oversight

Nuclear Weapons: Evaluation of Report on Feasibility of Increasing Air Transportation of Nuclear Weapons, Components, and Materials

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-05-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




             May 4, 2012

             Congressional Committees

             Subject: Nuclear Weapons: Evaluation of Report on Feasibility of Increasing Air
             Transportation of Nuclear Weapons, Components, and Materials

             Transporting nuclear weapons, components, and materials represents a safety
             and security risk. House Report 110-652, which accompanied the National
             Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (Pub. L. No. 110-417), directed the
             National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) 1 and the Air Force to conduct a
             feasibility study on increasing the use of aircraft to transport nuclear weapons,
             components, and materials and to report back to Congress by December 31,
             2008. 2 In turn, House Report 112-78, which accompanied the National Defense
             Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-81), directed us to conduct
             an independent evaluation of the air transportation study (ATS) jointly issued by
             the Administrator of NNSA and the Secretary of the Air Force in September 2009. 3
             The conclusions of the 2009 ATS report supported maintaining the current balance
             of air and ground transportation of nuclear weapons. 4

             We provided a classified briefing of our preliminary observations to staff of the
             Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of
             Representatives, on February 2, 2012. On March 13, 2012, we provided classified
             briefing slides to the House Armed Services Committee.

             This report provides information on whether (1) acceptable methodologies were
             used in the ATS report to develop nuclear weapons transportation options that
             considered safety, security, and operational requirements, (2) acceptable
             methodologies were used in the report to develop cost estimates for nuclear
             weapons transportation options identified in the report, and (3) recent changes to



             1
              NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy, is responsible for the
             management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons programs.
             2
               NNSA and the Air Force were directed to conduct the study in coordination with the joint
             Department of Defense/Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Council.
             3
              Specifically, GAO was directed to submit a report of our independent evaluation to the
             congressional defense committees.
             4
              NNSA and the Air Force, Report to Congress on the Feasibility of Increasing Air Transportation of
             Nuclear Weapons, Components, and Materials, Sept. 3, 2009.

                                                                              GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
nuclear weapons transportation operations, technologies, or threat information
might alter the conclusions reached in the report.

To conduct our work, among other things, we applied a GAO methodology for
assessing evaluation designs using support from ATS documents and interviews
with NNSA and Department of Defense (DOD) officials from cognizant
organizations (stakeholders); applied accepted economic practices for conducting
feasibility studies; and reviewed pertinent DOD and Department of Energy
guidance on transporting nuclear weapons, as well as interviewed additional
officials from the office of the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Air Force for Strategic
Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, and Sandia National Laboratories about
changes in operating procedures, technologies, or threat information since the
issuance of the ATS report. In addition, we visited key NNSA and Air Force
organizations, selected on the basis of their importance to the nuclear
transportation mission, located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New
Mexico.

We conducted this work between November 2011 and May 2012 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require
that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to
provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit
objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

In summary, we found the following:

   •   The ATS report was supported by generally acceptable methods for
       developing transportation options and evaluating safety, security, and
       operational requirements for these options. The assessment of safety risk
       from a possible airplane crash transporting nuclear weapons was the key
       factor supporting the report’s conclusions to maintain the current balance of
       air and ground transportation of nuclear weapons. In addition, the majority
       of the nuclear weapons in the active nuclear stockpile require special DOD
       approval to be transported by air.

   •   The ATS report was supported by an acceptable methodology to develop
       relative costs among the different transportation options under review and
       included selected costs, such as per-weapon, per-mile operating costs for
       transportation of nuclear weapons via current air and ground approaches.
       However, it did not analyze all costs—for example life cycle costs—or for
       developing infrastructure, such as airfields, necessary to support some air
       transportation options.

   •   According to stakeholders, changes in operational requirements for
       transporting nuclear weapons, new technologies that have improved
       security and safety, or reassessments of potential threats of future attacks


   Page 2                                                    GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
       since the report’s completion in 2009 would probably not mitigate the safety
       risk of air transportation and would be unlikely to alter the report’s
       conclusions.

For additional information on the results of our work, please see enclosure I, an
unclassified version of the briefing slides that were delivered to the House Armed
Services Committee. We are not making any recommendations for congressional
consideration or agency action.

