The US National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) confirmed Monday that the first production unit of the W76-2 warhead was in production at the Pantex Plant in Texas and would be delivered to the military by the end of 2019 fiscal year.
“NNSA is on track to complete the W76-2 Initial Operational Capability warhead quantity and deliver the units to the Navy by the end of Fiscal Year 2019,” an agency spokesman was quoted as saying by Defense News website.
The NNSA said the first of the new warheads had come off the production line and that it was on schedule to deliver the first batch – an unspecified number referred to as “initial operational capability” – before the end of September, according to the email, first sent in response to an enquiry from Exchange Monitor, which covers the nuclear weapons complex.
The new weapon, the W76-2, is a modification of the existing Trident warhead. Stephen Young, a senior Washington representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said its yield had most likely been cut by taking away one stage from the original two-stage, W76 thermonuclear device.
“As best we can tell, the only requirement is to replace the existing secondary, or second stage, with a dummy version, which is what they do every time they test fly a missile,” Young said, adding that the amount of tritium, a hydrogen isotope, may also be adjusted. The result would be to reduce its explosive power from 100 kilotons of TNT, to about five – approximately a third of the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The Trump administration has argued that low-yield weapons would make nuclear war less likely, by claiming the US will have a more flexible deterrent. It would counter any enemy perception the US would balk at using its own fearsome arsenal in response to a limited nuclear attack because its missiles were all in the hundreds of kilotons range and “too big to use”, because they would cause untold civilian casualties.