Nuclear Deterrence strategy confronts an uncertain global future

By Michael J. Baker

Photography By Rebecca Gustaf

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Strategy aligns with Labs-level priorities to innovate and counter threats

Steve Girrens addresses the audience at the Steve Schiff Auditorium
HAMMER DOWN — Associate Labs Director Steve Girrens (right) addresses a crowd at the Nuclear Deterrence all-hands, saying it is time to put the hammer down in implementing the Labs’ Nuclear Deterrence strategy.

The words “forward,” “advancing” and “agile” were heard often as Sandia leaders presented the Labs’ Nuclear Deterrence strategy to continue delivering a safe, secure and effective deterrent in the face of an uncertain global future.

But the word spoken most was “engagement,” as leaders urged the Sandia workforce to participate fully in the strategy and move the Labs forward.

The Nuclear Deterrence strategy is a core part of the Labs’ overall strategy to succeed for the next several decades, said Deputy Labs Director Dave Douglass, encouraging Sandia staff to “think big ideas.”

“We want to get out of incremental thinking,” he said. “We want to challenge ourselves to change the world.”

The strategy and specific implementation plans were delivered during a Nuclear Deterrence all-hands meeting on Oct. 31 at the Steve Schiff Auditorium.

“This is day one of a path forward,” Associate Labs Director and Chief Engineer for Nuclear Weapons Steve Girrens said. “You’ve been doing a lot of work already. Now, we’re going to put the hammer down.”

Five objectives forward

Kent Meeks, program director for Sandia’s Nuclear Deterrence portfolio, presented the basics to those in the auditorium and hundreds more via videoconferencing at Sandia’s other sites.

“It’s preparing for a long-range global future,” Kent said. “It’s a way to look out to inspire us” for the next 10 to 20 years. The Nuclear Deterrence strategy is based on five evolving objectives, plus a cross-cut focus on people, facilities and technology. The five core objectives are:

  • The Foundation — Nurture and advance Sandia’s science and engineering foundation through innovation.
  • Flexible and Responsive (Sustained) Deterrence — Strengthen the U.S. deterrence posture in an uncertain and changing global environment.
  • Nuclear Enterprise Assurance — Ensure research, design, development, production, testing, storage, packaging, transportation, maintenance, surveillance, dismantlement and disposal for current and future weapons are resilient to subversion.
  • Integrated Weapon and Physical Security — Create solutions based on intelligence-informed threat assessments that provide security for U.S. nuclear weapons throughout their lifecycle.
  • Stockpile Evaluation and Assessment — Drive agile, sustainable, forward-looking assessments of U.S. nuclear weapons safety, security and effectiveness through engagement and application of Sandia’s broad capabilities.

Rubber, meet road

"Enough talking about this," Steve said. “Let’s start thinking about implementation.”

Directors and managers also presented detailed plans about what is occurring and what will occur at Sandia to meet each objective.

A large audience listens to speakers in the Steve Schiff Auditorium

STRATEGY SESSION — A crowd at the Steve Schiff Auditorium listens as the Labs’ Nuclear Deterrence strategy is outlined at an all-hands meeting.

Terry Aselage, director of material, physical and chemical sciences, presented The Foundation objective, explaining how research, testing, computing platforms and advanced analysis can help meet the Labs’ mission. High-performance computing, the Z Machine and additive manufacturing, among other technologies, will help propel Sandia forward, he said.

Colin Smithpeter, with advanced weapon systems and surety, presented the Nuclear Enterprise Assurance objective. He spoke of the growing global threats to nuclear deterrence and the need to continue working with the Labs’ national security partners to deter and detect those threats.

"The threat is present and quickly evolving," he said. "We need to broaden our defenses. ... Let’s see what we can do to deter an adversary from the very beginning."

Matthew Brown, in critical cybersystems, gave specifics for objective owner director Dave Corbett on Integrated Weapon and Physical Security, speaking to Sandia’s unique position to provide leadership in security solutions that address real-time threats. Integrated security allows Sandia to address the security challenges in the Nuclear Posture Review, he said.

Sandia’s broad capabilities are critical in maintaining an agile and forward-looking assessment of U.S. nuclear weapon safety, security and effectiveness, said Chris O'Gorman, New Mexico stockpile systems engineering, addressing the Stockpile Evaluation and Assessment objective. Experimentation and "bringing all the tools we have to bear at Sandia" offer innovative approaches to improving the product, he said.

Sandia must accelerate the agility of the development cycle, reduce uncertainty in the understanding of the threat and increase innovation with broader participation across the Labs, said Scott Holswade, director of advanced systems and transformation, in presenting the Flexible and Responsive (Sustained) Deterrence objective.

"We want to strengthen our deterrence posture in an uncertain and rapidly changing global environment," he said. "If you have a badge at Sandia, you’re part of the weapons program."

Seek more information

Speakers urged all members of the workforce to seek more information and opportunities to get involved in the Nuclear Deterrence strategy — beginning with a poster session in the auditorium lobby — to gain a fuller understanding of current projects and how they fit into the objectives.

"We need everybody to get involved here," Steve said. "Our future is at stake."

Employees can watch the all-hands videostream with closed captioning here.