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B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Design Features

B61-12windtunnel

Click on image to download high-resolution version.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Additional design details of the new B61-12 guided standoff nuclear bomb are emerging with new images. The image above shows a full-scale B61-12 model hanging in a wind tunnel at Arnold Air Force Base.

The test “uncovered a previously uncharacterized physical phenomenon,” according to Sandia National Laboratories, that would affect weapons performance.

Apparently a reference to the interaction between weapons spin rocket motors and the new guided tail kit assembly. Existing B61 models do not have the guided tail kit and are less accurate than the B61-12. Continue Reading →

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Integration On NATO Aircraft To Start In 2015

SteadfastNoon2008

Integration of the new guided B61-12 nuclear bomb will begin in 2015 on NATO Tornado and F-16 aircraft, seen here in 2008 at the Italian nuclear base at Ghedi Torre for the Steadfast Noon nuclear strike exercise. Image: EUCOM.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The US Air Force budget request for Fiscal Year 2015 shows that integration of the B61-12 on NATO F-16 and Tornado aircraft will start in 2015 for completion in 2017 and 2018.

The integration marks the beginning of a significant enhancement of the military capability of NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe and comes only three years after NATO in 2012 said its current nuclear posture meets its security requirements and that it was working to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.   Continue Reading →

NATO Nuclear Weapons Security Costs Expected to Double

Former US Air Force Europe commander General Rodger Brady shakes hands with 703 Munitions Support Squadron personnel at Volkel Air Base in June 2008 during security upgrades to U.S. nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe. More expensive security upgrades are planned.

Former US Air Force Europe commander General Rodger Brady shakes hands with 703 Munitions Support Squadron personnel at Volkel Air Base in June 2008 during security upgrades to U.S. nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe. More expensive security upgrades are planned.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The cost of securing U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe is expected to nearly double to meet increased U.S. security standards, according to the Pentagon’s FY2015 budget request.

According to the Department of Defense NATO Security Investment Program , NATO has invested over $80 Million since 2000 to secure nuclear weapons storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

But according to the Department of Defense budget request, new U.S. security standards will require another $154 million to further beef up security at six bases in the five countries.  Continue Reading →

B61-12: First Pictures Show New Military Capability

B61-12nnsa

The guided tail kit of the B61-12 will create the first U.S. guided nuclear bomb.
Image: National Nuclear Security Administration. Annotations added by FAS.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. government has published the first images of the Air Force’s new B61-12 nuclear bomb. The images for the first time show the new guided tail kit that will provide new military capabilities in violation of the Nuclear Posture Review.

The tail kit will increase the accuracy of the bomb and enable it to be used against targets that today require bombs with higher yields.

The guided tail kit is also capable of supporting new military missions and will, according to the former USAF Chief of Staff, affect the way strike planners think about how to use the weapon in a war.

The new guided weapon will be deployed to Europe, replacing nearly 200 non-guided nuclear B61 bombs currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.  Continue Reading →

General Confirms Enhanced Targeting Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb

Schwartz

By Hans M. Kristensen

The former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, confirmed last week that the B61-12 nuclear bomb planned by the Obama administration will have improved military capabilities to attack targets with greater accuracy and less radioactive fallout.

The confirmation comes two and a half years after an FAS publication first described the increased accuracy of the B61-12 and its implications for nuclear targeting in general and the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe in particular.

The confirmation is important because the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) pledged that nuclear warhead “Life Extension Programs…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

In addition to violating the NPR pledge, enhancing the nuclear capability contradicts U.S. and NATO goals of reducing the role of nuclear weapons and could undermine efforts to persuade Russia to reduce its non-strategic nuclear weapons posture.

Confirmation of the enhanced military capability of the B61-12 also complicates the political situation of the NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) that currently host U.S. nuclear weapons because the governments will have to explain to their parliaments and public why they would agree to increase the military capability.

Continue Reading →

Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Increase Further

b61-12radartest

A B61-12 radar test drop conducted earlier this year.

By Hans M. Kristensen

With every official statement about the B61 nuclear bomb life-extension program, the capabilities of the new version (B61-12) appear to be increasing.

Previously, officials from the DOD, STRATCOM, and NNSA said the program is a consolidation of the B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, and B61-10 gravity bombs that would provide no additional military capabilities beyond those weapons.

This pledge echoed the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which states: “Life Extension Programs (LEPs)…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

Yet the addition of a guided tail kit will increase the accuracy of the B61-12 compared with the other weapons and provide new warfighting capabilities. The tail kit is necessary, officials say, for the 50-kilotons B61-12 (with a reused B61-4 warhead) to be able to hold at risk the same targets as the 360-kilotons B61-7 warhead. But in Europe, where the B61-7 has never been deployed, the guided tail kit will be a significant boost of the military capabilities – an improvement that doesn’t fit the promise of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

More recently we also learned that the guided tail kit will provide the B61-12 with a “modest standoff capability,” something the current B61 versions don’t have.

And during yesterday’s hearing in the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, defense officials said the B61-12 would also replace the B61-11, a single-yield 400-kiloton nuclear earth-penetrating bomb introduced in 1997, and the B83-1, a strategic bomb with variable yields up to 1,200 kilotons.  Continue Reading →

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Triggers Debate in the Netherlands

volkel-C17

In a few years, US Air Force C-17 aircraft will begin airlifting new B61-12 nuclear bombs into six air bases in five NATO countries, including Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands (seen above).

