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Weapons mission top priority, new Sandia director says

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Soon-to-be Sandia National Laboratories director Stephen Younger said his top priority for the next few months is to assure a “smooth and safe transition” as he and his senior team prepare to take over lab management on May 1.

“It’s always a challenging time in a transition,” Younger told the Journal on Thursday. “People are concerned about change. But I want to assure all Sandians as smooth a transition as possible.”

Stephen Younger, a former executive at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named the head of Sandia National Laboratories. (COURTESY OF NTESS)

Stephen Younger, a former executive at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named the head of Sandia National Laboratories. (COURTESY OF NTESS)

Once the new team is in control of Sandia, the lab’s nuclear weapons life extension program will become its “first and foremost priority,” Younger said.

Sandia is playing a key role in nuclear weapons modernization, including the air-launched B61 nuclear bomb, the W88 missile designed for submarine launch, and the ground-launched Mk21 intercontinental cruise missile.

“It’s very challenging, because we’re taking weapons designed in a different era that were never intended to last as long as we want them to,” Younger said. “We’re doing a pretty thorough refurbishment with significant technology challenges using new materials and designs.”

National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, a Honeywell International subsidiary, will manage Sandia when Lockheed Martin Corp.’s contract ends on April 30. NTESS named Younger on Wednesday as the next lab director, replacing current Sandia head Jill Hruby.

The National Nuclear Security Administration awarded the new lab contract to NTESS in December, marking the first change in leadership there since Lockheed took over in 1993. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. will assist in the Honeywell contract.

Younger is a veteran of U.S. Department of Energy laboratories. He’s held senior positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site. He also headed the U.S. military’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

He brings with him an entirely new, nine-member senior leadership team. The new managers will draw on their corporate experience to apply best business practices at Sandia to improve efficiency and save money, although all lab staff will be retained, Younger said.

“We need everyone,” he said. “Sandia produces goods and services for the federal government, including the nuclear weapons life extension programs, and we need to meet all those deliverables in design, test data and hardware.”

The lab could also play a growing role in cybersecurity.

“That’s increasingly important for the entire nation, and Sandia has unparalleled capability,” Younger said.

The new team will uphold Sandia’s technology transfer programs. And it will continue to work with New Mexico’s research universities on new technologies and recruitment of future graduates into the lab workforce.

Younger has served in the past as an adjunct research professor at the University of New Mexico..

Sen. Tom Udall, D—N.M., expects to meet soon with Younger and NNSA heads to discuss the lab transition.

“I welcome Stephen Younger to Sandia Labs,” Udall said in an email to the Journal. “I’m sure his extensive experience at LANL, UNM and national labs elsewhere will serve him well.”