By Jennifer Awe

Published 22 May 2024

In response to an urgent DOD request, multidisciplinary teams across Sandia delivered in a big way for international security: Enhanced surety program meets urgent request.

In response to an urgent DOD request, multidisciplinary teams across Sandia delivered in a big way for international security.

The Nuclear Deterrence Futures Office provided design and system integrator oversight to deliver an enhanced surety — safety plus security — program on an accelerated schedule of 30 months from answering the call to delivery. The program had a highly successful year, culminating in full-system qualification and delivery to the U.S. Air Force.

“It’s an impressive example of our in-house design and production teams partnering to apply the expertise needed from concept to installation,” ND Futures Office Director Ernie Wilson said. “Delivering on time demanded the full support and dedication of teams across Sandia, from quality to security to cyber to procurement. It also required trust-based relationships built over generations of partnering with NNSA and the Air Force.”

While the core team comprised about 50 people, hundreds of Sandians worked on the project over the past two years. In addition to cross-site collaboration, strong partnerships with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center were critical. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center was responsible for defining, maintaining and ensuring project management standards across the Air Force, NNSA and Sandia.

“Sandia’s component production team met numerous milestones, managing high-risk supply chain challenges, and applying rapid prototyping to production cycles,” Sandia systems engineering manager Brad Norman said. “Weapons and Force Protection partners provided the assembly and installation expertise we could not have found anywhere else. This knowledge in one place was an enabling factor.”

There were several design agencies across Sandia, with multiple teams working together and partnering with the production side.

“When we began it was a blank slate — there was no design and no production capability,” manager Mike Sabo said. “Through close partnering, we were able to develop and deliver a fully realized, qualified design and qualified testers and a streamlined production floor. Our Surety and Weapons Quality partners met or exceeded weapon product requirements, resulting in the release of component , tester- and system-level quality engineering reports.”

For perspective, a typical weapons modernization program takes more than a decade from design to delivery. While this small-scale surety project is not a typical program, an accelerated design and delivery schedule is no small feat in the national security realm.

Elements of Success
“Paramount to success were our people and their proficiency,” Brad said. “The collocation of design and production in-house at Sandia also meant if we had a problem, someone could come and look at it that day. This hands-on problem solving allowed us to resolve things quickly.”

“This type of collocation works well for one-off productions, which may not be scalable at a larger level,” Mike said. “It made sense for us to manage from start to finish for this scope of project.”

Teams applied modern engineering methods to help expedite the design and production process, including rapid prototyping for advanced manufacturing.

“Production strategies for rapid design and manufacturability also meant 3D printing for test parts to design and test fit within just a few hours to test early, which allows you to shorten design cycles,” Mike said.

The team worked closely with NNSA’s Sandia Field Office to apply a flexible and tailored approach to weapons quality requirements and reduce the number of design reviews to meet the aggressive schedule.

“The production team faced challenging supply chain issues, engineered creative solutions and communicated those to the field office to assure we’d done our due diligence,” Mike said. “Those frequent interactions with decision-makers helped move things along.”

Prior success on urgent programs helped pave the way for this effort, giving Sandians confidence that they could work fast.

“All team members shared the same motivation and emphasis on delivery,” Ernie said. “It was all hands on deck working toward a common goal for the nation, and that’s where Sandia really shines.”

Jennifer Awe is Strategic Communications Specialist, Sandia National Laboratories. The article was originally posted to the website of Sandia Labs.