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US Multi-Billion Dollar Nuke Weapons Upgrade

At an estimated cost of more than $11 billion, the life-extension program for the B61 bomb would be the most ambitious and expensive nuclear warhead refurbishment in history. Two of the Senate’s appropriations subcommittees—Energy and Water, as well as Defense—slashed allotted spending on it in their respective fiscal 2014 funding bills. The B61 nuclear bomb is a gravity bomb, or one that falls from an airplane without any guidance system. Five different variants of the B61 (called “mods” for “modifications”) remain in the stockpile. Approximately 180 of the B61 are deployed in Europe in support of NATO commitments.

As currently proposed, the B61 life-extension program would consolidate four different variants of the B61 into a single version known as the B61 mod 12. Approximately 400 to 500 mod 12s are scheduled for production and their service life is estimated at 20 years. The mod 12 will also be outfitted with an expensive new, guided tail kit, significantly increasing the accuracy of the bomb.

The Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have launched a counteroffensive with an assist from supporters in Congress. The case against the proposed B61 life extension is simple: It is unaffordable, unworkable, and unnecessary. In addition, it is premised on assumptions about demand for nuclear bombs that may no longer be valid 10 years from now, when the program is scheduled to be completed.

Source:  Kingston Reif, “Pentagon Pushes for Billions to Refurbish Nuclear Bombs,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 25, 2013, http://www.thebulletin.org/pentagon-pushes-billions-refurbish-nuclear-bombs.

Student Researcher: Brandon Baranzini (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jerry Krause (Sonoma State University)

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