By: Earnest Wright | 04-17-2017 | News
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Perfect Timing? U.S. Field Tests B61-12 Gravity Thermonuclear Bomb in Nevada

The US has conducted a successful field test of a new nuclear bomb. The US National Nuclear Security Administration quietly announced overnight that the first successful field test of the modernized, steerable B61-12 gravity thermonuclear bomb in Nevada had been achieved.

The NNSA said that in conjunction with the US Air Force, it had completed the first qualification flight test of B61-12 gravity nuclear bomb on March 14 at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

The NNSA revealed that the non-nuclear assembly test was dropped from an F-16 based at Nellis Air Force Base and was intended to evaluate both the weapon’s non-nuclear functions as well as the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon.

Three successful development flight test were done back in 2015. The test is the first of a series that will be conducted in a period of three years to make sure that the B61-12 is qualified for service.

The NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for military application, Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton pointed out that the demonstration of the effective end-to-end system performance in a realistic ballistic flight environment has marked another on-time achievement for the B61-12 Life Extension Program.

Crucial qualification data was gathered from the successful test to validate that the baseline design meets military requirements. The move reflects the nation’s commitment to the national security and that of the allies.

The hardware systems involved in the test were designed by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, manufactured by the Nuclear Security Enterprise plants, and mated to the tail-kit assembly section, designed by the Boeing Company under contract with the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

Four B61 bomb variants will be replaced and consolidated by the B61-12 in the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The schedule indicates that the first production unit will be completed by March 2020.

The backbone of the Air Force’s nuclear arsenal is the original B61 gravity bomb which is also one of the legs of the so-called nuclear triad, along with the intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed from either ground-based silos or oceangoing submarines. It has had almost 50 years of service, qualifying to be the oldest and most versatile weapon in the enduring U.S. arsenal.

However, various modifications have been made to improve the B61’s safety, security, and reliability since the first B61 entered service in 1968.

Reports from the NNSA indicated that the B61-12 LEP will refurbish, reuse, or replace all of the bomb’s nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the service life of the B61 by at least 20 years.

The bomb is expected to be approximately 12 feet long and weigh approximately 825 pounds. It will be air-delivered in either ballistic gravity or guided drop modes, and is being certified for delivery on current strategic (B-2A) and dual capable aircraft (F-15E, F-16C/D & MLU, PA-200) as well as future aircraft platforms (F-35, B-21).

The ambitious and expensive plan to modernize the US nuclear triad has been endorse by President Trump. The March test of the B61-12 was the first in a series to take place over the next three years. Reports indicate that the final design review will be due in September 2018 while the first production unit scheduled for completion by March 2020.

After the bomb is authorize for use in 2020, the US will deploy some 180 of the B61-12 precision-guided thermonuclear bombs to five European countries.


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