But the RRW program may simply be designed to address a more fundamental concern: ensuring that the U.S. retains the capacity to build and field nuclear weapons well into the future. "We want to exercise the scientists and engineers," NNSA's Harvey says. "The folks who did this back in the Cold War are about to retire. We need the next generation to do this and do it now so that they can be mentored by that older generation."
As the Department of Defense's Henry noted: "Based upon our analysis, the expertise is aging faster than the plutonium. And, it's a responsive infrastructure that you rely on to mitigate technical surprise and changes in the geopolitical environment. That responsiveness allows you to trade off numbers of weapons." The true rationale for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program may be reliable replacement scientists, engineers and technicians.
Editor's Note: This article originally incorrectly placed Sandia National Laboratories in White Plains, N.M., rather than Albuquerque, N.M. Also, the JASON report referenced concerned itself solely with the plutonium primaries lifetime not the lifetime of the entire warhead.