Development of New U.S. Nuclear Gravity Bomb Underway

The U.S. Department of Defense recently confirmed its commitment to develop the B61-13 nuclear gravity bomb, which is set to replace older bombs like the B61-7. This decision aligns with the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, recognizing the need to modernize nuclear forces to effectively deter nuclear-armed rivals, China and Russia.

The B61-13 will incorporate modern safety, security, and accuracy features found in the B61-12, offering the President increased options for striking large-area military targets. The Pentagon’s goal is to retire older bombs like the B61-7 and B83-1.

Nuclear weapons expert Hans Kristensen believes that the B61-13 might serve as a compromise to resolve disagreements between Democrats and Republicans regarding the fate of the aging B83-1 bomb. Former President Barack Obama aimed to eliminate the B83-1, which carries a massive 1.2-megaton yield. However, President Donald Trump reversed this decision. President Joe Biden has since revived efforts to retire the B83, but some key Republican lawmakers argue that it’s necessary to target deeply buried threats.

The B61-7 and its new variant have a maximum yield of 360 kilotons, while the B61-12 reaches a maximum yield of 50 kilotons. The B61-13 appears to be a gesture to congressional hardliners, offering a high-yield option alongside enhanced accuracy.

While some lawmakers welcome the creation of the B61-13 as a step in the right direction, they emphasize the need for a more comprehensive transformation of the U.S. deterrent posture to counter the competitive arms race with China and Russia.

The Pentagon assures that the introduction of the B61-13 will not result in an overall increase in the military’s stockpile. The plan is to reduce the number of B61-12s produced to match the quantity of B61-13s built. Only a few dozen B61-13s are expected to be produced.

If approved and funded by lawmakers, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration will oversee the production of the B61-13. It is anticipated that modern aircraft, including the upcoming B-21 Raider stealth bomber, will be able to deliver this new bomb. However, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not currently intended to be part of the deployment plan.

The B61-13’s ultimate impact and necessity remain subjects of debate, with some viewing it as a means of diplomatic compromise and others as a necessary strategic move to maintain nuclear capabilities.

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