The United States has accelerated the program for new B61-12 nuclear bombs for Europe. The upgraded and more accurate version of its nuclear air-dropped gravity bomb is expected to arrive in NATO bases in Europe in December, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable, the Belgian media Politico reported on Thursday.
The move, which involves replacing older weapons with the newer version at various storage facilities in Europe for potential use by U.S. and allied bombers and fighter jets, comes amid heightened tensions over Russia’s threats to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
The original timeline for replacement was set for the spring of 2023. However, according to defense expert the US wants to show Russia it is ready to act accordingly should the need be and the war in Ukraine escalates and transcends its borders.
The new B61-12 nuclear bombs will be shipped to Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The $10 billion B61-12 Life Extension Program is managed by the US Department of Energy and is meant to replace several earlier versions, with 100 upgraded nuclear bombs.
The upgrades involve removing a parachute and installing a new tail kit and other improvements for significantly greater accuracy. According to Politico, the new version is also designed so that U.S. and allied bomber planes and fighter aircraft — including B-2 and B-21 bombers and F-15, F-16, F-35 and Tornado fighter jets — are all able to carry the weapon, as opposed to the several older versions of the B61 that have been in storage for years.
The B61 nuclear gravity bomb, deployed from U.S. Air Force and NATO bases, has almost 50 years of service, making it the oldest and most versatile weapon in the U.S. stockpile. Numerous modifications have been made to improve the B61’s safety, security, and reliability since the first B61 entered service in 1968, and four B61 variants remain in the stockpile: the 3, 4, 7, and 11. The B61-12 LEP will refurbish, reuse, or replace all of the bomb’s nuclear and non‐nuclear components to extend the service life of the B61 by at least 20 years, according to the US Department of Energy.