NNSA Completes Final Design Review for B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Life Extension Program (LEP)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) has successfully completed a Final Design Review for the B61-12 nuclear bomb Life Extension Program (LEP).

This review ensures that the B61-12 LEP satisfies Department of Defense (DoD) requirements and is a key milestone for a joint program that sustains a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad.

“This result is a testament to the extraordinary dedication and skill of team members across the Nuclear Security Enterprise working together to accomplish the mission,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Ronald G. Allen Jr., NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “It exemplifies our joint team’s steadfast commitment to fulfilling the Nation’s enduring requirements for a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.”

For the review, an independent team comprised of 12 military and civilian subject matter experts met at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from Sept. 10 to 14 and closely examined three years’ worth of B61-12 LEP electrical, mechanical, thermal, and flight-testing data and analysis.

The independent team also reviewed the state of procedures, training, and safety at NNSA’s Pantex Plant and confirmed readiness to proceed with final production qualification activities.

The review included representation from elements across DOE and DoD, including Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pantex Plant, U.S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, U.S. Air Force A10R, U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and U.S. Strategic Command.

B61 Mod 12 (B61-12) is the newest variant of B61 nuclear bomb capable of being carried inside the internal weapons bay of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet.

The B61-12 LEP will consolidate and replace the existing B61 bomb variants in the Nation’s nuclear stockpile. Production qualification activities at Pantex will begin in October 2018, which will enable Phase 6.5 First Production authorization in September 2019. The program remains on track for First Production Unit in March 2020.

The four hundred B61-12 bombs will be used by both tactical aircraft (such as the F-35) and strategic aircraft (such as the B-2) and the Tail Subassembly (TSA) will give them Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) levels of accuracy, allowing the fifty kiloton warhead to have strategic effects from all carrying aircraft.

The B61 Mod 12 tail assembly contract was awarded to Boeing on November 27, 2012 for $178 million. The B61-12 uses an internal guidance system and can glide to its target.

On 1 July 2015, NNSA conducted the first of three flight tests of the B61-12 tail kit assembly. In August last year, NNSA and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) completed two qualification flight tests of B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

F-15 Fighter B61 Nuclear Bomb
File photo of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet dropping a B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.

B61 nuclear bomb

B61 nuclear bomb is an American low to intermediate-yield strategic and tactical nuclear weapon designed and built by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, USA. It is the primary thermonuclear gravity bomb in the United States Enduring Stockpile following the end of the Cold War.

The bomb is of the variable yield (“dial-a-yield” in informal military jargon) design with a yield of 0.3 to 340 kilotons in its various mods. It has a streamlined casing capable of withstanding supersonic flight speeds.

Nine versions of the B61 have been produced. Each shares the same physics package, with different yield options. The newest operational variant is the B61 Mod 11, deployed in 1997, which is a ground-penetrating bunker buster.

The weapon is 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m) long, with a diameter of about 13 inches (330 mm) and a basic weight of about 700 pounds (320 kg), except for the Mod 11 version which has a weight of approximately 1,200 pounds (540 kg).

The B61 has been deployed by a variety of U.S. military aircraft. At present, the primary carrier for the B61 Mod 11 is the B-2 Spirit stealth strategic bomber.

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