Modeling and Simulation

Providing the NNSA with independent and external reviews of practices and systems engineering

A B61-12 model awaits testing in a wind tunnel at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. The full-scale wind tunnel test is part of the B-61 life extension program. Photo courtesy National Nuclear Security Administration.

Customer Issue

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) ensures the United States sustains a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. Through the Office of Defense Programs, the mission of the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program is to maintain the active stockpile, extending the life of weapons systems through the application of science, technology, engineering, manufacturing, and weapons dismantlement. Through the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, the NNSA works closely with laboratories and the private sector to detect, secure, and dispose of dangerous nuclear and radiological material, and related weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology and expertise.

The U.S. Congress created the NNSA in 2000 as a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, responsible for the management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, and naval reactor programs. In 2002 the NNSA reorganized, removing a layer of management by eliminating its regional operations offices in New Mexico, California, and Nevada. NNSA headquarters retained responsibility for strategic and program planning, budgeting, and oversight of research, development, and non- proliferation activities. More recently, the NNSA requested that The Aerospace Corporation conduct an external and independent review of its management practices, systems engineering, and mission assurance in a number of important areas.

Aerospace Solution

In 2011, Aerospace conducted a series of independent studies, at the request of the Office of Defense Programs, focusing on the systems engineering and mission assurance management processes applied to its major nuclear weapons refurbishment programs, known as life-extension programs. The NNSA employs an end-to-end acquisition process, referred to as the Phase 6.X Process, which differs in some ways from Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition practices. Moreover, the relationship between the NNSA and DOD, as a partner with the nuclear weapons laboratories and production sites, differs from that of the government customer-prime contractor relationship that exists for DOD acquisitions. In light of these differences, Aerospace approached this task by taking a fresh look at the NNSA’s way of doing business and provided value-added observations and recommendations within the context of the existing NNSA acquisition culture and structures.

Aerospace assembled a team of senior personnel with knowledge of complex systems acquisition and development, systems engineering, integrated lifecycle management, mission assurance, and program execution. The team focused on five areas: staffing and workforce, cost and schedule estimating, budget management, technology and manufacturing, and program systems engineering and risk management. The team interviewed key NNSA federal managers and staff, and personnel at the national laboratories and production sites across the nation. The team also interviewed DOD stakeholders within the Navy and Air Force. The team reviewed programmatic and technical information from the site visits, NNSA-provided information, and other government reports and audits.

The Aerospace report focused on the need for an organizationally independent systems engineering and integration (SE&I) function at the enterprise level to help manage requirements, provide technical insight, and support the consistent use of best practices across the enterprise. Other recommendations were made, including formalizing the decision process for mitigating risk and establishing a strong technical and programmatic baseline management process for NNSA acquisition programs.


The report helped the Office of Defense Programs to make decisions on reorganizing and creating two new groups. One group would focus on major acquisitions, such as weapons life extension programs, and the other would provide the independent SE&I function. Aerospace assisted in identifying candidate SE&I organizational structures, roles and responsibilities, and staffing requirements.

Today, Aerospace is providing experienced engineering advisory support to the Office of Defense Programs SE&I in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, New Mexico, which includes program systems engineering for the B61 gravity bomb life-extension program, independent technical studies and risk assessments, and the development of systems engineering policy and practices to benefit the enterprise.

The nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories are managed, on behalf of the NNSA, through management and operating (M&O) contracts to large private sector companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations. As part of the work in reviewing NNSA management processes, Aerospace was asked to review and comment on the current M&O contracting strategy. The Aerospace team met with NNSA source evaluation board representatives and gathered background information on the agency’s current contracting and source-selection approach, and supporting documents and example artifacts from previous competitions.

Aerospace’s study team provided the NNSA source evaluation board with information on acquisition strategy best practices, such as structuring statements of work, contractual deliverables, and invoices to manage contractor performance and ensure access to technical and programmatic information needed to monitor contract performance.