Additional Delays Expected in B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Schedule

The B61-7, which completed a limited life-extension program in 2006, will be retired by the more extensive B61-12 program.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) expects additional delays in production and delivery of the B61-12 nuclear bomb as a result of so-called sequestration budget cuts.

During testimony before the Hours Energy and Water Subcommittee last week, NNSA’s Acting Administrator Neile Miller said an expected $600 million reduction of the agency’s weapons activities budget could “slow the B61-12 LEP” and other weapons programs.

The Nuclear Posture Review set delivery of the first B61-12 for 2017, but that timeline has since slipped to 2019. Miller did not say how long production could be delayed but it could potentially slip into the 2020s.

The B61 LEP is already the most expensive and complex warhead modernization program since the Cold War, with cost estimates ranging from $8 billion to more than $10 billion, up from $4 billion in 2010. The price hike has triggered Congressional questions and efforts to trim the program. B61-12 proponents argue the weapon is needed to provide extended nuclear deterrence to NATO and Asian allies, but the mission in Europe is fading out and a cheaper alternative could be to retaining the B61-7 for the B-2A bomber and retire other B61 versions.

The B61-12 program extends the life of the tactical B61-4 warhead, incorporates selected components from three other B61 versions (B61-3, B61-7, and B61-10), adds unknown new safety and security features, and adds a guided tail kit to increase the accuracy and target kill capability of the B61-12 compared with the B61-4.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

2 thoughts on “Additional Delays Expected in B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Schedule

  1. Hans Kristensen

    I continue to read your various work on the “B61 LEP “project and find your information informative and thoughtful. I do disagree with some of your conclusions but our shared opinion on this subject is not that far apart. I do have questions. First let me state some background and you can tell me if my facts are correct. The B61-3/4 was developed to be dropped by supersonic tactical aircraft while the B61-7, and the 11 variation, was designed to be delivered by subsonic aircraft, bombers. What are the structural or design differences in the B61 between supersonic or subsonic delivery? What I’m trying to educate myself on is the practical differences between the tactical vs. strategic versions of the B61. Would a LEP program to update the “tactical” B61-3/4 to a new upgraded version and a similar program to update the “strategic” B61-7 be less expensive than the B61-12 project that is attempting to build a common solution; a weapon that can be carried by both tactical fighters and strategic bombers interchangeably? If the Executive Decision is reached that the “tactical” mission for the B61 is over, why update any B61s at all? Would not the already updated 300 B83-1 nuclear bombs, with some 300 B83-0 weapons in reserve, meet the needs of the “strategic” mission with the B-2 bombers?

    Or, is there more to the B61-12 program than we understand?

    Why is the B61-12 project so important to the Obama Administration?

    Frank Shuler

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