We requested comments from NNSA and the Air Force on a draft of the classified
version of the briefing slides. NNSA officials provided their comments via e-mail
on March 5, 2012, stating that the briefing accurately reflects the findings, results,
and conclusions of the ATS report and that NNSA does not have any concerns or
substantive comments. Air Force officials also provided oral comments on the
draft briefing the same day, stating that they generally agreed with the information
presented. They also provided technical comments, which we incorporated as
appropriate.

                                        -----

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of Energy, Administrator of
NNSA, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Air Force, Director of the Office of
Management and Budget, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and other
appropriate congressional committees. This report is also available at no charge
on GAO’s website at http://www.gao.gov.




   Page 3                                                   GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Should you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please contact
either Gene Aloise at (202) 512-3841 or aloisee@gao.gov or John Pendleton at
(202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this
report. Key contributors to this report were Jonathan Gill (Assistant Director),
Penney Harwell Caramia (Assistant Director), Thomas Baril Jr., David Keefer,
Thomas Laetz, Sally Newman, and Kiki Theodoropoulos.




Gene Aloise, Director
 Natural Resources and Environment




John Pendleton, Director
  Defense Capabilities and Management

Enclosures – I




   Page 4                                               GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
List of Committees

The Honorable Carl Levin
Chairman
The Honorable John McCain
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Daniel Inouye
Chairman
The Honorable Thad Cochran
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate

The Honorable Howard P. McKeon
Chairman
The Honorable Adam Smith
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives

The Honorable C.W. Bill Young
Chairman
The Honorable Norman D. Dicks
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives




  Page 5                         GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I


               Unclassified Briefing on Air Transportation Study Report




     Nuclear Weapons Transportation:
      Evaluation of Air Transportation
               Study Report
                  Unclassified Version of Briefing to
                   Strategic Forces Subcommittee
                  House Armed Services Committee
                            March 13, 2012




    For more information, contact Gene Aloise, aloisee@gao.gov                     Page 1




         Page 6                                                  GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Background

   •   House Report 110-652 that accompanied the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
       2009, directed the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Air Force, in
       coordination with the joint Department of Defense (DOD)-Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear
       Weapons Council, to conduct a feasibility study on increasing the use of aircraft to transport
       nuclear weapons, components, and materials and to report back to Congress by December 31,
       2008.

   •   NNSA transmitted a status report to congressional defense committee chairs on December 29,
       2008, that also clarified scope and assumptions and extended the report date to July 31, 2009.

   •   The joint NNSA-Air Force Air Transportation Study (ATS) Report to Congress on the Feasibility
       of Increasing Air Transportation of Nuclear Weapons, Components, and Materials, was
       submitted on September 3, 2009.

   •   House Report 112-78 that accompanied the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
       2012, directed GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the ATS report. We presented our
       preliminary views to congressional staff on February 2, 2012. This briefing provides a final
       update on our evaluation of the ATS report.



                                                                                                 Page 2




         Page 7                                                             GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   GAO’s Objectives

   Our objectives were to determine whether:

   1. Accepted methodologies were used in the ATS report to develop
      nuclear weapons transportation options that considered safety,
      security, and operational requirements;
   2. Accepted methodologies were used to develop cost estimates
      for the nuclear weapons transportation options identified in the
      report; and
   3. Recent changes to nuclear weapons transportation operations,
      technologies, or threat information might alter the conclusions
      reached in the report.

                                                                       Page 3




         Page 8                                      GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Scope and Methodology

   • To evaluate the report’s methodologies used to develop nuclear weapons
     transportation options that considered safety, security, and operational
     requirements, we applied a GAO methodology for assessing evaluation designs,
     using support from ATS documents and interviews with NNSA and DOD officials
     from cognizant organizations (stakeholders). A list of these organizations is
     found at the end of these briefing slides.

   • To assess the approach used in the report to develop cost estimates, we
     reviewed ATS documents, interviewed stakeholders, and applied accepted
     economic practices for conducting feasibility studies.

   • To assess the potential effect of ongoing or recent changes in operations,
     technologies, or threat information on the conclusions reached in the report, we
     reviewed DOD and DOE/NNSA guidance and interviewed stakeholders.


                                                                                 Page 4




         Page 9                                                 GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Scope and Methodology

   •   We visited key Air Force and NNSA organizations, selected on the basis of their
       importance to the nuclear transportation mission, located at Kirtland Air Force Base in
       Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our observations made at Kirtland cannot necessarily be
       generalized to other DOD and NNSA sites.

   •   This briefing satisfies the requirement for GAO to independently evaluate the ATS report,
       as stated in House Report 112-78.

