U.S. Successfully Tests $8.1 Billion Nuclear Gravity Bomb In Nevada

The United States Air Force successfully completed a test of a nuclear gravity bomb at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The newly upgraded B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb completed its third and final test in the Nevada desert on October 20.

After the U.S. Air Force and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) completed the test, U.S. officials claimed that the launch proves Washington's "continued commitment to security," according to NNSA. This test is the last of three development flight tests for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP).

The nuclear gravity bomb did not contain any enriched nuclear material. However, NNSA Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon said that the test "provides additional evidence of the nation's continued commitment to our nation's security and that of our allies and partners."

Creedon added a brief comment about the performance of the nuclear gravity bomb test.

"This demonstration of effective end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions marks another 2015 achievement in the development of the B61-12 Life Extension Program."

A statement released by NNSA on Monday cites that when it is operating at full capacity, the B61-12 is a nuclear gravity bomb, even though the test flight only used representative non-nuclear components. In addition, this nuclear gravity bomb does not use highly enriched plutonium or uranium – it is consistent with test treaty obligations.

Nuclear gravity bomb test in Nevada
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This latest B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb was released by an F-15E warplane from Nellis Air Force base. According to NNSA, the B61-12 proved to perform successfully in a realistic, guided flight environment, and all scheduled activities took place successfully. Additionally, the telemetry and video data were accurately collected.

Researchers performed the launch as part of the B61-12 Life Extension Program, a plan designed to replace or repair existing components of U.S. nuclear weapons to "ensure the ability to meet military requirements." Testing of the new nuclear gravity bomb began in July. October's launch was the last of three tests.

The NNSA notes that the LEP allows for the maintenance of a feasible nuclear deterrent without having to develop new weapons or conduct live underground testing. The program, launched in February, could extend the life of the weapon for up to 30 years.

The latest nuclear gravity bomb tests and the $8 billion upgrade program face some strong criticism. Anti-proliferation advocates have accused U.S. officials of covering up the fact that they have built a new nuclear weapon. Advocates against the recent weapon upgrade consider it a broken promise by U.S. President Obama. They stress that President Obama had promised not to construct new nuclear bombs.

ValueWalk reports that Congress established the NNSA in 2000 as a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, which has a mandate of "enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science."

The expensive upgrade of the nuclear gravity bomb has drawn additional criticism because the B61 is a "dumb" bomb that has no place in modern-day U.S. or NATO nuclear doctrine. However, one of the upgrades allows the bomb to be guided more accurately to a target because of the newly developed set of moving fins. The yield can also be adjusted before launch, which some argue make it more usable and, therefore, more dangerous.

Civil Defence Against Nuclear Attack
[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Those who oppose any sort of nuclear weapon say it should never be a good idea to think of a nuclear bomb as usable. Nonetheless, some senior U.S. military officials view the nuclear gravity bomb as a positive.

ValueWalk's coverage of the nuclear gravity bomb reports a comment made by former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, who acknowledged that the changes could affect how leaders think about using the B61.

"Without a doubt. Improved accuracy and lower yield is a desired military capability. Without a question."

According to a new biography of George W. Bush, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney ordered Colin Powell, then chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to evaluate how many tactical nuclear weapons it would take to destroy an armored division of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. The biography noted that even though Powell was uncomfortable ordering the analysis, he did it anyway.

The fact that senior U.S. figures seriously considered using nuclear weapons perhaps implies that newer more usable bombs may jeopardize the world's safety. That is one of the major criticisms of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb, which although it is not an entirely new weapon, the fact that it is available and serviceable could cause a drastic change in attitudes towards the use of nuclear weapons.

It appears that nonproliferation advocates have lost the fight to keep the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb from being deployed. Many hope that future military officials are not tempted to use it.

Many believe nuclear weapons were never meant to be used because of the enormous, life-threatening damage that they would cause. If the use of a nuclear gravity bomb -- or for that matter -- any nuclear weapon becomes a serious consideration, there are those who believe the world is a far more dangerous place.

[Image via Shutterstock ]