‘Significant’ Alterations Seen in Updated B-61 Bomb: Report

Technicians prepare a B-61 nuclear gravity bomb for inspection at the Pantex Plant in Texas. An issue expert on Friday said a developmental variant of the weapon includes notable alterations.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Feb. 28, 2014, 10:16 a.m.

De­vel­op­ment­al up­dates to a U.S. nuc­le­ar grav­ity bomb in­clude “sig­ni­fic­ant” al­ter­a­tions to key weapon com­pon­ents, says a new in­de­pend­ent re­port.

The B-61 bomb’s “Mod 12” vari­ant in­cor­por­ates a fully re­vamped back sec­tion, and lacks the para­chute in­cor­por­ated in pre­de­cessors, ac­cord­ing to the Fri­day im­age ana­lys­is by Hans Kristensen, dir­ect­or of the Nuc­le­ar In­form­a­tion Pro­ject at the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists.

The altered weapon’s Air Force-de­veloped “tail kit” is de­signed to im­prove its tar­get­ing pre­ci­sion. Kristensen wrote that the new vari­ant’s ex­act ac­cur­acy re­mains un­cer­tain, but there is a roughly 98-foot mar­gin of er­ror in non-nuc­le­ar weapons fit­ted with the In­tern­al Nav­ig­a­tion Sys­tem thought to be in­cluded in the forth­com­ing B-61 bomb up­date.

“Even if [the pre­ci­sion] were a little less for the B-61-12, it is still a sig­ni­fic­ant im­prove­ment of the [360- to 590-foot] ac­cur­acy that nuc­le­ar grav­ity bombs nor­mally achieve in test drops,” Kristensen wrote in his as­sess­ment, pub­lished on the FAS Stra­tegic Se­cur­ity blog.

Bombs re­fur­bished un­der the U.S. B-61 life-ex­ten­sion pro­gram are slated for de­ploy­ment in sev­er­al al­lied NATO states in Europe, re­pla­cing older ver­sions. Kristensen wrote that des­pite plans to re­vamp the weapons with new det­on­a­tion fea­tures and com­pon­ents to in­crease their ac­cur­acy, law­makers in Bel­gi­um and the Neth­er­lands said Wash­ing­ton had not aler­ted them to “the up­com­ing de­ploy­ment of im­proved nuc­le­ar cap­ab­il­it­ies in their coun­tries.”

“The [Bel­gian and Dutch] gov­ern­ment po­s­i­tion is that there is no im­prove­ment and there­fore no need to in­form any­one,” he wrote.

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