The US Air Force completed two more tests of the B61-12 gravity nuclear bomb by dropping a dud (or “non-nuclear test assembly“) from a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on June 9, as part of the multi-billion dollar project to extend the service life of the bomb, introduced in 1968, by another 20 years.
— NNSA (@NNSANews) 29 June 2018
“The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the US Air Force completed two non-nuclear system qualification flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb on June 9 at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada,” the Department of Energy announced in a statement. “These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2A Spirit Bomber for the B61-12.”
The tests involved releasing a B61-12 non-nuclear test assembly, which includes the NNSA designed bomb assembly and U.S. Air Force acquired tail-kit, from a B-2A Spirit Bomber operated by the 419th Test & Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California. These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2A Spirit Bomber for the B61-12.
Over the past five decades, the US has used different versions of the B-61 nuclear gravity bomb, which is a core part of the US nuclear triad and has been deployed across the US and NATO bases for five decades. While, over the years, the Pentagon produced numerous modifications to the deadly weapon, B61 variants of 3, 4, 7, and 11 remain in service.
The bomb tests are a part of the Pentagon’s $7.6 billion ‘B61-12 Life Extension Program‘, which aims to “refurbish, reuse, or replace all of the bomb’s nuclear and non‐nuclear components” and extend the service life of the B61 by at least 20 years. The “first production unit” is scheduled for completion in 2020.
As RT notes, besides deploying B61-12 on modern and future long range bombers such as the B-2A Spirit bomber, the Pentagon is making sure the bomb can be easily used by F-15E fighter jets, and wants to integrate it with the F-35 Lightning II fifth generation combat jets, raising concerns it is creeping towards lowering the threshold for tactical use of nuclear weapons.
After former President Barack Obama authorized a nuclear modernization program, Trump revised it into an ambitious 30-year project that would cost at least $1.2 trillion to complete. Some $800 billion will be spent on maintaining nuclear forces, while about $400 billion will be spent on modernizing them, under the pretext of an existential need to deter “revisionist powers” such as China and Russia.
To justify the massive taxpayer spending on nuclear upgrades, Washington has constantly pointed the finger at Russia, accusing it of threatening its neighbors and US national security. “Russia has demonstrated its willingness to use force to alter the map of Europe and impose its will on its neighbors, backed by implicit and explicit nuclear first-use threats,” the NPR report claims, despite Russian military doctrine clearly stating that nukes can only be used in response to a nuclear attack, or when the state’s very existence is put under threat by a massive conventional attack.
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The latest test was the third in a series that will be conducted over the next three years to qualify the B61-12 for service. Three successful development flight tests were conducted in 2015.
“These qualification flight tests demonstrate the B61-12 design meets system requirements and illustrate the continued progress of the B61-12 life extension program to meet national security requirements” said Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “The achievement is also a testament to the dedication of our workforce and the enduring partnership between NNSA and the U.S. Air Force.”