Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Booming costs . . .

UNLIKE FINE VINTAGE WINES, nuclear warheads don't get better with age. According to Dana Priest's article, "The B61 bomb: A case study in costs and needs" at The Washington Post, Uncle Sugar is concerned, because the B61 is over 50 years old as a design. It's a two-stage radiation implosion design, officially dating to 1963, developed from the Swan Device of 1956, which was the first use of fusion-boosting, which is the key to dial-a-boost variable yield.

The B61 was once heralded as a cornerstone of the country’s air-delivered nuclear force. Developed as a major deterrent against Soviet aggression in Europe, it is a slender gray cylinder that weighs 700 pounds and is 11 feet long and 13 inches in diameter. It can be delivered by a variety of aircraft, including NATO planes, anywhere in the world.

Now, nearly five decades after the first version rolled out of Los Alamos National Laboratory 100 miles north of here, age threatens to make the workhorse of the arsenal unreliable. So the B61 is poised to undergo a major renovation to extend its life span, a project that could cost as much as $10 billion, according to the Pentagon, or about $25 million for each of the 400 or so left in the arsenal.

$25 million a pop? A lotta bucks for a lotta bang. There's even a high-shock armored penetrator version, which is an unbelievably difficult achievement, because implosion devices are extremely precise; everything has to time properly, function properly, or you get a "fizzle".

Anyway, do check out the article as it gives a good over-view of a key defence industry that is off most people's radar, that has driven the development of some of the most powerful computers on the planet: like petaflops of performance. That's a lot of flops, folks.


Sixth Estate said...

I really hope those vacuum tube assemblies referred to in the article are dual-use. Only I'm a little disturbed that the government is buying nuclear weapon components on eBay.

It's handy to think of the nuclear arsenal in terms of lost opportunities for space travel, since those two industries are historically connected. In this case, refitting what to my knowledge are a collection of old unguided gravity bombs (maybe I'm mistaken here) is equivalent to the price of several hundred interplanetary space probes, or around 2.5 International Space Stations.

the salamander said...

Harper-Mackay and Baird are likely frothing at the mouth over these.. as its possible they can be attached to snowblowers, icebreakers or hot air balloons for misguided delivery. Think of them as entry level nuclear weaps for hacks and beginners so they can sit in on the international poker game. The ante is probably 2 of them.. mebbe more..