The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) has been awarded $275,000 to conduct nuclear surety policy and guidance research for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters.
After multiple instances of recapitalization postponement, the U.S. government has embarked on a decades-long commitment to modernize its nuclear forces. The Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy have undertaken a range of development efforts that span weapon upgrades and life extensions to complete replacement of weapon systems. As these strategic modernization programs deliver capabilities to the nation, elements of the programs have made dramatic shifts to complex, digital and cyber-enabled systems.
Leveraging NSRI's nuclear certification expertise, collaborators will update the DOD Nuclear Weapons Surety Program regarding these technological shifts. Modernizing the surety program is essential to continuing to guard U.S. nuclear weapons, which underpin the nation’s deterrence strategy.
“Billions of dollars of new systems will come online in the next decade, each requiring deep safety procedures and protocols,” said Dr. Christopher Yeaw, NSRI research director for nuclear programs. “This research asks — what does 21st century nuclear surety really look like?
“This work is our humble contribution to helping ensure the systems and processes that protect the country’s fundamental deterrence assets progress efficiently and effectively.”
The need to examine nuclear surety policy stems from the joining of three factors: the complex nature of weapon systems under development, the emergence of asymmetric threat vectors and the necessity to complete modernization programs on time. NSRI's effort seeks to recommend what senior leaders need to be “sure of,” what the military departments must “attest to” and how often the systems must be certified.
In addition to supporting updates to the surety program’s primary policy and guidance, the research findings also can contribute to future updates of external policy and guidance documents affecting nuclear weapon safety, security and use control. Combined, these efforts will enable modernized, comprehensive and coordinated efforts to maintain nuclear surety in the 21st century.
“Since the dawn of the nuclear age in the 1940s, nuclear surety — which evolved from ‘safety’ to also include security and use control — has never yet failed us,” Yeaw said. “With an exceptional amount of control and procedures, the U.S. has never had a nuclear explosive accident. Entering the next decade of significant military modernizations and weapons systems upgrades, continued foresight regarding maintaining safe and secure nuclear weapons is essential, foundational and critical to our deterrence posture.”
As the DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), NSRI’s deep understanding and experienced team are a tremendous resource for the DOD in this space. The institute’s mission objectives specifically include support to the sustainment, modernization and application of the U.S. nuclear deterrent as well as advice on advancing U.S. nonproliferation goals.
“It is our responsibility to deliver the highest-quality research contributions and policy insights to our UARC sponsor, USSTRATCOM, as well as the command’s partners across the deterrence landscape,” said Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.) Rick Evans, NSRI executive director. “I’m proud that NSRI was able to rapidly respond to this request and join the team leading this effort from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 14 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.