USA completes first flight tests for its next nuclear bomb


The US government and US Air Force has completed the first end-to-end qualification flight tests of the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb on the B-2 bomber.

The non-nuclear system qualification flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb were completed on June 9 at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The test program is being run by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the US Air Force

Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for military application said, “These qualification flight tests demonstrate the B61-12 design meets system requirements and illustrate the continued progress of the B61-12 life extension program to meet national security requirements.

The B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP) preserves a key element of the US nuclear capability and also aims to improve its safety, security, and reliability.

The flight tests are intended to demonstrate the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon and the weapon’s non-nuclear functions.

The tests involved releasing a B61-12 non-nuclear test assembly, which includes the NNSA-designed bomb assembly and US Air Force acquired tail-kit, from a B-2A Spirit Bomber operated by the 419th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests using a B-2A Spirit Bomber for the B61-12.

The flight test included hardware designed by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory and manufactured by the Nuclear Security Enterprise plants. The tail-kit assembly section was designed by the Boeing Company under contract with the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

The LEP’s first system qualification drop test was conducted in March 2017 under the oversight of the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and DOE/NNSA organization established to facilitate cooperation and coordination in the management of the US nuclear stockpile.

The B61-12 LEP will consolidate and replace the remaining several B61 bomb variants in the USA’s nuclear stockpile. The first bomb will be produced in 2020.


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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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