Dec 28, 2007

Life After the RRW & Virtual Swords

Interesting article by the Jeffrey Lewis of The Arms Control Wonk. In it, he makes reference to the fact that Joe Martz has been commenting on LTRS. Jeffrey offered no judgment on the quality or accuracy of Martz's comments, unlike others here who have been fairly critical of them, many of whom having pointed out Martz's apparent shallow understanding of the past WFO process at LANL, as well as the pending changes to that process which have been announced by NNSA.

Link to Jeffrey's original version of the article:



Photo of jeffrey

Shortly before I left for the holidays, Congressional Appropriators provided “no funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)” pending “a new strategic nuclear deterrent mission assessment for the 21st century.” The bottom line — no new warheads without a new posture — appears to command bipartisan support among the appropriators.

The RRW is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Administrator Tom D’Agostino and the rest of NNSA have to be asking themselves: Now what?

Our friend John Fleck points to one answer in the Albuquerque Journal, noting similarities between a 1990 paper and D’Agostino’s remarks on 18 December:

In January 1990, as the Soviet Union collapsed, a pair of defense industry consultants wrote a paper outlining a new approach to meeting military needs in the post-Cold War world.

Rather than a pipeline constantly churning out new weapons, Ted Gold and Rich Wagner wrote, the United States should develop the industrial research and manufacturing capability to build weapons if needed.

We do not need a huge arsenal, they argued. Instead, we could deter future enemies merely by showing that we have the capability to build new weapons when we need them. The essay was titled “Long Shadows and Virtual Swords.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 18.

In a Washington, D.C., news conference, the man in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons design and manufacturing process seemed to be echoing Gold and Wagner.

“Because our nuclear weapons stockpile is decreasing, the United States’ future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of the number of weapons,” said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary.”

I created a text version of the Gold and Wagner paper because I can’t find it anyway on-line. (It probably has more than a couple of typos from the OCR recognition software — feel free to e-mail corrections.)

I really think this is the only argument that NNSA has going for nuclear weapons programs, including whatever stockpile work will come after RRW. I never got around to flagging the idea, even after Joe Martz made a pretty decent case to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Jim Sterngold. Martz, speaking to Fleck, aptly argued “My work becomes the deterrent, not so much the products of my work.”

I may just be a sucker for the “virtual swords” thing, having got my start in Washington working for Mike “Virtual Nuclear Arsenals” Mazarr. But it seems to me that, at some point, we need a bipartisan consensus on what the labs are supposed to do in post-arms race world. And that requires a vision of what it is that nuclear weapons do in that world.

Now, don’t get me wrong — a “virtual swords” concept should not be an excuse to fund an infrastructure better sized to a nuclear weapons stockpile of 10,000 than 1,000 (see the Modern Pit Facility). And my politics are not those of Gold and Wagner. But I can see how prudent investments in our defense industrial base, most importantly the people, can provide a hedge that enables deep reductions in our bloated nuclear stockpile that could safely number in the hundreds, rather than thousands, of weapons.

I would argue that NNSA officials failed to secure Congressional support for a variety of multi-billion dollar initiatives — including funding for the Modern Pit Facility, Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and Reliable Replacement Warhead — precisely because these programs were conceived, articulated and implemented as part of a stockpile that looks liked a smaller version of the Cold War stockpile, instead of a stockpile based on the reality that much of the deterrent benefit from our nuclear stockpile is existential in nature.

It seems to me that fact — that the deterrent benefit accrues through the weapons existence and is robust across disparities in the technical details — forms to core of my answer to Cheryl Rofer’s excellent challenge to bloggers to articulate a new nuclear posture.

Update: Joe Martz has some interesting comments at LANL: The Rest of the Story.


Anonymous said...

Lewis says Martz makes a "pretty decent case" and "aptly argues". Sounds like he's stating an opinion to me. I don't think Lewis gives a hoot about WFO; his interest is nuclear weapons issues and on those points, he's pretty positive on Martz' ideas.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to Jeffrey Lewis' epitaph
for the RRW and the strategic
deterrent; Democrat Ellen Tauscher,
U.S. House of Reprentatives for
California's 10th District, home
to LLNL makes a good argument:

Anonymous said...

