WASHINGTON (Agencies): In a first, the B61-12 nuclear bomb has officially become a part of the US nuclear stockpile and approved for use on the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber, making it the first aircraft in the US Air Force (USAF) inventory to be equipped with the lethal weapon.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) new unclassified Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) 2024 report published on November 27 contained this information. The NNSA, together with the US military, manages the country’s nuclear stockpile.

Some of the US stockpile’s oldest nuclear weapons are from the B61 family. Reports from over the years have suggested that the latest B61-12 bomb will eventually replace the older variants, including the B61-3, -4, and -7. However, a timeline for that remains elusive for now.

The first B61-12 production run was finished in late 2021, and the weapons were initially supplied to the US military in 2022. The B61-12 program, essentially a life-extension initiative started by the Obama administration, is expected to conclude in 2025. The maximum yield of the B61-12 is reportedly 50 kilotons.

The B61-12 is an 825-pound, 12-foot-long bomb with an inertial navigation system (INS) guidance package. It comprises both new parts — such as the precision guiding tail kit and reconditioned components, all of which have varying yields — from the previous B61 variants.

As per previously available information, the missile is fitted with one of the most adaptable warheads in the US arsenal, allowing it to be used as a low- or medium-yield weapon by adjusting its explosive strength to suit the target. It also features miniature rockets at the back of the body that rotate the bomb to stabilize it.

The B61-12 is also undergoing certification for use by the US Air Force’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, F-15E Strike Eagles, and F-16C/D Vipers, as well as the service’s upcoming B-21A Raider stealth bombers.

Additionally, as part of the NATO alliance’s nuclear sharing agreements, Germany’s swing-wing Tornado combat jets and some NATO F-16s and F-35s will also be authorized to use these missiles.

The integration of the bomb on the B-2 Spirit bomber is significant due to its stealth characteristics, which are expected to allow the bomber to get past enemy air defenses and conduct the planned strike. Being one of the most resilient aircraft in the world, the B-2 stealth bomber is an essential part of the USAF’s long-range strike capability.

The B61-12 has been undergoing flight testing on the B-2 and other aircraft for many years. The NNSA declared in 2018 that it had finished the first round of end-to-end qualification flight tests on the B-2 while the bomb was still being developed.

The B6-2’s nuclear armament options still include the B61-7, B61-11, and B83-1 bombs, according to the NNSA’s most recent SSMP report. The Spirit is the only aircraft authorized to use any of these bombs.

It is not known when the B61-12 will be cleared for use with the F-35, F-15, F-16, or any other NATO aircraft. The B61-12 on the F-15E and F-35A has already received the first certification, as NNSA and the US Air Force revealed.

Just earlier this month, the Royal Netherlands Air Force announced that its F-35A stealth fighter jet was to be certified as a “Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA)” by January 2024 with the capability to carry the B61-12 nuclear bomb.

The B61-12 has been made combat-ready at a time when the US is bolstering its nuclear strike capabilities to counter the challenge from adversaries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, which pose a stated threat to Washington and its partners and allies.

Moreover, integrating the B61-12 on B-2 Spirit comes days after the Biden administration announced the development of a more advanced B61 variant.

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