   •   We conducted this review between November 2011 and May 2012 in accordance with
       generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan
       and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable
       basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the
       evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on
       our audit objectives.




                                                                                             Page 5




        Page 10                                                          GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Scope and Methodology
                                                         Figure 1: Examples of Ground and
   At Kirtland Air Force Base, we:                       Air Transportation Vehicles and Aircraft

   •   Observed wing preparation and briefings for a
       loading exercise as well as traveled delivery
       route. We received security briefings detailing
       wing procedures. We were shown a flatbed
       trailer (fig. 1) for transporting nuclear
       weapons to the loading.

   •   Visited NNSA’s Office of Secure
       Transportation’s (OST) Command and
       Control Center, discussed active defense
       concepts, and viewed a Safeguards
       Transporter (fig. 1) and support vehicle.

   •   Viewed a prototype nuclear weapons security
       container system at Sandia National
       Laboratories.



                                                                                                    Page 6




        Page 11                                                                 GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Results in Brief


   •   The ATS report was supported by generally acceptable methods for developing
       transportation options and evaluating safety, security, and operational requirements for
       these options. The assessment of safety risk from a possible airplane crash transporting
       nuclear weapons was the key factor supporting the report’s conclusions to maintain the
       current balance of air and ground transportation of nuclear weapons. In addition, the
       majority of the active nuclear stockpile require special DOD approval to be transported by
       air.

   •   The report was supported by an acceptable methodology to develop relative costs among
       the different transportation options under review and included selected costs, such as per-
       weapon, per-mile operating costs for transportation of nuclear weapons via current air and
       ground approaches. It did not, however, contain detailed cost estimates for new
       infrastructure, such as airfields, that would be required for some options.

   •   According to stakeholders, changes in operational requirements, technologies, or threat
       information since the report’s completion in 2009 would probably not mitigate the safety
       risk of air transportation and would be unlikely to alter the report’s conclusions if the study
       were conducted today.

                                                                                                 Page 7




        Page 12                                                           GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 1: Safety, Security, and Operational
   Requirements
   • The ATS report was supported by generally acceptable methods for developing
     transportation options and evaluating safety, security, and operational
     requirements.

   • The evaluation approach of the report had both design strengths and
     weaknesses, but the weaknesses were in part mitigated by the extensive
     comment and review processes that were used in drafting the report to resolve
     comments and reach concurrence among the report’s stakeholders. Additional
     review and endorsement by the joint DOD-DOE Nuclear Weapons Council also
     mitigated these weaknesses.

   • Stakeholders who participated in and reviewed the ATS report, including those
     who took issue with portions of the report, agreed that a different methodological
     approach would not have changed the report’s conclusion—the safety risk from
     a possible airplane crash transporting nuclear weapons was the key factor
     supporting the report’s conclusions to maintain the current balance of air and
     ground transportation of nuclear weapons. In addition, the majority of the active
     nuclear stockpile require special DOD approval to be transported by air.

                                                                                  Page 8




       Page 13                                                  GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 1: Safety, Security, and Operational
   Requirements
                   Strengths                                   Weaknesses
        The report:                              The report did not:
        • Included relevant stakeholders in      • Provide evidence of a formal evaluation
          planning the evaluation                  plan to guide the effort
        • Identified clear and measurable        • Define how cost-effectiveness would be
          evaluation objectives                    assessed against other evaluation criteria
        • Established criteria to measure          (safety, security, and operational
          performance                              requirements)
        • Chose a reasonable design to           • Develop a systematic process for
          answer evaluation objectives given       collecting and analyzing data based on a
          time and resource constraints            defined plan
        • Included qualified subject matter      • Clearly articulate some specific steps
          experts from cognizant organizations     used in the evaluation, such as how
                                                   options were rated by stakeholders
        • Supported evaluation conclusions
          with data, analysis, validation
          processes, and stakeholder reviews




                                                                                        Page 9




       Page 14                                                       GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 1: Safety, Security, and Operational
   Requirements
   The identified weaknesses in the report were sufficiently mitigated by:

   • A contemporaneous internal Sandia National Laboratories nuclear weapons
     transportation study that reached conclusions similar to those of the ATS report
     while using a slightly different methodology;

   • An extensive comment and review process that was used in drafting the report
     to resolve comments and reach concurrence among the report’s stakeholders;
     and

   • Additional review and endorsement by the joint DOD-DOE Nuclear Weapons
     Council, which helped ensure broad acceptance of the ATS report. Established
     by Congress in 1986, the Council provides an interagency forum for reaching
     consensus and establishing priorities. It also provides policy guidance and
     oversight of the nuclear weapons stockpile management process to ensure the
     safety, security, and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons.

