B61-12 Nuclear Bomb: In-Depth Report

The B61-12 represents the latest evolution in the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs, marking a significant leap in the United States’ nuclear capabilities. Operational since 1968, this variant enhances the strategic options available to the US Air Force and its allied nations. Designed for compatibility with a range of aircraft, including the B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-35, and the forthcoming B-21, the B61-12 underscores a commitment to maintaining a flexible and credible nuclear deterrent.

The 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron test-loads an unarmed B61-12 bomb, which can be outfitted with a nuclear warhead, on a B-2 Spirit bomber on June 13, 2022. (Airman 1st Class Devan Halstead/U.S. Air Force)

Specifications and Design Features

  • Project Type: Nuclear Bomb
  • First Development Flight: July 2015
  • Compatibility: Capable of being launched from B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, PA-200, F-35, and B-21 platforms.
  • Expected First Production Unit Completion: 2022
  • Length: 12ft
  • Weight: Approximately 825lb
  • Delivery Modes: Ballistic gravity or guided drop
  • Tail Kit: Enhanced accuracy with maneuverable fins
  • Warhead Yield Options: 0.3kt, 1.5kt, 10kt, and 50kt
  • Guidance System: Inertial Navigation System (INS) for high precision

The B61-12’s integration of a new tail kit guidance assembly offers unprecedented accuracy and a limited stand-off capability, enhancing the bomb’s utility while minimizing collateral damage.

B61-12 bomb,

Development and Testing

The B61-12’s development is part of a comprehensive life extension program (LEP), aimed at refurbishing non-nuclear components and extending the bomb’s service life by 20 years. The program involves a collaboration between the US Air Force and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), with an estimated overhaul of 400 bombs at a cost of $7.6 billion.

Significant milestones in the bomb’s development include:

  • First development flight test by F-15E Strike Eagle in July 2015.
  • Entry into production engineering phase in June 2016.
  • Successful system qualification test flights, including those from the US Air Force’s F-16C Fighting Falcon in March 2017 and a B-2A Spirit Bomber in July 2018.
  • Completion of successful flight tests with the F-15E in June 2020, demonstrating the bomb’s precision and operational readiness.
F35a fitted with 2 B61-12 Nuclear bombs

Key Contributors

The B61-12 LEP has seen significant contributions from multiple national laboratories and defense contractors:

  • Los Alamos National Laboratory & Sandia National Laboratories: Design and engineering of the bomb.
  • Boeing: Development of the tail kit assembly under a $178 million contract.
  • Kansas City National Security Campus: Manufacturing of non-nuclear component assemblies.
  • Y-12 National Security Campus & Pantex Plant: Reproduction of uranium components and final assembly of the bomb.

The B61-12 nuclear bomb is a testament to the ongoing modernization efforts within the US nuclear arsenal. Its advanced capabilities ensure that the United States and its allies possess a versatile and effective deterrent against contemporary and future threats. As this program progresses towards its completion in 2025, the B61-12 will play a pivotal role in national security strategy.

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