Tacit Knowledge Involvement in the Production of Nuclear Weapons: A Critical Component of a Credible US Nuclear Deterrent in the 21st Century
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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Preservation of nuclear weapon tacit knowledge has not previously been linked to maintaining a credible US nuclear deterrent. President Obamas 2009 Prague speech committing the US to seek a world without nuclear weapons, has yielded two policy debates the necessary arsenal size and force configuration required to have a credible deterrent while following the Road to Global Zero nuclear weapons, and the potential feasibility of getting to zero due to shortcomings in monitoring and verification. Absent from these debates, and indeed missing from the discussions altogether, is the role of tacit knowledge about nuclear weapon design and development on the road to zero. The relationship between tacit knowledge and credible nuclear deterrence has yet to be examined. US weapons designed to last 10 years are now over 20 years old and projected to be maintained for several more decades while the last of the scientific community having actual experience designing and testing nuclear weapons are preparing for retirement. If both explicit and tacit knowledge are required in the knowledge transfer process, and all those with process knowledge retire, there will be no one left who has the tacit knowledge required for building a nuclear weapon in a timely fashion. In this paper, tacit knowledge is defined along with the relevance of tacit knowledge in creating a nuclear weapon and the need for nuclear tacit knowledge preservation and transfer in todays environment. An assessment of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests that neither the working environment nor the data management system in place currently fosters tacit knowledge transfer or capture. Recommendations are offered as steps to enhance tacit knowledge preservation and transfer to support a credible nuclear deterrent through the next several decades until such time as the Road to Global Zero comes to an end or takes a critical detour.