NNSA Achieves Significant Milestone for W80-4 Life Extension Program

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) achieved a significant milestone for the W80-4 Life Extension Program (LEP) in February when the Nuclear Weapons Council authorized the Development Engineering phase of the life extension process.

The W80-4 is a life extension for the W80-1 low to intermediate yield two-stage thermonuclear warhead, which was first introduced into the stockpile in 1982 and used with the AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). The LEP extends the warhead’s service life while improving its safety, security, and reliability.

Development Engineering is phase 6.3 of the Nuclear Weapons Life Cycle. NNSA and the Department of Defense will now conduct experiments, tests, and analyses to develop and validate the selected design option.

“This milestone is the culmination of three years of hard work by a team of extremely talented and dedicated people across the Nuclear Security Enterprise,” said Brig. . Ron Allen, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “I could not be prouder of the W80-4 team and all they have accomplished so far on this important program.”

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is leading the nuclear design for the program while Sandia National Laboratories is overseeing non-nuclear components. Other key partners in this effort include Los Alamos National Laboratory, Kansas City National Security Campus, Y-12 National Security Complex, the Pantex Plant, Savannah River Site, and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC).

The W80-4 will arm the U.S. Air Force’s under-development Long Range Standoff (LRSO) nuclear-tipped cruise missile that will replace AGM-86 ALCM.

Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) Missile
Rendering of U.S. Air Force’s under-development nuclear-tipped cruise missile, the Long Range Stand Off Weapon (LRSO)

The LRSO weapon system will be capable of penetrating and surviving advanced integrated air defense systems from significant standoff range to prosecute strategic targets in support of the USAF’s global attack capability and strategic deterrence core function.

As of August 24, 2017, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin received separate $900 million contracts from the Department of Defense and the Air Force and are developing their own versions. The designations YAGM-180A and YAGM-181A have been allocated to prototypes for the LRSO program.

The weapon is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) before the retirement of their respective ALCM versions, around 2030.

Together, the W80-4 and LRSO will play an important role in maintaining a deterrent capability for U.S. strategic bomber fleet, namely the current B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber and the future B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

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