mul­tiple fed­er­al agen­cies.

Pre­par­a­tion of the new B-61 grav­ity bomb “tail kit” is cur­rently pro­ceed­ing on sched­ule, but the pro­ject’s time line faces “risks” from sep­ar­ate work un­der way at the De­fense and En­ergy de­part­ments, ac­cord­ing to the Pentagon’s Sys­tems En­gin­eer­ing of­fice.

“In­ter­de­pend­en­cies” in­volving a range of activ­it­ies at the two de­part­ments “present tech­nic­al chal­lenges and will re­quire close at­ten­tion and de­vel­op­ment,” the Pentagon of­fice said in a re­port last month.

The po­ten­tial co­ordin­a­tion hurdles threaten to bog down pro­gress, says the an­nu­al as­sess­ment for fisc­al 2013.

The de­vel­op­ment­al com­pon­ent for the bomb’s tail sec­tion is in­ten­ded to im­prove the ac­cur­acy of the B-61 bomb’s forth­com­ing Mod 12 vari­ant, which is now in its second year of de­vel­op­ment. The re­fur­bished bomb would even­tu­ally stand in for sev­er­al earli­er ver­sions, some of which are fielded at bases in sev­er­al European coun­tries.

Ul­ti­mately, the pos­sible is­sues may cause the pro­ject to miss a goal date for en­ter­ing full pro­duc­tion, as well as a dead­line for de­liv­er­ing the first com­pleted tail kit, the doc­u­ment warns. Both goals were sched­uled for 2019, the Pentagon said in a Se­lec­ted Ac­quis­i­tion Re­port from Decem­ber 2012.

The au­thors of last month’s ana­lys­is ad­ded that a “lim­ited num­ber of de­vel­op­ment­al test flights” could com­plic­ate ef­forts to en­sure that the tail kit meets re­li­ab­il­ity stand­ards. Pro­ject man­agers are already “mit­ig­at­ing 11 risks re­lated to sched­ule, per­form­ance, pro­duc­tion, in­teg­ra­tion and cost,” they noted.

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