On Friday, the U.S. military announced its intention to field a powerful new nuclear munition.
Pending authorization and appropriation by Congress, the Pentagon will begin working on the development of the B61-13, a new variant of the B61 gravity bomb.
B61-13: A New Nuke in Development
Designed for delivery by aircraft, the B61-13 will have a yield range of 360 kilotons. For context, the atomic bombs the U.S. used against Japan in World War Two, Little Boy and Fat Man, had yields of 13 and 23 kilotons respectively.
“Today’s announcement is reflective of a changing security environment and growing threats from potential adversaries,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said in a press release.
“The United States has a responsibility to continue to assess and field the capabilities we need to credibly deter and, if necessary, respond to strategic attacks, and assure our allies,” Plumb added.
The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will be responsible for developing the B61-13.
U.S. officials say the development of the B61-13 isn’t in response to a specific current event.
“The B61-13 represents a reasonable step to manage the challenges of a highly dynamic security environment,” Plumb said. “While it provides us with additional flexibility, production of the B61-13 will not increase the overall number of weapons in our nuclear stockpile.”
B61-12 Tactical Nukes
The life extension program of the B61-12 tactical nuclear munition is a significant development in its own right.
The new variant will bring an old munition into the modern era. Specifically, the -12 variant replaces the B61-3, B61-4, and B61-7 variants of the tactical nuclear weapon. It improves safety and reliability. The Air Force now fields the -11 and -12 versions, thus streamlining maintenance.
What makes the B61 particularly versatile is the ability to adjust the bomb’s yield according to the operational situation. The tactical nuke can be dialed to four different yields: 0.3, 1.5, 10, and 50 kilotons.
The first B61-12s rolled out of the production line in 2021. The life extension program is set to be over by 2026, and the Air Force expects it to cost $10 billion. The B61-12 munitions will remain operational until the mid-2050s.
Last year, the U.S. military relocated approximately 180 B61-12 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe and Turkey in response to Russian threats about nuclear strikes in and around Ukraine.
The new B61-13 nuclear munition will use the production capabilities of the B61-12 and include its modern safety, security, and accuracy features.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
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