The U.S. Department of Energy has started making a new, low-yield nuclear weapon ordered by the Trump administration. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has announced that the weapon, called W76-2, is being built at its Pantex plant in Texas. The weapon is a variation of the Navy’s submarine-launched W76-1.
The new weapon is designed to be launched on a ballistic missile fired from a submarine. Specific details about the W76-2 were not provided by the Energy Department, but it’s believed to have a yield of around 5 to 7 kilotons. That is less than half the size of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. An estimated 60,000-80,000 people were killed in the Hiroshima bombing.
The NNSA says the first production unit of the new weapon will be delivered to the Navy by October. An agency spokesman said, “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.” The number of units for that initial delivery was not disclosed.
The Trump administration ordered the new warheads in last year’s Nuclear Posture Review. In the document, the administration said a smaller nuclear weapon that could be launched from a submarine was needed to counter Russia’s smaller nuclear weapons. The weapon is highly controversial, as it moves the U.S. closer to the possibility of a renewed arms race with Russia.
Last October, President Donald Trump stated his intentions to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia. Russia has been accused of breaking the agreement by using prohibited ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. Russia has denied the allegations.