By Hans M. Kristensen

The issue of the improved military capabilities of the new B61-12 nuclear bomb entered the Dutch debate today with a news story on KRO Brandpunt (video here) describing NATO’s approval in 2010 of the military characteristics of the weapon.

Dutch approval to introduce the enhanced bomb later this decade is controversial because the Dutch parliament wants the government to work for a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the Netherlands and Europe. The Dutch government apparently supports a withdrawal.  Continue Reading →

Dispute Over US Nuke in the Netherlands: Who Pays For An Accident?

Air transport of nuclear weapons

Who pays for a crash of a nuclear weapons airlift from Volkel Air Base?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Only a few years before U.S. nuclear bombs deployed at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands are scheduled to be airlifted back to the United States and replaced with an improved bomb with greater accuracy, the U.S. and Dutch governments are in a dispute over how to deal with the environmental consequences of a potential accident.

The Dutch government wants environmental remediation to be discussed in the Netherlands United States Operational Group (NUSOG), a special bilateral group established in 2003 to discuss matters relating to the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.

But the United States has refused, arguing that NUSOG is the wrong forum to discuss the issue and that environmental remediation is covered by the standard Status of Forces Agreement from 1951.

The disagreement at one point got so heated that a Dutch officials threatened that his government might have to consider reviewing US Air Force nuclear overflight rights of the Netherlands if the United States continue to block the issue from being discussed within the NUSOG.

The dispute was uncovered by the Brandpunt Reporter of the TV station KRO (see video and also this report), who discovered  three secret documents previously released by WikiLeaks (document 1, document 2, and document 3).

The documents not only describe the Dutch government’s attempts to discuss – and U.S. efforts to block – the issue within NUSOG, but also confirm what is officially secret but everyone knows: that the United States stores nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base.  Continue Reading →

Nukes in Europe: Secrecy Under Siege

By Hans M. Kristensen

lubbersThe Cold War practice of NATO and the United States refusing to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere is under attack in Europe. This week, two former Dutch prime ministers publicly confirmed the presence of nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, one of six bases in NATO that still host US nuclear weapons.

The first confirmation came in the program How Time Flies on the Dutch National Geographic channel where former prime minister Ruud Lubbers confirmed that there are nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base. “I would never have thought those silly things would still be there in 2013,” Lubbers said, who was prime minister in 1982-1994. He even mentioned a specific number: 22 bombs.

vanagtThe second confirmation Lubbers was joined yesterday by another former Dutch prime minister, Dries van Agt, who also confirmed that the weapons are there. “They are there and its crazy they still are,” said va Agt, who was prime minister in 1977-1982.

As readers of this blog are aware (and anyone who have followed this issue over the years), it is not news that the US stores nuclear weapons at Volkel AB. But it is certainly news that two former Dutch prime ministers are now confirming it.

It is not a formal Dutch break with NATO nuclear secrecy norms but it is certainly a big crack in the dike that makes the Dutch government’s continued refusal to confirm or deny nuclear weapons at Volkel AB look rather, well, silly.

The instinct of the bureaucracy will be to ignore the statements to the extent possible and retreat into past policies of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons. But the new situation also presents an opportunity to break with the past and attempt to engage Russia about increasing the transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe.  Continue Reading →

$1 Billion for a Nuclear Bomb Tail

The U.S. Air Force plans to spend more than $1 billion on developing a guided tailkit to increase the accuracy of the B61 nuclear bomb.

The cost is detailed (to some extent) in the Air Force’s budget request for FY2014, which shows development and engineering through FY2014 and full-scaled production starting in  FY2015.

The annual costs increase by nearly 200 percent from $67.9 million in FY2014 to more than $200 million in FY2015. The high cost level will be retained for three years until the project decreases after production ceases in FY2018. Some additional funding is needed after that to complete the integration and certification on (see graph).

b61-tailcost

Production of the guided tailkit is intended to match completion of the first new B61-12 bomb in 2019, a program that is estimated to cost more than $10 billion. Although the number is a secret, it is thought that the U.S. plans to produce roughly 400 B61-12s.

The expensive guided tailkit is needed, advocates claim, to make it possible to use the 50-kiloton nuclear explosive package from the tactical B61-4 bomb in the new B61-12 against targets that today require the 360-kiloton strategic B61-7 bomb. By increasing accuracy, the B61-12 becomes more useable because it significantly reduces the amount of radioactive fallout created in an attack.

Once deployed in Europe, the B61-12 will also be able to hold at risk targets that the B61-3 and B61-4 bombs currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey cannot target.

The B61-12 program will maintain compatibility on all five current B61-capable aircraft (B-2A, B-52H, F-16, F-15E and PA 200). In 2015, integration, design and testing will begin on the new stealthy F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force budget request shows that B61-12 integration is scheduled for Block 4A and Block 4B aircraft in 2015-2021 with full operational capability in 2022 – three years after the first B61-12 is scheduled to be delivered (see table).

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The combination of the new and more accurate guided B61-12 on the stealthy F-35A will significantly increase the capability of the U.S. non-strategic nuclear posture in Europe. This  development is out of tune with U.S. and NATO pledges to reduce the role and reliance on nuclear weapons, and will make it a lot easier for hardliners in the Russian military to reject reductions of Russia’s larger inventory of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

 

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.