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Thirty-Year-Old W88 Nuclear Warhead Finally Gets Upgraded, Is Now Ready to Fire

The U.S. has finally got its W88 nuclear warhead updated and ready to fire, after more than 10 years of development. The new W88 Alt 370 received an improved, redesigned AF&F (Arming, Fuzing, and Firing) subsystem and a refresh of the conventional high explosive.
Thirty-Year-Old W88 Nuclear Warhead Finally Gets Updated 6 photos
Development flight test for the W88 Alt 370W88 Alt 370 arming, fuzing, and firing assemblyUSS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 795) attack submarineUSS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 795) attack submarineUpdated W88 nuclear warhead
Several names were involved in this complex project of modernizing the aging, outdated warhead, including Sandia National Laboratories, the design and engineering labs for the W88 Alt 370. Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Kansas City National Security Campus, Pantex Plant, and the Y-12 National Security Complex also had important roles in updating the nuclear warhead.

The W88 was faithful to the United States’ nuclear deterrent for more than 30 years since it’s entered the stockpile. Deployed on the U.S. Navy’s Trident II D5 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) system, the W88 has an estimated yield of 475 kilotons and was carried onboard Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

Multiple major components had to be upgraded as the W88 had to align with all the technological advancements of the last 30 years.

Sandia redesigned the entire AF&F assembly, which is the brain of the warhead, including the radar, communication, guidance, and other safety key components. The AF&F looks for the correct code and environmental signals that will unlock the system and make sure the flight is an authorized one, as explained by Dolores Sanchez, senior manager of the W88 Alt 370 program.

In addition to updating the AF&F subsystem, all the materials that have deteriorated over time have been replaced and the modernizing process also included a refresh of the conventional high explosive.

Sandia states that the entire W88 Alt 370 system has been put through an extensive set of tests to make sure it is reliable and secure and to also ensure that its AF&F assembly can be successfully integrated into the full weapon system. Among others, the AF&F was put through extreme temperatures, drops, impact, massive electrical impulses, and vibration tests, proving it can operate as intended.

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