A "safe" version of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb – one with no warhead – was tested on July 1 at a test range in the Nevada desert. The Air Force and NNSA are aiming to extend the lifespan of the nuclear weapon by upgrading some of its parts.
"This test marks a major milestone for the B61-12 Life Extension Program, demonstrating end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions," Dr. Don Cook, of the NNSA, said in statement released Wednesday.
"Achieving the first complete B61-12 flight test provides clear evidence of the nation's continued commitment to maintain the B61 and provides assurance to our allies."
The test was the first of three development flight tests for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP), with the other two development flight tests scheduled for later this year.
"This test demonstrated successful performance in realistic flight environments" and "provides confidence in the weapon system and instrumentation system designs and the hardware at its current state prior to going to a baseline design review in 2016," the Air Force said in the same release.
The B61-12 LEP entered Development Engineering in February 2012 after approval from the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Energy/NNSA organization established to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the two departments as they fulfill their complementary agency responsibilities for US nuclear weapons stockpile management.
According to the Air Force and NNSA, the B61-12 LEP "refurbishes both nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the bomb's service life while improving its safety, security and reliability." The upgraded B61-12 will replace four older versions of the bomb.
The B61 was developed in 1963 – a year after the Cuban missile crisis – and has been one of top weapons in the US nuclear arsenal since. The total cost of the upgrades is expected to be as much as $11 billion by the program's completion in the 2020s.