The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on Friday that it has decided to pursue the development and production of a modern variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, dubbed the B61-13.
The new bomb is intended to respond to “demands of a rapidly evolving security environment,” as described in the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review.
John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said: “Today’s announcement is reflective of a changing security environment and growing threats from potential adversaries.
The United States has responsibility to continue to assess and field the capabilities we need to credibly deter and, if necessary, respond to strategic attacks, and assure our allies.”
A fact sheet included with the DoD statement detailed some features that would be incorporated into the B61-13. It states that its maximum yield will be approximately 360 kilotons – 24 times larger than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
This yield should enhance both deterrence and assurance by denying adversaries sanctuary from attack. For this proposal to move forward, it must receive approval from Congress before any construction can begin.
The fact sheet suggested that the B61-13 would provide additional options for targeting harder and larger military targets, while the Department works to deactivate legacy systems such as the B83-1 and B61-7.
It is important to note that implementing the use of the B61-13 will not lead to an increase in total U.S. weapons stockpile, as the number of produced B61-12s will be reduced by an equivalent amount of produced B61-13s.
As global tensions have risen, with conflict occurring in Ukraine and throughout the Middle East, questions have arisen concerning whether these destructive weapons are intended only for deterrence and assurance purposes or if they may be used against opponents.
To address this issue, non-explosive nuclear experiments are set to take place in Nevada, known colloquially as “tickling the dragon’s tail.”
Corey Hinderstein, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), has described these experiments as a means to further US nuclear nonproliferation goals.
According to Hinderstein, conducting these tests would aid in detecting underground nuclear explosive tests which could ultimately reduce global nuclear threats.