U.S. Air Force’s New B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Compatible with F-15E Strike Eagle Aircraft

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) successfully demonstrated the compatibility of the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb with the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft.

The compatibility was demonstrated during two flight tests in March 2020 at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP).

The lower-altitude flight test took place at Tonopah Test Range, about 160 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on March 12. Flying at about 1,000 feet and at nearly the speed of sound, an F-15E released the mock weapon. The inert B61-12 struck the desert floor in the designated area about 35 seconds later.

A higher-altitude test occurred next, when an F-15E, again flying near Mach 1, released an inert B61-12 from above 25,000 feet. About 55 seconds later, the mock weapon embedded in the desert soil, again within the designated area.

Employing two Development Flight Test (DFT) Joint Test Assemblies, these tests were the final weapon system demonstration between the B61-12 and the USAF F-15E aircraft. Completion of these tests satisfies F-15E compatibility and B61-12 system qualification test activities, culminating tens of thousands of engineering hours between NNSA and Department of Defense (DoD) teams.

The two flight test assets were assembled using hardware produced by the Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

“The success of these tests is a major milestone on the path to full rate production and the B61-12’s initial operation capability on the F-15E in the coming years,” said Brig. Gen. Ty Neuman, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “Once delivered, this capability will underpin our nation’s deterrent and strengthen our NATO partnerships.”

“Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force conducted the full-weapon system demonstration under a full end-to-end test scenario, demonstrating operational crews, representative carriage, release conditions and weapon functionality,” said Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 System’s Team.

“We were able to test the B61-12 through all operational phases, and we have extremely high confidence the B61-12 is compatible with the F-15E Strike Eagle,” he said. “The results speak for themselves, the tests met all requirements, both in performance and safety. It was delivered with precision accuracy; it worked, and it worked well.”

B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP)

The B61-12 LEP is a joint program between NNSA and the Air Force preserving a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad by allowing scientists and engineers to address the aging of nuclear weapons components.

This program will extend the B61 nuclear bomb’s service life by at least 20 years while improving its safety, security, and reliability. The first B61 entered service 50 years ago, and over the decades numerous modifications have been made to increase safety and reliability.

Using a U.S. Air Force supplied Boeing Tail Kit Assembly, the B61-12 LEP will consolidate and replace the existing B61 nuclear bomb variants in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The first production unit is scheduled for completion in the fiscal year 2022.

The bomb, estimated at 12-feet long and weighing about 825 pounds, is being designed to be air delivered in either ballistic or guided-gravity drop modes. Along with the F-15E, the B61-12 will be certified for the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit stealth strategic bomber, the dual-capable F-16C/D Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft and, in the future, the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as well as allies’ aircraft.

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

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