The B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb has completed its final design review, creating production for March of 2020, the National Nuclear Security Administration has announced.
The B61-12 life-extension program consolidates and replaces the older B61-3, -4, -7 and -10 variants, inside a move that proponents say will both update aging aspects of the weapons and lower upkeep costs. The review, which involved a team of 12 independent experts studying 3 years of internet data, certified that the B61-12 design meets Defense Department standards.
The weapon is certified for both the B-52 and B-2 bombers, America’s F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 fighter aircraft, and British and German Tornado aircraft with a NATO agreement. The F-35 can be planned to go through certification around the weapon at some stage in another decade.
Production qualification activities with the agency’s Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas, begins in October 2018, with all the program on track for its first production unit in March 2020, based on a professional timeline. The weapon passed another milestone in June, when two non-nuclear designs to the weapon were flown and released successfully over Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
The NNSA is a semiautonomous department from the Department of Energy. While the Defense Department manages the delivery systems of the nuclear force, ships, planes and missiles, NNSA has oversight over the development, maintenance and disposal of nuclear warheads.
“This result is often a testament to the extraordinary dedication and skill of downline across the Nuclear Security Enterprise group to accomplish the mission,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Ronald Allen Jr., NNSA principal assistant deputy administrator for military application, said inside a statement. “It exemplifies our joint team’s steadfast resolve for fulfilling the Nation’s enduring requirements for the safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.”
According to a 2016 report from the NNSA, the life-extension program will set you back roughly $9.5 billion, a baseline price of $7.605 billion, plus an additional $648 million in NNSA funding which includes common applications across multiple weapon systems, as well as the estimated $1.3 billion that the Defense Department promises to invest in developing and procuring tail kits to the weapons.
However, a report by the Government Accountability Office a few months ago warned that the B61-12, among other NNSA projects, is underfunded.