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NNSA completes first upgraded warhead for sub-launched nukes after 11 years of work

W88 Alt 370 test launch
Development flight test for the W88 Alt 370. Photo: DOE/NNSA

The first upgraded warhead that will be used on submarine-launched ballistic missiles has rolled off the production line, the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) announced on July 13.

The first production unit of the warhead, dubbed the W88 Alteration (Alt) 370, was produced at the Pantex Plant in Texas on July 1. DOE/NNSA says the milestone was achieved after more than 11 years of design, development, qualification, and component production.

The warhead redesign effort suffered a year-long delay and ended up millions over budget due to technical issues with the integration of commercial off-the-shelf components.

As explained by the NNSA, W88 Alt 370 is a major warhead acquisition program that ensures the future viability of the sea-launched ballistic missile strategic deterrent.

W88 Alt 370 is a refresh of the W88 warhead, which was first deployed in 1988. It is one of two warhead designs deployed on the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, with the other being the W76.

NNSA photo of the W88 Alt 370 warhead

The Alt 370 update replaces the arming, fuzing, and firing subsystem, adds a lightning arrestor connector, and refreshes the conventional high explosives within the weapon. All of the upgrades are aimed at enhancing nuclear safety and support future Life Extension Program options, DOE/NNSA says noting that all the alterations would not change the military requirements or capabilities of the warhead.

According to a NNSA fact file from 2020, the Alt 370 program is expected to complete production in 2025.

“This accomplishment is the culmination of over a decade of work, featuring contributions from several sites within the NNSA Nuclear Security Enterprise, members of the NNSA federal workforce, and members of the DoD,” said Dr. Charles Verdon, Acting NNSA Administrator.

“The W88 Alt 370 is a crucial part of nation’s strategy for the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, and a testament to the enterprise’s ability to execute major modernization programs. As we continue to modernize the stockpile, the successes and lessons learned from this program will bolster our future warhead activities to provide a safe, secure, and reliable deterrent.”