W80 (nuclear warhead)

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W80 nuclear warhead
A W80 nuclear warhead
TypeNuclear weapon
Place of originUnited States
Production history
DesignerLos Alamos National Laboratory (W80-0,1), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (W80-2,3,4)[1][2]
DesignedJune 1976
ProducedJanuary 1979
No. built2117
Mass290 lb (130 kg)
Length31.4 inches (80 cm)
Diameter11.8 in (30 cm)

Blast yield5 or 150 kilotonnes of TNT (21 or 628 TJ)
W80 Mod 1 warhead
W80 Mod 4 warhead for the LRSO program.

The W80 is a low to intermediate yield two-stage

thermonuclear warhead deployed by the U.S. enduring stockpile with a variable yield
("dial-a-yield") of 5 or 150 kilotonnes of TNT (21 or 628 TJ).

It was designed for deployment on

stockpile of nuclear gravity bombs. The very similar W84 warhead was deployed on the retired BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile

It was designed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.


The W80 is physically quite small: the

physics package itself is about the size of a conventional Mk.81
250-pound (110 kg) bomb, 11.8 inches (30 cm) in diameter and 31.4 inches (80 cm) long, and only slightly heavier at about 290 pounds (130 kg).


Early development

The Los Alamos National Laboratory began development on the W80 in June 1976, with the brief of producing a custom weapon for the cruise missiles then under construction. With "the basic design" being derived from the B61.[3] The main design differences are presumably a smaller secondary producing only 150 kilotonnes of TNT (630 TJ) yield (the B61 producing a maximum of 170 kilotonnes of TNT (710 TJ) in the tactical variants and 340 kilotonnes of TNT (1,400 TJ) in the strategic variants) and simplification of the design giving the weapon only two yield settings; 5 and 150 kilotonnes of TNT (21 and 628 TJ).

Production of the W80 mod 1 (W80-1) to arm the ALCM started in January 1979, and a number of warheads had been completed by January 1981 when the first low-temperature test was carried out. To everyone's surprise the test delivered a much lower yield than was expected, apparently due to problems in the

insensitive high explosives used to fire the primary. This problem turned out to affect several models of the B61-based line
, and production of all weapons was suspended while a solution was worked on. Production restarted in February 1982.

In March 1982, designers began working on a W80 variant intended for the Navy's

fuel rods that have been irradiated a very short time as measured in MW-Day/Ton burnup. Such low irradiation times limit the amount of additional neutron capture and therefore buildup of alternate isotope products such as Pu-240 in the rod, and also by consequence is considerably more expensive to produce, needing far more rods irradiated and processed for a given amount of plutonium. Submarine
crew members routinely operate in proximity to stored weapons in torpedo rooms, in contrast to the air force where exposure to warheads is relatively brief. The first models were delivered in December 1983 and the Mod 0 went into full production in March 1984.

Production of the W80 was completed by September 1990, although the exact date at which the respective Mod 0 and Mod 1 runs ended is not clear. A total of 1750 Mod 1 and 367 Mod 0 devices were delivered; 1,000 Mod 1 devices were deployed on the original ALCM, another 400 on the later

, and 350 Mod 0s on the Tomahawk.

Some of the original ALCMs would later have their mod 1 warheads removed and instead be fitted with conventional warheads producing the CALCM conversion. Under START II only 400 ACMs would have retained their nuclear warheads, and the rest would have been converted to CALCMs and their warheads removed to the inactive stockpile.

2007 nuclear weapons incident

On August 30, 2007, six cruise missiles armed with W80-1 warheads were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 and flown from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, on a mission to transport cruise missiles for decommissioning. It was not discovered that the six missiles had nuclear warheads until the plane landed at Barksdale, leaving the warheads unaccounted for, for over 36 hours.[4] 5th Bomb Wing subsequently failed its nuclear surety inspection in late-May 2008.[5] 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base took over the role until the wing was recertified on 15 August 2008.[6]

W80-4 Refurbishment and LRSO

In 2014, a life extension program (LEP) for the W80-1 was started and the LEP warhead was given the W80-4 designation. The warhead will be used on the new AGM-181 LRSO cruise missile.[2] The first production unit is expected to be completed in 2027.[2] According to public descriptions of the program, the warhead will offer no increased military capability, only refurbishing and updating components, and increasing weapon safety and reliability.[7][8]

In FY2022, the National Nuclear Security Administration requested funding for the W80-4 ALT-SLCM variant of the warhead, for use on a new US Navy sea-launched cruise missile to be deployed in the late 2020s.[9]

In popular culture

The W80 nuclear warhead is featured in the movie, Never Say Never Again.


Mod Status Date Number produced Yields PAL type Notes
0 All dismantled[10] 1984 to approx. 2011[11] 367 5 or 150 kilotonnes of TNT (21 or 628 TJ) Cat D Warhead for BGM-109A Tomahawk TLAM-N missile. Warhead used supergrade plutonium due to weapon's proximity to crew.
1 In service September 1981 to present 1750 5 or 150 kilotonnes of TNT (21 or 628 TJ) Cat D First production units. Warhead for AGM-86 ALCM and AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles.
2 Never entered production 0 Cat D Life extension program for W80-0, cancelled in 2006
3 Never entered production 0 Cat D Life extension program for W80-1, cancelled in 2006
4 In development 2027 onwards[2] More than 500 planned Unknown Unknown Life extension program for W80-1. Warhead will be used on new AGM-181 Long Range Stand Off Weapon (LRSO) cruise missile currently under development.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "Fusion of lab efforts on W80 work". Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 20 April 2001. Archived from the original on 5 February 2022. The W80 Life Extension Program to refurbish these warheads is now assigned to Livermore and Sandia laboratories, which will be responsible for the modified design. These laboratories will be responsible for assuring the safety, reliability and performance of the refurbished W80 warheads, Mods 2 and 3, as well as any potential future mods — Mod 2 will be the refurbished Navy warhead and Mod 3 the Air Force version.
  2. ^ a b c d "W80-4 Life Extension Program" (PDF). United States Department of Energy. November 2023. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 December 2023. Retrieved 16 January 2024.
  3. ^ Norris, Robert; Arkin, William (November 1990). "Swords into Swords". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: 15. Archived from the original on 1 September 2021. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  4. ^ Gross, Daniel A. (2016). "An Aging Army". Distillations. 2 (1): 26–36. Archived from the original on 24 March 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  5. Military Times. Archived from the original
    on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
  6. from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2008.
  7. ^ "W80-4: Sandia California works on nuclear weapon Life Extension Program". 14 October 2015. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  8. ^ Creedon, Madelyn (13 July 2016). "Statement of Ms. Madelyn Creedon Principal Deputy Administrator National Nuclear Security Administration U.S. Department of Energy on the Long Range Stand-Off Program Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Senate Committee on Appropriations" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 December 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  9. ^ Energy and Water Development Appropriations: Nuclear Weapons Activities (Report). Congressional Research Service. 14 March 2022. p. 8. R44442. Archived from the original on 10 June 2021. The FY2022 budget also includes funding for another alteration to the W80-4 warhead, known as theW80-4 ALT-SLCM. The Navy would deploy this warhead on a new sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) later in the decade.
  10. ^ Kristensen, Hans M. (18 March 2013). "US Navy Instruction Confirms Retirement of Nuclear Tomahawk Cruise Missile". Federation of American Scientists. Archived from the original on 9 July 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2023.
  11. ^ a b "W80-1 Warhead Selected For New Nuclear Cruise Missile". 10 October 2014. Archived from the original on 5 June 2020. Retrieved 8 March 2020.

External links