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The design for the RRW was chosen from two proposals drawn up secretly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. A formal announcement is expected soon.
The modernized warhead will be larger than past warheads but will use existing plutonium pits for fuel. It will feature new primary conventional explosives as well as new electronics, Bush administration officials said. However, the size of the blast, or yield, created by the new warhead will remain the same.
Officials said a key requirement of the new design included ensuring the United States will be able to counter current and emerging nuclear threats, from North Korea and China to Russia and, possibly in the future, Iran.
The new design will meet Pentagon demands for a smaller stockpile of nuclear warheads, and it has increased safety and security features.
The challenge for designers was making a warhead with very high reliability in terms of its electronics and non-nuclear components, combined with high confidence the warhead will go off if used in a conflict without any prior underground testing, currently banned under an international agreement.
The need for a replacement warhead was identified several years ago by an advisory panel that warned that U.S. warheads, some developed in the 1960s, were aging beyond modernization, and that there was a dwindling pool of specialists who could design and develop the weapons. Those problems and a declining industrial infrastructure has increased the risk to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
The modernized warheads eventually will replace Navy and Air Force warheads. Deployment could begin in 2012 or 2014, with the first RRWs to be mounted on Navy missiles.
The Pentagon is reducing the number of warheads from about 10,000 to about 6,000 as part of the modernization program that has been under way for several years.
From the front
An Army lieutenant in Iraq says insurgents are continuing to increase the lethality of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), with low-technology techniques.
“Unfortunately, our brigade lost three more soldiers today to a catastrophic IED,” the officer wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.
“The insurgents are adjusting their methods and using diesel fuel to soften the pavement for IED emplacement. With the exception of today, we have been able to adapt to this technique by placing our sniper teams along .. IED routes.”
The officer, now on his second tour in Iraq, said despite the losses, progress is being made. “It is amazing to see how and what the soldiers are doing to improve life and security for the Iraqi people,” he stated.
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