Is the Air Force Really Testing an ‘Earth-Penetrating’ Nuclear Bomb?

Aaron Miles

Aaron Miles

Security,

Nope. And here is why.

Is the Air Force Really Testing an ‘Earth-Penetrating’ Nuclear Bomb?

In a recent article, Eryn Macdonald repeated the stubbornly persistent misconception that the Air Force is developing a new earth-penetrating nuclear bomb. Similar analysis last summer followed a drop test of the B61-12 nuclear bomb—or “mod 12,” meaning twelfth modification or variant—from a stealth bomber. Drop tests verify the operation of various weapon subsystems, but do not include the nuclear components. The Defense and Energy Departments are developing the B61-12 to replace several old B61 variants that are slated for retirement, but the new weapon is not an earth penetrator.

Currently, the United States deploys four B61 variants. The B61-7 is considered a strategic weapon because it is carried by the B-2 bomber and can, therefore, travel intercontinental distances. Two nonstrategic variants are carried by shorter-range fighter aircraft and are deployed in Europe as part of the U.S. security commitment to NATO. The fourth existing variant, the B61-11, does actually possess an earth-penetration capability, and in this respect is unique within America’s nuclear deterrent force.

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