Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The B61 Mod 12 - America's Latest Nuclear Deterrent

While the world flirts on the edge of the nuclear precipice, a recent article on the Warrior Maven website looks at recent developments in the American nuclear program.   According to the author of the report, Kris Osborn, the USAF has recently test-dropped an upgraded B61-12 (aka B61 Mod 12) nuclear bomb with improved accuracy from a B-2 Stealth bomber.  This most recent modification to the B61 nuclear weapon is designed to improve the weapon's accuracy and that allows it to be equipped so that various attack options can be used depending on the mission.  Let's look at some background on the B61 and some information on the most current progress on the Life Extension Program for the B61. 

Here is a table from Nuclear Weapons Archive showing the key technical data of the B-61 series of bombs:

The B-61 bomb was designed and developed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in 1963 and  fielded in 1968 as a light weight weapon of intermediate yield which could be carried by high performance aircraft including the B-51, B-1, B-2B. F-16, F/A-18 and Tornado.  It is designed with the following delivery modes:

1.) Free fall air burst (high altitude only)
2.) Parachute retarded airburst (high or medium altitudes)
3.) Free fall contact burst (high or medium altitudes)
4.) Parachute retarded contact burst (high or medium altitudes)
5.) Parachute retarded laydown delayed surface burst (delivery altitudes up to 5000 feet), 31 and 81 sec delays available   

The B61 Mod 11 is now considered outdated and, as such, is slated to be updated under the B61-12 Life Extension Program or LEP as part of the Nuclear Posture Review which is to be available beginning in 2021 and completed by fiscal year 2024.  Under the LEP, the latest iteration of the B61 will combine Mods 3, 4, and 10 into a single bomb  Here is a photo of the B61 Mod 12 undergoing acoustic testing:

The new B61-12 will be delivered by the following aircraft:

Here's the promotional literature/propaganda about the B61-12 program from the National Nuclear Security Administration:

 According to the Arms Control Association, the B61 LEP will accomplish the following:

"The B61-12 is slated to begin production in 2020 and will refurbish the bomb  with new firing, arming, and safety components, updated radar components, permissive action link components and equipment, modified power supplies, thermal batteries, join test assemblies, weapon trainers, and test and handling gear.  The LEP will also modify the B61 for compatibility with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The LEP will extend the life of the B61s for 20-30 years."

The B61-12 will be equipped with a new tail kit guidance designed and built by Boeing; the new tail kit will allow for more accurate delivery than the current parachute system and, according to the USAF, will "enable the air force's strategic bomber aircraft to conduct lower-yield strikes against military targets with reduced radioactive fallouts" with the hope that enemy forces will realize that the United States may be less reluctant to use nuclear weapons if there is a lower threat of post-detonation issues.

Here is a map showing where the B61-12 development activities will take place:

An assessment by the Government Accountability Office from 2018 notes that cost estimates for the B61 Mod 12 LEP had changed since May 2011 when its initial cost estimate was $4 billion.  In October 2016, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimated that LEP costs had risen to $7.6 billion with a completion date of fiscal 2025.  A later independent cost estimate for the program from the NNSA Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation raised the cost estimate yet again to $10 billion and pushed the completion date back to fiscal 2027.

Let's look at a flight test of the new B61-12:

Here is a press release from the NNSA regarding the latest non-nuclear flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb equipped with its new tail-kit built by Boeing held on June 9, 2018 at the Tonopah Test Range located in Nevada:

The original contract for the new tail-kit was awarded in November 2012 to Boeing with an initial value of $178 million as shown.  Here's what Boeing had to say about getting yet another outpouring of generosity from American taxpayers:

Boeing has provided a wide range of reliable and affordable direct attack weapon solutions to the warfighter for more than a decade.  We will apply our proven experience in tail kit production to this platform to effectively upgrade a vital deterrent capability."

In other words, Boeing has provided even more efficient ways for human beings to kill other human beings.

Finally, let's look at this table from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showing its latest assessment of the global nuclear weapons stockpile:

At the beginning of 2017, the world had an estimated 14,935 nuclear weapons meaning that there has been a year-over-year drop in the nuclear weapons count of 470 weapons or 3.1 percent.

In closing, do you remember this:

Sorry folks, not gonna happen.  The B-61 modification program very, very clearly demonstrates that reality.

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