"But I can see how prudent investments in our defense industrial base, most importantly the people, can provide a hedge that enables deep reductions in our bloated nuclear stockpile"

Note to Mr. Lewis... many of the scientists you speak of are about to be laid off, retiring, or are leaving the labs in disgust. Staff morale has reached extreme lows and NNSA and Congress have made labs like LANL and LLNL increasingly dangerous places at which to consider launching a long term career.

In the future, you'll be seeing scientists come and go at our nuclear weapon labs at an alarming rate. Think disposable staffing. Under this scenario the "virtual swords" concept becomes little more than a computer game for amusement.

In summary, don't count on the expertise still being around when it's needed 20 or 30 years from today.

Anonymous said...

The thing about these posts are that all have very excellent points to consider. It's a big grey area punctuated bu too much passion and assumption. Martz has good points, hell, great points from the perspective in his world.

The same with others where WFO is a serious cosideration. The way I see it DOE has, as usual, shot itself in the foot with a single-mided approach (pit facility) and neglected the bigger picture of the DEVELOPMENT of science and technology to serve the national interest.

That's understandable for the Beltway Drones. Far thinking seems to be allowed only when it addresses the needs of immediate assets and their current personal futures.

But then, DOE adopted corporate mentality (virtually and literally) somewhere along the line. That malaise is typical of an organization that can't think beyonds its own immediate needs. If it has, it sure doesn't have the capability, much less the sensience to admit it.

Hey, we're not One Lab anymore. Matter of fact, I don't think we ever were. The notion that DOE has a plan, much less a clue, makes about as much sense as calling the employees "sheeple."

To clarify that, I'll just say that we asked for work when we came here, and none of us are the ones who sign our paychecks...other than to cash them in. The management of every government agency could give a shit about what we think.

LANS (Bechtel) is just being what they are. Look at the pedigree. We didn't cause the situation and we can't cure it. The fact that we have to live in the situation DOE created looks more like being at the wrong place in the wrong time. Don't expect DOE (oh yeah, and NNSA) to get it...

You can't enlighten the unconscious.

Anonymous said...

It should not be too surprising that Martz, coming from the weapons program, would be ignorant about non-weapons funding channels at LANL. For as long as I can remember, the weapons program folks lived in a world where they just told DOE to just throw the money over the fence; they'd do the right thing with it.

Nor is it surprising that somebody like Joe would surface here on the blog and proclaim that all was right in the WFO world. I mean, how hard could WFO be, really? For somebody who can lead the design team for a new, wondrous LANL RRW warhead, WFO should be a walk in the park.


Sadly, not. The real world is strikingly different from the world that the LANL weapons program has lived for the past few decades.

Go back to school, Joe. Discover the realities of the new corporate-led LANL. Then come back and tell us how it should all be done.

Joe Martz said...

It's been a delight to read comment after comment about WFOs, etc. and various points attributed to me.

Contrary to your assumptions, I currently manage a few small WFO projects at LANL, and I'm all-too-aware of our problems. In fact, I've competed for and managed WFO work for most of my time at the lab.

The sum-total of my suggestions on this topic have been 1) I support trying to diversify the lab, 2) our cost structure makes that difficult, and 3) to offer some ideas, including to suggest that Congress needs to step in to guide and direct policy changes which have made our WFO world so difficult.

If that's ignorant of WFO, then I'm guilty as charged.

I did make one mistake in my comments. I last managed LDRD funds in X division in 2005, before I left for RRW. I was made aware that LDRD costing has changed since then, and I should have used the example that LDRD was (not is) a model that WFO work could follow if also authorized by Congress (just like LDRD was).

I started at the lab about 25 years ago. My first, big project (coming out of grad school) was a promising environmental restoration technique for which I applied for the patent (plasma-based decontamination). Several outside agencies and companies were interested at the time, and I watched in some horror as a combination of DOE policies and security practices effectively killed any chance of moving my idea forward to the commercial realm by developing it within a DOE lab.

