The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Thursday it had "successfully" modernized the first B61 nuclear gravity bomb to increase the nation's air-delivered nuclear deterrent capability amid threats of war with Russia in Ukraine and China in the South China Sea and or in the Taiwan Strait.
Over the years, we've been documenting (read: here & here) NNSA's $12 billion program to modify aging B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs for the modern battlefield. The weapons first entered service in the late 1960s and needed upgrades to be more effective and increase lifespan by another two decades.
The first B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb paves the way for an estimated 480 bombs. NNSA expects full-scale production to begin in May 2022 and last through 2026.
"With this program, we're delivering a system to the Department of Defense that improves accuracy and reduces yield with no change in military characteristics, while also improving safety, security and reliability," Department of Energy Under Secretary and NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby stated.
Last week, #NNSA successfully completed the B61-12 First Production Unit @PantexPlant. This is a huge milestone for stockpile modernization and demonstrates our Nation’s commitment to #nuclear deterrence. pic.twitter.com/90ojHPw6cH— NNSA Administrator (@NNSAHruby) December 2, 2021
Deputy NNSA Administrator for Defense Programs Charles Verdon said it's "extremely satisfying" to see the B61-12 enter production.
"This successful effort results from years of seamless execution between our NNSA and U.S. Air Force teams. The integration of the NNSA Bomb Assembly and the Boeing Tailkit Assembly as well as the joint certification on multiple aircraft platforms stands as a testament to our continued commitment to national security and that of our allies and partners," Verdon said.
We've noted multiple airframes, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, have been conducting mock nuclear attacks with inert B61-12 over the past two years.
The nuclear gravity bomb upgrade is more than a year late. We noted bomb production was supposed to begin in 2020. The upgraded version can carry low-yield nukes to 50 kilotons nuclear bombs, guided by an advanced Boeing tail kit.