At the Reagan National Defense Forum, Aaron Mehta gets an update on the NNSA's work to modernize America's nuclear stockpile.

WASHINGTON — Nuclear weapons received a small boost in a new spending deal passed by Congress, with lawmakers largely leaving the agency in charge of America’s warheads alone.

Nuclear weapons programs under the National Nuclear Security Administration’s purview came in at $12.457 billion, a small bump from the $12.408 billion requested for that account in the president’s budget request. That figure represents an increase of $1.347 billion from fiscal 2019 levels.

Overall, NNSA’s budget increased by $219 million over the president’s budget request. The plus-up should help the agency with bills caused by the two-month continuing resolution, which hit at a time NNSA is attempting to balance priorities: fixing aged infrastructure and fulfilling a number of warhead modernization programs.

Notably, the W87-1 program, which seeks to modernize the warheads used for America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, received $112 million — but only 75 percent of that funding can be accessed by the agency until a report on the program arrives on Capitol Hill, and specifically addresses “all major design decisions that have been made or that remain open and a description and explanation of the cost trade-offs for each decision or potential decision including surety architecture, technologies, and potential component re-use,” according to the spending deal.

This comes just days after a top NNSA official told reporters that the W87-1 program may go through design changes, including dropping planned features to defray costs for the B61-12 and W88 Alteration 370 warheads, which have been forced over-budget by problems with commercially built parts.

The bill also directs $5.6 million to stand up a new focus inside NNSA’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation office in order to contribute to the Pentagon’s ongoing analysis of alternatives for a new sea-launched cruise missile. That weapon, first proposed in the Nuclear Posture Review in February 2018, is expected to use a modification of the W80 warhead.

Within 90 days of the bill becoming law, NNSA is supposed to brief appropriators in both chambers on the status of that analysis of alternatives, and what options are under consideration.

And within 180 days, NNSA must deliver a report on the estimated cost and schedule of such a weapon, as well how it will impact existing work.

On the Pentagon side, funding for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, which will replace the Minuteman III ICBM, was cut from $570.37 million in the president’s request to $557.49 million; however, that cut was largely due to reductions to the technology contract provided to Boeing, which was ended early.

Funding for the B-21 bomber program was also cut by $21.4 million from the president’s requested figure.

Meanwhile, the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump before the end of the week, includes language making the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment responsible for nuclear command and control, which had previously been under the chief information ifficer’s portfolio.

The NDAA also does not include language, initially sought by House Democrats, that would bar the deployment of the W76-2, a low-yield warhead for placement on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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