Ultimately, an outside company bought the rights and moved the technology forward, and I had to make an agonizing choice between staying at LANL (my home and family, including leaving a startup company my wife had just begun with others that left LANL from the old AT-divison) or leaving to pursue my first, good technical idea. I choose the former in large measure to help do something about our huge nuclear arsenal instead and to support my wife who had already made the leap.

Joe Martz

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

I wouldn't waste any time worrying about what Anonymous posters say about you on this blog, Joe. In any event, you're holding your own quite respectably.


Anonymous said...

"The sum-total of my suggestions on this topic have been 1) I support trying to diversify the lab, 2) our cost structure makes that difficult, and 3) to offer some ideas, including to suggest that Congress needs to step in to guide and direct policy changes which have made our WFO world so difficult."

Can't argue with any of the above, Joe. It's right on target. And, like you, I hope Congress and LANS can do something to help reduce cost levels for outside work so that LANL can try and grow itself out of our current budget problems. That's the only long term solution. We must begin pointing LANL toward an SNL model of operation. I only hope it is not too late.

Anonymous said...

SNL's WFO approach has been mentioned all the time as the model that LANL should follow. Can someone explain SNL's model? And is it still a good model when NNSA no longer subsidizes overhead and facilities cost for these projects?

Anonymous said...

Does even Congress see any value in having two *diversified* labs within 100 miles of each other in NM....? In the eyes of an appropriator would one not see better returns for the investment if one of those labs was specialized?

Anonymous said...

SNL decided back in the 90's to go after lots of DOD work. Most of their WFOs involve this type of stuff, with additional work for various others agencies that have a strong national security flavor.

LANL already does a fair amount of DOD work, especially in the TR Directorate, but it could be ramped up to much higher levels. Of course, we'll do poorly on this ramp up if we cost significantly more than other labs who we would compete against, like SNL. I should also point out that it is not just the cost of SNL labor that gives them an advantage. It is the amount of work that SNL provides for each dollar of funding. They are highly productive down there with project funding.

LANL has a lot of "dead weight" support and management costs that add to project overhead but add almost nothing in terms of productivity. In fact, just the opposite typically occurs. These areas at LANL actually hinder productivity! SNL also has excellent program managers who earn their keep by aggressively pulling in new project. If a program manager can't perform at SNL then they don't last very long.

Thats a rough outline of the SNL model. Streamlined, productive, and lean with top management and program managers that actually supports the SNL staffers when they want to target a possible new client.

Could it be done at LANL? Yes, it could. Will it be done? Probably not. There are too many vested interests who want to keep things as they are at LANL.

Doug Roberts said...

There are several factors that control the future WFO prospects at LANL. The first is NNSA's new policy regarding what kinds of WFO will be allowed by them at their NNSA labs. NNSA has clearly stated that from this point on they will only allow WFO that directly supports the core mission of the laboratory, which we now know to be pit production and related plutonium science for LANL.

The second issue is the FTE cost at LANL. LANL is outrageously expensive, compared to other organizations that can do work such as energy research, high performance computing, and all those other areas where attractive WFO opportunities exist. Potential WFO sponsors have no economic incentive to bring their work to Los Alamos.

Related to the FTE rates at LANL are the known bureaucratic inefficiencies that have been ingrained into the institution over the years, and which have been reinforced and made (unbelievable as it would seem) even worse by LANS. It is simply not possible to be productive at LANL -- the work place is just too dysfunctional.

Confusing the issue is Tom Udall's exhortation to Anastasio that LANL should branch out into areas that include energy research. This suggestion is in direct contradiction to NNSA's newly stated WFO policy. I can only imagine that Udall made this public suggestion for political reasons. In LANL's present position, the suggestion is unachievable.

Finally, as if it were not bad enough having the lab's sponsor, NNSA, state that only plutonium manufacturing related WFO would be encouraged at LANL, there is the fact that the lab's LLC has no economic incentive to encourage WFO. LANS will receive its $79 million award fee regardless of the number of staff that continue to work at LANL, and regardless of what the work portfolio mix is.

Take all of these factors into account, and future WFO prospects at LANL are very dim indeed.

Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired 2005

Anonymous said...

Mike is suppose to have another All-Hands meeting shortly after we return from the Holidays in which he will announce the next move towards Workforce Restructuring (i.e., the infamous Phase 2).

Anyone want to place bets on how many they'll decide to layoff? I'm guessing LANS still wants to reach that 750 figure. With about 400 volunteers from the SSP, they'll probably aim for 350 RIFees by early March.

After that is over, we'll have Phase 3 hanging over our heads for the next few years. Phase 3 RIFs are the real wild card. NNSA says they want to reduce LANL's workforce by 20% using attrition over the next decade, but I suspect LANS will end up implementing Phase 3 RIFs over the next 2 years to speed things up. The thinking will be "Why wait for attrition when we have all the tools we need to reach this goal quickly?" Phase 3 will also clear out slots so that they can be filled more quickly with workers from Bechtel and BWXT.

Anonymous said...

whoa! hold on... the AVERAGE across the complex was 20% - job loss at certain sites (like LANL with its reduced scope mission) could see 30, 40, 50% reduction in staff, especially over a decade's time. Other sites with increased scopes (such as Pantex or NTS) will likely see increases balancing out the 20% figure. I'm reminded of the statistician who drowned in a lake that was only an average of 2" deep...

Anonymous said...

No, 6:46 PM, you are wrong.

The two page handouts over at the NNSA site clearly show that both LANL and LLNL are being targeted for 20% reductions in the workforce over this next decade. Pantex is targeted for 5% to 10% reductions. Y-12 is being targeted for 30% reductions in workforce.

Of course, these figures could go higher if Congress decides to cut NNSA funding more than anticipated. NNSA seems to be expecting flat funding, with the extra cash for building the new complex coming from layoffs and the closing down of old facilities.

I'm not so sure about this view. We'll probably be lucky to see flat funding over this next decade. The country is going broke and the Baby Boomers are about to eat up large portions of the federal budget due to their entitlement payouts. The changing makeup of Congress may also mean that future NNSA budgets are going to be cut back more than some people expect.

Anonymous said...

"...NNSA says they want to reduce LANL's workforce by 20% using attrition over the next decade, but I suspect LANS will end up implementing Phase 3 RIFs over the next 2 years ..."

How one views the future depends on one's outlook. Glass half full or empty...

2% per year is conceivable, being only about 60% of normal attrition. (Ie, Lose 3 to normal attrition, replace one....) LLNL has reduced from nearly 10,000 to less than 8000 over the past 10-15 years at about this rate.

A 20% smaller LLNL would be about 7000 employees, and I think a 20% smaller LANL would be about 10,000.

In their golden years the labs were smaller than this.

While I am not a NNSA fan, this seems doable. Unless it is tried in 5 or less years, which will require RIFs, hiring freezes and/or incentives.

Anonymous said...

"How one views the future depends on one's outlook. Glass half full or empty..."

Yes, but how the future turns out for a large institution has little to do with one's outlook on whether the glass is half empty or half full.

Congress has the final say on the nuclear weapon labs. If they want them downsized by 20% over the next two years, then they will be quickly downsized.

BTW, it is my understanding that the number of employees at LANL before last month's SSP offer was about 10,500. A 20% cut would put LANL at rougly 8,500. If my memory serves me right, LANL had about 6,500 employees after the last RIF back in '95. There was a huge amount of staff growth since that time with most of it coming during the last seven years and the majority of the growth being used to fill new support positions. Over half of the people who work at LANL were hired after the year 2000. We have a large number of newbies at LANL. I'm not sure what the employment history is at LLNL.

Anonymous said...

"had about 6,500 employees after the last RIF back in '95. "

It was a much much stronger lab back than as well. It is not the number of people it is how good they are.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The glass is only "half full" if it's being filled.

If it's being drained, then it is half empty.

Should be pretty obvious which is the case at LANL.

Anonymous said...

“My work becomes the deterrent, not so much the products of my work.”

That has the same deterrent value as, "Don't mess with me, I know how to build a gun." Let's quit pretending. If we are going to disarm we should at least be honest with ourselves about what we are doing.