                                                                                 Page 10




       Page 15                                                  GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 2: Cost Estimating

   • The report was supported by an acceptable methodology to develop relative
     costs among the 11 different transportation options under review and included
     selected costs, such as per-weapon, per-mile operating costs for transportation
     of nuclear weapons via current air and ground approaches.

   • The report did not contain a detailed cost analysis that analyzed all costs (e.g.,
     life cycle costs) associated with each transportation option. For example, the
     report recognized the comparative costs of developing infrastructure, such as
     airfields, that would be necessary to support some air transportation options but
     did not contain detailed cost estimates for this infrastructure.

   • According to ATS team members, conducting more detailed cost analysis of the
     transportation options would have:

        •     required more time to collect and analyze all necessary data; and
        •     distracted from a focus on transportation safety and security.


                                                                                            Page 11




       Page 16                                                             GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 3: Changes to Operations,
   Technologies or Threat Information
   • According to stakeholders we spoke with, changes in operational requirements,
     technologies, or threat information during the report’s preparation and since its
     issuance would be unlikely to alter the conclusions if the feasibility study were
     conducted today.

   • The ATS stakeholders reported that, during the study period, they considered:
        • Information from an intelligence organization within OST;
        • Operational changes that were being implemented by OST;
        • DOE’s 2008 Graded Security Program and DOD’s Nuclear Security Threat
          Capabilities Assessment; and
        • Security analyses and exercises such as DOD’s MIGHTY GUARDIAN and
          OST vulnerability assessments.



                                                                                 Page 12




       Page 17                                                 GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 3: Changes to Operations,
   Technologies or Threat Information
   • Since the report’s issuance, DOD and DOE have taken additional
     actions and are making improvements in the security and safety of
     ground transportation of nuclear weapons, components, and materials.
     For example:

        • development and future deployment of a nuclear weapons security
          container system designed to mitigate a specific vulnerability;

        • design and future production of a new secure ground transporter;
          and

        • ongoing efforts to assess the potential threats of a future attack.



                                                                             Page 13




       Page 18                                              GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Objective 3: Changes to Operations,
   Technologies or Threat Information
   • Several factors could cause the assessment of transportation options to shift in
     the future:
        •     arms control treaties and international agreements—which might increase the need
              to move weapons both within the United States and abroad;

        •     innovation in life extension programs—which could increase the inherent safety and
              security of nuclear weapons;

        •     new technologies—which could increase the safety and security of air transport, such
              as a closed trailer for on-base movement to aircraft, equipment to reduce loading
              time, and containers to mitigate aircraft safety and security risk; and

        •     an accident or event involving either ground or air transport of nuclear weapons,
              components, and materials—which could change the current level of acceptable risk
              for either safety or security.



                                                                                            Page 14




       Page 19                                                           GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Agency Comments

   • We requested comments on a draft of this briefing from NNSA
     and the Air Force.
        • NNSA provided comments via e-mail on March 5, 2012, noting that
          the briefing accurately reflects the findings, results, and conclusions
          of the joint NNSA-Air Force 2009 ATS, and that NNSA does not
          have any concerns or substantive comments.
        • Air Force officials provided oral comments on the draft briefing on
          March 5, 2012, stating that they generally agreed with the
          information presented. They also provided technical comments,
          which have been incorporated as appropriate.




                                                                             Page 15




       Page 20                                              GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Organizations Contacted

   Washington, D.C.
   • Department of the Air Force
      • Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration (A10)
   • Department of Energy
      • Headquarters, National Nuclear Security Administration
          • Office of Secure Transportation
   • Office of the Secretary of Defense
      • Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biologic Defense
         Programs (Nuclear Matters)
   • Former senior defense officials

   Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Command (by telephone)
   • J872

                                                                         Page 16




       Page 21                                           GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
Enclosure I




   Organizations Contacted

   Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico
        • Air Mobility Command
        • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
           • 377th Air Base Wing
           • 498th Nuclear Systems Wing
        • NNSA, Office of Secure Transportation
        • Sandia National Laboratories

   Fort Belvoir, Virginia
       • Defense Threat Reduction Agency




                                                                       Page 17




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       Page 22                                        GAO-12-577R Nuclear Weapons
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