Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Tours LANL

Where does the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff go when he wants to learn about the design and function of nuclear weapons and the science and engineering behind the nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship Program? The answer: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Admiral Winnefeld

Vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Winnefeld (left) arrives at LANL by helicopter and is greeted by Principal Associate Director for Weapons Programs Bret Knapp.

Most Senior Military Officer to Visit LANL

Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. is the 9th vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation's second-highest-ranking military officer. As vice chairman, Winnefeld is the most senior military officer to visit the Laboratory.

Winnefeld is also the senior military officer on the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC). The NWC provides both the Legislative and Executive branches of the government policy guidance and oversight of the nuclear stockpile management process to ensure high confidence in the safety, security, and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. To meet his new duties as vice chairman, Winnefeld asked to visit Los Alamos.

Classified Briefings

Winnefeld received a wide variety of classified briefings by the Laboratory's senior leadership, including Director Charlie McMillan and Principal Associate Directors Bret Knapp and Terry Wallace. 

"Our task was to demonstrate that LANL's scientific and engineering capabilities will continue to provide the admiral, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the NWC with the information they need to keep the nation secure," McMillan said.

Director McMillan and Admiral Winnefeld

Laboratory Director McMillan and Admiral Winnefeld stand before the Laboratory's Army-Navy "E" Award flag in the Los Alamos Weapons Conference Center. The "E" Award was presented to Los Alamos in1945, in honor of its work on the Manhattan Project. During World War II, the "E" Award was presented to organizaions for excellence in the production of critical war equipment.

LANL's New Blue Room

The Blue Room is a classified room where models of weapons are on display for use in classified briefings by the Weapons Program. It incorporates modern visualization technologies to assist in briefing distinguished visitors on the Laboratory's contributions to the nuclear weapons enterprise.

In the Blue Room, the director briefed Winnefeld on the designs and functions of nuclear weapons. He also briefed the admiral on LANL's plutonium-pit manufacturing for the W88, a warhead designed by LANL for the U.S. Navy and deployed on Trident II submarines. McMillan then described to the admiral LANL's activities in support of the Life Extension Program (LEP) for the W76-1 (nuclear warhead) weapon system.

Principal Associate Director Knapp informed the admiral about LANL's support of the LEP for the B61-12 (gravity bomb) weapon system. This LEP received the NWC's approval to proceed to phase 6.3 on November 10.

Following these briefings, the admiral was given a tour of Technical Area 55 (TA-55), LANL's plutonium science and pit manufacturing facilities. At TA-55 he was further briefed on the W88 pit manufacturing process, and received other briefings on pit surveillance work and work on radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).

RTGs generate electrical power and heat from the radioactive decay of isotopes like plutonium-238. RTGs are commonly used as power sources in spacecraft, where low amounts of power and heat are needed for longer periods than batteries or other power sources can provide.

"It's an extreme honor to have had Admiral Winnefeld visit the Laboratory," McMillan said.

Dane Spearing (right) briefs Director McMillan (left) and Admiral Winnefeld (center) at TA-55, the Laboratory's plutonium science and pit manufacturing facilities.

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