The B61-12, seen here in a government photo, is America's next-generation nuclear weapon. (NNSA)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s next-generation nuclear weapon successfully completed a testing milestone, the Department of Energy announced this week.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced the successful completion of the first full-system mechanical environment test on the B61-12 model Feb. 4. Testing took place at the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. NNSA, part of the Department of Energy, has oversight over the development and upkeep of America’s nuclear arsenal.
“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 nuclear explosive testing,” NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook said in a press release. “The first full-system mechanical environmental test of the B61-12 is a significant achievement and gives us confidence in our ability to move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb.”
The B61-12 will consolidate parts from four nuclear weapons — the B61-3, -4, -7 and -10 — in the US arsenal, eventually replacing those older models. The government has described the B61-12 as a life-extension of existing weapons, but critics say that is just cover for the US to roll out a new model of nuclear weapon without breaching nuclear nonproliferation agreements. Going forward, the B61-12 model would be the primary tactical nuclear weapon used on both fighters and bombers.
A recent Congressional Budget Office report found the Obama administration’s nuclear plans for the next decade will cost $355 billion, a figure that includes development cost of the B61-12, as well as production and design on a new tailkit needed to turn the bomb into a tactical missile capable of being attached to fighters. The tailkit is being funded through the US Air Force.
Last month, former US Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz called for the Pentagon to abandon plans to make the F-35 joint strike fighter certified to carry nuclear weapons, citing the cost and a lack of joint-funding from NATO allies.■