Military

US begins production of its latest air-dropped nuclear munition

US begins production of its la...
The B61-12 is the latest variant of the B51 Cold War bomb
The B61-12 is the latest variant of the B51 Cold War bomb
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The B61-12 is the latest variant of the B51 Cold War bomb
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The B61-12 is the latest variant of the B51 Cold War bomb

The United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has begun production of the country's latest air-dropped nuclear weapon variant. The agency announced that on November 23, the B61-12 Life Extension Program First Production Unit rolled off the line as the first of a projected 400 to 500 warheads.

Developed during the Cold War, the B61 has been America's main air-dropped nuclear bomb since it was deployed in 1968. Unlike the larger strategic B83 bomb, it can not only be carried by heavy bombers like the B-52 and the B-2, but also by a wide variety of fighter aircraft flown by the US Air Force and NATO countries.

There are currently four versions of the B-61: the 3, 4, 7, and 11. Three of these are tactical nuclear weapons and one is a strategic nuke, but they share a variable yield design that allows them to explode with a force between 0.3 and 340 kilotons of TNT as desired. In addition, they can carry a variety of fuses and can either drop on a ballistic arc or retard their forward flight by using air drag to drop almost straight down.

Unfortunately, these variants are not only obsolete, they are also so old that they are in danger of no longer functioning. After decades of debate and nine years of development, the US Defense Department decided to upgrade the B61 by introducing a new variant called the B61-12, which refurbishes, recycles, or replaces of all the nuclear and non-nuclear components.

The reason for this is not only to replace three of the previous four variants with one that will remain in service for another 20 years, but also, eventually, to replace the one-megaton yield B83. With the Cold War over, it would be hard to justify fielding such a large bomb in Europe or Asia and by equipping the B61-12 with the Boeing Tailkit Assembly, the new bomb can land within 30 m (100 ft) of its target, which means it can use a much smaller explosive yield of 0.3 to 50 kilotons to destroy it with much less collateral damage.

The first B61-12 will enter service in May 2022 and the last production unit will be completed by 2026 at a cost of US$28 million each. These 700-lb (320-kg) bombs will be compatible with most current bomber and fighter aircraft, as well as the new F-35 and the B-21 Raider.

"With this program, we’re delivering a system to the Department of Defense that improves accuracy and reduces yield with no change in military characteristics, while also improving safety, security and reliability," says Jill Hruby, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator. "The work on the B61-12 will also ensure the warhead can be air-delivered on both current and future platforms to meet Department of Defense requirements."

Source: NNSA

12 comments
12 comments
anthony88
Just a cheery reminder that in an all-out nuclear war in which a few adversaries decide in a split-second moment of mad judgement that mutually assured destruction is the best way to go and so launch all of their missiles, all of human civilisation's progress and achievements over 50 thousand years will be wiped out in about 20 minutes.
Brian M
@anthony88 -The only good point here is that these are reduced yield weapons (0.3 and 340 kilotons of TNT) as the larger yield bombs are now considered to be excessive outside the cold war period. With better precision they can be used to target offensive armies with less collateral damage and hopefully act as a deterrent not only to nuclear attacks but conventional large scale force attacks, which with certain countries country world view is a cause for concern.

The other plus is that the smaller yield reduces the risk of creating of a global nuclear winter.

Nuclear weapons are never good but you can't uninvent them.
Catweazle
anthony88, MAD hasn't existed as a strategy since around 1967, it was superseded by the strategy of First Strike Survival after the USA and USSR seriously scared themselves (and everyone else, we didn't have lessons at school that day because we didn't know if there was any further point. We sat round listening to the radio as the time to JFK's deadline counted down. Twenty minutes before it elapsed the Russian freighters turned round and we all heaved a big sigh of relief) during the Cuban Missile Crisis when events almost got away from them.
The first method was a technique called Fratricide, based on positioning the hardened Minuteman silos that could only be disabled by a ground-based nuclear detonation in patterns such that the first such attack would disable a silo but throw up an umbrella of protective debris that would destroy a warhead travelling at several miles per second but not a missile travelling relatively much more slowly.
This was replaced by the MX mobile missile system that consisted of many vehicles not all of which carried weapons and travelled round the country so that it was effectively ipossible for the enemy to know their locations. These were made possible by improvements in the inertial guidance systems that allowed rapid programming of the launch position so the missiles were not tied to a known launch site.
The old 50 megaton city busters were effectively extinct by the early 1970s, replaced by the MIRV multiple targetable re-entry vehicles, so fortunately there is no longer any serious danger of all life being wiped out by a nuclear holocaust.
I used to find it curious that this removal of MAD capability was not common knowledge, now I know better of course.
bwana4swahili
Just what the world needs! More idiot spending on nuclear weapons. How total stupid can homo sapiens be!?
FB36
IMHO, quite on the contrary to what some very naive people think, threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is what really prevents WW3!!!
That is really/actually why no local/regional wars (which still happen!) ever able to escalate towards triggering WW3!!!
Because, all superpower countries are always well aware of threat of MAD, just like "the Sword of Damocles"!
Realize, for example, even tough WW1 had caused massive death & destruction, there was a new world war triggered just about 20 years later!
It is not really because we do not have a WW3 because whole world/humanity learned its lesson!!!
Nelson Hyde Chick
We already have enough nuclear arms to destroy the Earth in an afternoon, but we need more? Insanity!
paul314
Air-dropped is sort of interesting. Unless you send the bombers out way early (!) they will reach their targets hours after the missiles have destroyed most things considered worth destroying. They may be, uh, useful if your intended target has neither missiles nor high-quality air defense.
Smokey_Bear
Good, while hopefully they will never be used, you have to be on guard. If you do need to use them, they sure as hell better work.
christopher
@Brian M - defeatist thinking needs to be eradicated. True, we cannot "uninvent" those weapons, but we CAN, if we bothered put our minds to it, agree between all nations to get rid of them all.

"less collateral damage" - ROFL - what about the centuries of atmospheric, oceanic, and ground pollution caused by the resulting fallout. If we're smart enough to invent them, we're at least smart enough to know we should not be using them, and definitely smart enough to work together in times of piece to agree to get rid of them.

Nuclear is utterly pointless in todays military climate anyway - drones and smart weapons are vastly superior, with no collateral damage - all need for nukes has long past.

aksdad
Why were nuclear weapons invented? To stop an enemy that won't otherwise be deterred without massive destruction and loss of life. Unleashing a nuclear weapon is a terrible thing, but it's sometimes less terrible than other options when trying to stop a determined enemy. As the tragedy on September 11, 2001 and every terrorist attack around the world has demonstrated, there are determined, evil people who will slaughter others who have done nothing to provoke them. Now imagine that ruthless ambition in the leader(s) of a country that has WMDs. Nuclear deterrence matters.
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