Source: Oak Ridge Today | John Huotari | December 4, 2018

U.S. Air Force missile maintainers working on an intercontinental ballistic missile. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams/GAO-19-84)

U.S. Air Force missile maintainers working on an intercontinental ballistic missile. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams/GAO-19-84)

The National Nuclear Security Administration is preparing to restart a program to replace the W78 nuclear warhead, and new facilities at the Y-12 National Security Complex could be important to that project, a federal agency said Friday.

The W78 is one of two types of warheads on U.S. Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles. The W87 is the other.

Critical components inside the W78 are aging, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which published a report about the warhead replacement program on Friday. Also, the military’s requirements for, among other things, the safety and security features of the warhead have changed since it entered the stockpile in 1979, the GAO said.

Besides being used by the Air Force, the replacement W78 warhead could be used in ballistic missiles launched from Navy submarines, although further studies are required, the GAO said.

The two Y-12 facilities that could affect the warhead replacement program are the Uranium Processing Facility, which is now under construction, and the Lithium Production Facility, which could have a new building through a project that is still in the planning stages.

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