General Cartwright Confirms B61-12 Bomb “Could Be More Useable”

By Hans M. Kristensen

General James Cartwright, the former commander of U.S. Strategic Command and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed in an interview with PBS Newshour that the increased accuracy of the new guided B61-12 nuclear bomb could make the weapon “more useable” to the president or national-security making process.

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT (RET.), Former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command: If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, et cetera, 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.

Cartwright’s confirmation follows General Norton Schwartz, the former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, who in 2014 assessed that the increased accuracy would have implications for how the military thinks about using the B61. “Without a doubt. Improved accuracy and lower yield is a desired military capability. Without a question,” he said.

In an article in 2011 I first described the potential effects the increased accuracy provided by the new guided tail kit and the option to select lower yields in nuclear strike could have for nuclear planning and the perception of how useable nuclear weapons are. I also discuss this in an interview on the PBS Newshour program.

In contrast to the enhanced military capabilities offered by the increased accuracy of the B61-12, and its potential impact on nuclear planning confirmed by generals Cartwright and Schwartz, it is U.S. nuclear policy that nuclear weapons “Life Extension Programs…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities,” as stated in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report.

The effect of the B61-12 modernization will be most dramatic in Europe where less accurate older B61s are currently deployed at six bases in five countries for delivery by older aircraft. The first B61-12 is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in 2020 and enter the stockpile in 2024 after which some of the estimated 480 bombs to be built and, under current policy, would be deployed to Europe for deliver by the new F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter-bomber and (for a while) older aircraft.

For background information, see:

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

4 thoughts on “General Cartwright Confirms B61-12 Bomb “Could Be More Useable”

  1. The B61-12 allows for the supposed retirement of the B83, a 1.2 megaton behemoth of a bomb. At 50kt max, the B61-12 allows for the same strategic effect as the B83 because of its tail kit’s increase in accuracy. So this does not give a new capability, it replaces a bomb that is too large to use. Also, The B61-4 has the same yield as the B61-12 because of the pit, secondary and design that will be used. So this same 50kt does not produce a new capability. The increase in accuracy is probably insignificant any way when it comes to a nuclear gravity bomb. I don’t see how a B61-12 is any more usable than a current B61-4. I think the B61-12 is just an upgrade to the weapon much the same as improving a fuze on a ballistic missile warhead. The real argument is therefore, should any nuclear weapons be modernized? I don’t see how it’s unavoidable when other countries are doing the same and have no plans of stopping.

  2. correction…”I don’t see how it’s avoidable when other countries are doing the same…”

    So basically the improvement in accuracy is on the order of 600 feet down to 90 feet. At 50kt is this really that significant?

    And at 0.3kt or 300 tons, would the military really resort to using a nuke when conventional weapons can produce the same effect without fallout?

    So I don’t see how it’s more useable.

  3. “50K” is low yield? No, it is still a big nuke to the world and using it would be disastrous. Unless bio-weapons were used against us….

  4. It’s more usable because of the reduced fallout from the smaller yield. This makes it more palatable to use, as opposed to the B83 that would no doubt spark international outrage. A smaller yield nuclear weapon would be easier to sell to the public, and consequently run the risk of escalation in use of the weapon.

    There is no need for a nuclear weapon like that, it’s only going to antagonize other nuclear-armed states and put us and the rest of the world at more risk.

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