“An Air Force F-16 aircraft released an inert B61 nuclear bomb in a test recently, demonstrating the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon and testing the functioning of the weapon’s non-nuclear components, including the arming and fire control system, radar altimeter, spin rocket motors and weapons control computer. The F-16 from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada, released the weapon over the Nellis Test and Training Range Complex in the first test use of the upgraded B61, known as the B61-12, with the F-16 aircraft,” the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center said in a statement.
The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said that the test was the first in a series of similar events necessary to qualify the upgrade for service.
The B61, one of the Pentagon’s primary thermonuclear weapons, is in the process of a major upgrade. Last year, the NNSA announced that the B61-12 warhead life extension program (LEP) had entered the production engineering phase, which is the final stage before production.
The $11 billion program, aimed at improving the bomb’s safety, security and reliability, will help to extend the life of the aging B61 nuke by two decades. According to the NNSA, the upgraded modification of the weapon designed in 1963 is expected to enter the production stage in 2020.
The latest version of the bomb will replace four previous modifications, known as Mod 3, 4, 7, and 10.
The test of the B61-12 was carried out on March 14, but the announcement was made on April 13, the same day that Washington dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) in Afghanistan. The mission marked the first time the weapon, nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs,” was used in combat. The GBU-43/B is the largest non-nuclear weapon in the Pentagon’s arsenal.