Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The B61-12 and Barak Obama's Broken Nuclear Promise

Back in 2010, one year after being "anointed" with the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama's Administration released its Nuclear Posture Review Report (NPR).  Here is a quote from the report which clearly states the aim of the President's nuclear program:

The United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will pursue ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. 

The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.

The United States will study options for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Program. The full range of LEP approaches will be considered: refurbishment of existing warheads, reuse of nuclear components from different warheads, and replacement of nuclear components.

In any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead LEPs, the United States will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.” (my bold)

Note, that the President’s nuclear program would “not develop new nuclear warheads” nor would it ‘provide for new military capabilities”.  Please keep these phrases in mind as you read this posting.

The report also stated that the United States would promote "strategic stability with Russia and China and improving transparency and mutual confidence, (so that) we can help create the conditions for moving toward a world without nuclear weapons and build a stronger basis for addressing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

This report followed the President's speech in April 2009 in Prague where he highlighted the 21st century nuclear dangers and expressed his determination to take concrete steps toward "seeking the peace and security of the world without nuclear weapons" as shown here:

Recently, I posted an article on the proposed trillion dollar spending to update the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal that you can find here.  Among the money to be spent as part of the NPR's recommendations, is "follow-on activities" for the next generation of the B-61 bomb, a staple part of America's nuclear stable for decades.  

Let's look at where some of the current inventory of B61s are stored around the world.  Approximately 50 B61 nuclear bombs are stored at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada as shown in this photo:  

Here is a map showing the locations of B61 nuclear weapons of types 3, 4 and 10 in Europe from a 2005 report by the National Resources Defense Council:

Here is a table showing the distribution of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe in 2014:

Here are the capabilities and inventory levels of the B61 nuclear bombs in 2014:

Of the 825 B61s in existence, roughly 370 were active in 2014 with 645 stored in the continental United States and 180 stored in Europe.

The B61 is a variable yield bomb that was originally designed back in 1963 and first deployed in 1968.  The latest version of the bomb, version 11 which is capable of earth penetration, was deployed in 1997.  All iterations of the B61 (there are nine versions in total) are considered unguided, that is, they are classified as a gravity bomb which is designed to be carried and dropped from a variety of aircraft.  This makes them less accurate that the current generation of guided non-nuclear missiles which can hit targets with an accuracy of metres.

The Obama Administration's new proposed expenditures on nuclear weapons includes spending on a new iteration of the B61; the B61-12.  The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) notes that the Obama Administration claims that this is:

1.) not a new nuclear bomb but a life-extension of an existing version.

2.) has no new military capabilities.

3.) will result in cost savings as stockpiles are reduced.

The report by FAS notes that these "claims" are not factual for several reasons:

1.) it is a new type of bomb that is not currently in the nuclear stockpile.

2.) it has improved military capabilities.

3.) it is the most costly nuclear bomb project of all-time and its ultimate costs are not quantified.

This flies right in the face of the Administration's own guidelines that it will not develop nuclear weapons with new military capabilities as I noted above.  

Let's look at the design changes for the B61-12.  This new nuclear weapon will replace the  existing rigid tail with a tail that has moving fins allowing it to be guided more accurately to a target.  This makes it the first guided standoff nuclear bomb in history.    The circular error probability (CEP ) (aka the weapon's accuracy) will increase from between 110 and 170 metres for existing B61s to 30 metres for B61-12s.  The increased accuracy means that low yields can be used to achieve the same military effect that would be expected from previous iterations of the B61, in fact the B61-12 will have a maximum yield of 50 kilotons, far less than the B83 nuclear bomb which has a maximum yield of 1200 kilotons.  Thankfully for any lucky targeted region, there will be less radioactive fallout as shown on this graphic which just happens to have Tehran as the targeted city:

The B61-12 will be integrated with six different delivery platforms including the B-2A, B-52H, F-15E, F-16, F-35A and Tornado.

How much does FAS estimate that this will cost American taxpayers?  The cost estimates to build nearly 500 B61-12s doubled between 2010 and 2012 to $8 billion, a Department of Defense study in 2012 projected a cost of $10.4 billion and the guided tail assembly alone is estimated to cost $1.4 billion.  In addition, the cost of integrating the B61-12 on bombers and fighter-bombers must be included; FAS estimates that it will cost $350 million for integration with the F-35 alone.  Finally, the cost of European deployment of the B61-12 is estimated to be $100 million per year.   According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the cost of each new bomb would be around $30 million.

Let's close this posting with a look at the bomb itself during a test run in mid-2015:

With NATO's membership expanding broadly to the former Soviet-controlled states (aka the Cannon Fodder States) including Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as shown on this map:

...present day Russia has good reason to be concerned about the development of a smarter nuclear weapon, particularly given that the Pentagon plans to deploy 20 B61-12 bombs to replace its aging inventory at the Buchel Air Base in Germany.  On the upside, the increased accuracy of the lower yield weapon should reassure potential targets that there will be less of that nasty old radioactive fallout, thanks to improvements made to the latest generation of B61s, an obvious game-changer in the nuclear weapons business.

Can anyone say "Cold War Part II"?