|The US military is planning to replace the tail section of the B61 nuclear bomb with a new guided tail kit to increase the accuracy of the weapon. This will increase the targeting capability of the weapon and allow lower-yield strikes against targets that previously required higher-yield weapons. Image: FAS Illustration|
By Hans M. Kristensen
A modified U.S. nuclear bomb currently under design will have improved military capabilities compared with older weapons and increase the targeting capability of NATO’s nuclear arsenal.
The B61-12, the product of a planned 30-year life extension and consolidation of four existing versions of the B61 into one, will be equipped with a new guidance system to increase its accuracy.
As a result, if funded by Congress, the U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs currently deployed in five European countries will return to Europe as a life-extended version in 2018 with a significantly enhanced capability to knock out military targets.
Add to that the stealthy capability of the new F-35 aircraft being built to deliver the new weapon, and NATO is up for a significant nuclear upgrade.
The upgrade would also improve the capability of U.S. strategic bombers to destroy targets with lower yield and less radioactive fallout, a scenario that resembles the controversial PLYWD precision low-yield nuclear weapon proposal from the 1990s.
Finally, the B61-12 will mark the end of designated non-strategic nuclear warheads in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, essentially making concern over “disparity” with Russian non-strategic weapons a non-issue.
The Obama administration and Congress should reject plans to increase the accuracy of nuclear weapons and instead focus on maintaining the reliability of existing weapons while reducing their role and numbers.