A flight test of an unarmed Minuteman III missile carrying an instrumented mock W87 warhead was successfully launched. Flight tests such as this provide data on the performance of key warhead components in real environments, making this a valuable element in our annual assessment process.
Since the Cold War, United States policy has pivoted from production to maintenance of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. In 1992, nuclear weapon development ceased with a national moratorium on nuclear testing. The end of the nuclear arms race dramatically affected the nation’s three weapon laboratories—Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia—but their central missions remain focused on national security science and technology. Although the U.S. stockpile of weapons is smaller than it used to be, nuclear deterrence remains an integral part of national security policy. In 1995, the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) was born.
The Stockpile Stewardship Program is an ambitious effort to improve the science and technology for assessing an aging nuclear weapons stockpile without relying on nuclear testing. For this program to succeed, all aspects of weapons must be understood in sufficient detail so experts can evaluate weapon performance with confidence and make informed decisions about refurbishing, remanufacturing, or replacing weapons as needs arise.
Each year, together with Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, we are required to provide an assessment of the stockpile’s safety, security, and reliability to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the President. (Read more in Science and Technology Review: Taking the Pulse of the Stockpile.)
Today, stewardship requires constant innovation and diligence from LLNL scientists. (Read more in Science and Technology Review: Stockpile Stewardship at 20 Years.)
Life-extension programs necessitate the adoption of new manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing. LLNL researchers produced a silicone cushion with programmable mechanical energy absorption properties through a three-dimensional printing process using a silicone-based ink.
A view inside NIF’s target chamber, which allows scientists to replicate various physical processes at energy densities and temperatures approaching those in a weapon detonation.
Stockpile stewardship is a continuous process that requires the right tools for the job. Though not without risk as weapons continue to age and national security requirements change, our efforts through SSP will continue to ensure a safe, secure, and effective stockpile as long as nuclear weapons exist.
Watch our YouTube video Stockpile Stewardship: How we ensure the nuclear deterrent without testing.