TechNew nuclear bomb variant. Response to increasing threats

New nuclear bomb variant. Response to increasing threats

F-35A during the B61-12 bomb test
F-35A during the B61-12 bomb test
Images source: © Sandia

5:41 PM EDT, October 28, 2023

The Department of Defense announced on Friday, October 27, that the US is set to commence work on a new variant of the B61 gravity nuclear bomb. The weapon will be designated as B61-13, awaiting approval from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

"This announcement reflects our adaptation to the changing security environment and increased threats posed by potential adversaries," explains John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. Plans for enhancing nuclear security and developing a modernized bomb are responses to worldwide conflicts.

A few weeks ago, authorities emphasized the necessity to accumulate ammunition with a focus on possible prolonged wars. Consequently, it is expected that the United States would take this initiative to update its nuclear arsenal and improve combat capabilities in crisis situations.

The B61-13 nuclear bombs

The US intends to replace older generations designated as B61-7, which generate power at a maximum level of 360 kT, with the modern B61-13 bombs. The proposed design will also supersede the B83-1 bombs, with a power of 1.2 MT. This is seen as a consolidation of the older B61-3/4/7/10 variants while integrating newer technologies," according to the BreakingDefense portal.

As per the information released so far, it seems that the planned weapon is designed to possess power similar to, yet surpassing that of, its predecessor B61-7. It will also incorporate the safety measures of B61-12 (with power ranging from 0.3 to 50 kT). The B61-13 will be developed based on this latter model, but as BreakingDefense points out, "it is not essentially a new weapon." This is attributed to the fact that the US use previously known warheads, but housed within new casings.

The modifications primarily aim to enhance the accuracy of B61-13. As officials explained, "detonating the weapon closer to the target increases the likelihood of its destruction. Consequently, a challenging target could hypothetically be destroyed by a single B61-13, instead of two B61-12s," the report clarifies.

The development of the new B61-13 variant will also facilitate the retirement of the most powerful B83-1 bombs. While their removal from the stockpile was proposed during Barack Obama's presidency, the process was subsequently halted under Donald Trump's administration.

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