10 March, 2009

How the US forgot how to make Trident missiles

How the US forgot how to make Trident missiles
Inquiry cites loss of files and key staff as reason for $69m repair delay
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

PLANS TO refurbish Trident nuclear weapons had to be put on hold because US scientists forgot how to manufacture a component of the warhead, a US congressional investigation has revealed.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) "lost knowledge" of how to make a mysterious but very hazardous material codenamed Fogbank. As a result, the warhead refurbishment programme was put back by at least a year, and racked up an extra $69 million.

According to some critics, the delay could cause major problems for the UK Trident programme, which is very closely tied to the US programme and uses much of the same technology. The US and the UK are trying to refurbish the ageing W76 warheads that tip Trident missiles in order to prolong their life, and ensure they are safe and reliable. This apparently requires that the Fogbank in the warheads is replaced.

Neither the NNSA nor the UK Ministry of Defence would say anything about the nature or function of Fogbank. But it is thought by some weapons experts to be a foam used between the fission and fusion stages of a thermonuclear bomb. US officials have said that manufacturing the material requires a solvent cleaning agent which is "extremely flammable" and "explosive". The process also involves dealing with "toxic materials" hazardous to workers.

Over the last year the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reports to the US Congress, has been investigating the W76 refurbishment programme. An unclassified version of its final report was released last week. The GAO report concluded: "NNSA did not effectively manage one of the highest risks of the programme - the manufacture of a key material known as Fogbank - resulting in $69m in cost over-runs and a schedule delay of at least one year that presented significant logistical challenges for the navy."
Now, an article like this HAS to catch your eye and it did mine, so I contacted the man I knew who would probably know, or at least know where to look find out a bit more about this. So I fired up the E-mail and contacted Mr. Sharkey- his comments were telling and below is the information he sent along:
Not the first time something like this has happened. NASA 'Lost' the detailed engineering plans for the main stage of the Saturn 5. So, they claimed they could not have any more built. I think (and others do as well) is that they took a page out of McNamara's handbook when he had all the tooling for the SR-71 destroyed so it wouldn't compete with the F-15.

Wonder who the contractor was that made the stuff for them?

Look here for more information on Fogbank and here for rest of the story on LANL.
Comments from the post on LANL were knowledgeable, so much so that the following two sum it nicely IMO:
Yawn.... The GAO expressed these same concerns in a letter to the Committee on Armed Services of both the House & Senate on December 7, 2001.

I'm sure the NNSA will give GAO its usual response to this criticism ...We're really thin and need more $$$ to do the job correct.

At times, I really think GAO is producing these reports as a basis for NNSA to get more $$$ from Congress.

NNSA didn't screw up - they just didn't have enough $$$ :(
"Bechtel is just as happy to manage a bunch of people who do nothing but paperwork. NM politicians are happy if the money comes in and nothing is done." (11:19 PM)

Were truer words about this present situation ever spoken? You nailed it, 11:19 PM. You nailed it good!

And this is exactly why the status quo will hold fast, no matter what the damage to morale and science at both LANL and LLNL. Hey, let's do some more studies and waste a couple of more years down this rotten road of decline.
Oh, and for a bonus, read this one- if true, it is the most telling of all.

This article is a bit off the norm for me, however, I have had several like this in the past, because, to me, this speaks volumes about us as a nation, a people, and where we are headed...


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