The United States Air Force (USAF) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have completed the first development flight test of a controversial update to a nuclear bomb that has been use since the 1960s.
A “safe” version of the the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb with no warhead was tested at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The tests are designed to extend the lifespan of the nuclear weapon by upgrading some of its parts.
“This test marks a major milestone for the B61-12 Life Extension Program, demonstrating end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Dr. Don Cook.
“Achieving the first complete B61-12 flight test provides clear evidence of the nation’s continued commitment to maintain the B61 and provides assurance to our allies.”
The B61, known before 1968 as the TX-61, was designed in 1963 by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
This test is the first of three development flight tests for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP), with two additional development flight tests scheduled for later this year. “This test demonstrated successful performance in realistic flight environments followed by an effective release of a development test unit from a USAF F-15E from Nellis AFB. Telemetry, tracking and video data were successfully collected,” the USAF said. The test provides confidence in the weapon system and instrumentation system designs and the hardware at its current state prior to going to a baseline design review in 2016.
The B61-12 LEP entered Development Engineering in February 2012 after approval from the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Energy/NNSA organization established to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the two departments as they fulfill their complementary agency responsibilities for U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile management. According to details released at the time, it “refurbishes both nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the bomb’s service life while improving its safety, security and reliability.”
Maj. Gen. Sandra Finan, the commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, said in an April press release, “Our mission is still to deliver nuclear capabilities and winning solutions that warfighters use daily to deter our enemies and assure our allies.” NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook said, “As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground testing.”
The B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP). An LEP is a way to extend the life of an aging weapon without adding new military capability. President Obama is already throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at this program to keep these nukes on life support. The total cost of the program is expected to be as high as 1 billion by its completion in the 2020s.
The United States will have to spend 8 billion a year for 15 years starting in 2021 to keep its nuclear weapons operational.
It was during the recent testimony of U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work in front of the House Armed Services Committee that Work noted, “We’ve developed a plan to transition our aging system. Carrying out this plan will be an expensive proposition. It is projected to cost DoD an average of 8 billion a year from 2021 through 2035.” The subject of the hearing was nuclear deterrence.