The United States has speed up the process to deploy the new and advanced version of the B61 guided nuclear bomb in Europe. US officials told NATO allies during a meeting in Brussels this month that the upgraded B61-12 thermonuclear bomb that was initially scheduled to arrive in Europe next year could be deployed as early as December 2022. The latest version of the B61 nuclear bomb will replace older version types in various NATO countries such as Germany, Netherlands, Italy, etc.
The United Kingdom is the latest country added in the list of nations that will store american nuclear weapons.
So what are the capabilities of the B61 and its newer and more accurate version, the B61-12?
The B61 nuclear bomb is the primary thermonuclear gravity bomb in the United States Enduring Stockpile following the end of the Cold War.
It is a low to intermediate-yield strategic and tactical nuclear weapon featuring a two-stage radiation implosion design.
The B61 is of the variable yield design with a yield of 0.3 to 340 kilotons in its various mods.
It is a Full Fuzing Option (FUFO) weapon, meaning it is equipped with the full range of fuzing and delivery options, including air and ground burst fuzing, and free-fall, retarded free-fall and laydown delivery.
It has a streamlined casing capable of withstanding supersonic flight and is 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m) long, with a diameter of about 13 inches (33 cm).
Basic weight is about 700 pounds (320 kg), although the weights of individual weapons may vary depending on version and fuze/retardation configuration.
As of 2020, it is undergoing a 12th modification. According to the Federation of American Scientists in 2012, the roughly 400 B61-12s will cost $28 million apiece.
13 versions of the B61 have been designed, known as Mod 0 through Mod 12. Of these, nine have entered production. Each shares the same physics package, with different yield options.
The newest variant is the Mod 11, deployed in 1997, which is a ground-penetrating bunker busting weapon. The Russian Continuity of Government facility at Kosvinsky Kamen, finished in early 1996, was designed to resist US earth-penetrating warheads and serves a similar role as the American Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
The timing of the Kosvinsky completion date is regarded as one explanation for U.S. interest in a new nuclear bunker buster and the declaration of the deployment of the Mod 11 in 1997: Kosvinsky is protected by about 1,000 feet (300 m) of granite.
The B61 unguided bomb should not be confused with the MGM-1 Matador cruise missile, which was originally developed under the bomber designation B-61.
The B61 can be deployed by a variety of US military aircraft. US aircraft cleared for its use have included the B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress, F/A-18 Hornet, A-6 Intruder, F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
As part of NATO Nuclear Weapons Sharing, British, German and Italian Panavia Tornado aircraft can also carry B61s. The B61 can fit inside the F-22 Raptor’s weapons bays and will also be carried by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
B61 tactical variants are deployed with NATO allies in Europe as part of the NATO Nuclear Weapons Sharing Program.
About 150 bombs are stored at six bases: Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Büchel Air Base in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi Air Base in Italy, Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands and Incirlik in Turkey. In 2012, NATO agreed to improve the capabilities of this force with the increased accuracy of the Mod 12 upgrade and the delivery of the F-35 aircraft.
This added a modest standoff capability to the B61.
B61 Version 12 nuclear bomb
B61-12 is the latest variant of the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs, which have been operational with the US military since 1968. The new variant is intended to improve nuclear capabilities of the US Air Force and allied nations.
B61-12 is the latest variant of the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs, which have been operational with the US military since 1968.
The new variant is intended to improve nuclear capabilities of the US Air Force and allied nations.
The bomb can be air-launched by the aircraft platforms such as B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, F-35, B-21, etc.
The B61-12 nuclear bomb completed its successful flight tests with the US Air Force’s F-15E in June 2020.
It was dropped from above 25,000ft and was in the air for approximately 55 seconds before hitting the target.
The B61-12 nuclear weapon has a length of 12ft and weighs approximately 825lb. It can be fired at the target in either ballistic gravity or guided drop modes.
The weapon is based on the B61-4 warhead and boasts two main assemblies, bomb assembly, and tail kit guidance assembly. The bomb assembly comprises reused, refurbished, and the latest nuclear and non-nuclear components.
The new tail kit guidance assembly combines new guided freefall capability with the existing ballistic (unguided) delivery capability of the B61 bomb. Equipped with four manoeuvrable fins, the tail section offers high levels of accuracy and limited stand-off capability over the previous variants.
The B61-12 air-launched tactical bomb will carry a low-yield nuclear warhead to destroy military targets with minimum collateral damage. Located in the bomb’s middle section, the warhead will have four yield options, including 0.3kt, 1.5kt, 10kt, and 50kt.
The bomb uses an inertial navigation system (INS) to achieve high kill probability, while improving the survivability of the launch platform. The weapon is expected to have an accuracy of approximately 30m.