Pentagon Seeks New Means for Detecting Underground Nuclear Tests

Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

The Air Force put out a request for information regarding how to improve detection capabilities.

The Defense Department is seeking information related to detecting underground nuclear tests, according to a solicitation posted to Saturday. The government may make up to four awards to researchers developing technology and techniques that would improve detection capabilities. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory put out a request for information on potential solutions for nuclear test monitoring priorities, which include improving geospatial models of the Earth in order to better determine when an underground test is happening using seismic data. Responses to the request are due July 30. 

“The government seeks to accelerate development of decisive mission capabilities in geospace awareness to improve capabilities to detect, identify, and track rapidly evolving and emerging threats from underground nuclear tests,” the description of the solicitation reads. 

U.S. adversaries including North Korea are known for testing nuclear weapons underground. Under the rule of Kim Jong Un, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests underground, most recently in 2017. That explosion caused seismic tremors that were felt in South Korea and China and was its most powerful to date. 

Interested companies or universities developing “innovative methods” for nuclear detonation detection should respond with an idea for a research project addressing the priorities outlined in the solicitation, according to the documents posted with the request. It should include a scientific research plan as well as a schedule and a description of costs. 

Research plans should include a timeline with a start date between June and September of next year. The goal is to have a solution ready for advanced testing in five years, according to the solicitation.  

The U.S. last conducted an underground nuclear test  in 1992 in Nevada, though President Donald Trump’s administration has signaled it may want to restart tests, according to a Washington Post report.  The U.S. carried out more than 1,000 nuclear tests after World War II until a moratorium on tests was established in the early 1990s.