The US Successfully Tested a Nuclear Gravity Bomb in Nevada

November 17, 2015 6:10 pm Last Updated: November 18, 2015 6:48 am

The United States launched a third “development flight test” of the B61-12, a newly upgraded nuclear gravity bomb, the National Nuclear Security Administration said in a news release.

The B61 nuclear gravity bomb is among the primary thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. The first B61 was developed in the 1960s, but the B61-12 is a new variant, which has a yield of about 50 kilotons. It’s tiny compared to the largest nuke that United States has, which has a yield of around 1,200 kilotons.

A photo shows the test (nnsa.energy.gov)
A F-15E fighter jet is seen dropping a test B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb in Nevada on Oct. 20, 2015. (nnsa.energy.gov)

Zachary Keck, with The National Interest, previously called the B61-12 America’s “most dangerous” bomb.

“What makes the B61-12 bomb the most dangerous nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal is its usability. This usability derives from a combination of its accuracy and low-yield,” he said in July.

Eventually, the military will replace the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs with the B61-12. The B61 got an $8 billion upgrade to make it more accurate, and as U.S. Strategic Command former chief Gen. James Cartwright suggests, it might actually be used.

“If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc., does that make it more usable in the eyes of some—some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable,” he said on the “PBS NewsHour.”

The bomb will be able to strike within a hundred feet of its target, and it would produce less nuclear fallout than earlier nuclear weapons. “This makes using nuclear weapons thinkable for the first time since the 1940s. The B61-12 only encourages this trend further,” Keck wrote.

The third flight test, according to the U.S. nuclear agency, was carried out on Oct. 20.

(nnsa.energy.gov)
A F-15E fighter jet dropped a a test B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb with representative nonnuclear components in Nevada on Oct. 20, 2015. (nnsa.energy.gov)

Successful Test

“This demonstration of effective end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions marks another 2015 achievement in the development of the B61-12 Life Extension Program,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon in a statement on Nov. 16.

“Completing this guided B61-12 flight test provides additional evidence of the nation’s continued commitment to our nation’s security and that of our allies and partners,”Creedon continued.

The test was performed in as true-to-life scenario as possible, the agency said. A F-15E from Nellis Air Force base released the B61-12 and “demonstrated successful performance in a realistic guided flight environment.” It added that the scheduled activities occurred successfully, and “telemetry and video data were properly collected.”

Even though the B61-12 is a nuclear gravity bomb, the test flight contained “representative non-nuclear components, but no highly enriched uranium or plutonium, consistent with test treaty obligations,” read the statement.