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U.S. Air Force Preps Revamped Nuclear Bomb for Key Tests

Production technicians prepare a B-61 for a surveillance test in 2006 at the Pantex Plant in Texas. In accordance with efforts to extend the service life of the nuclear gravity bomb, the U.S. Air Force is planning to test this summer how well a modified variant of the weapon separates from fighter jets.
Production technicians prepare a B-61 for a surveillance test in 2006 at the Pantex Plant in Texas. In accordance with efforts to extend the service life of the nuclear gravity bomb, the U.S. Air Force is planning to test this summer how well a modified variant of the weapon separates from fighter jets. (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

The Air Force is preparing to test how well a revamped nuclear bomb performs when it is dropped out of a plane, Inside Defense reported on Thursday.

In cooperation with the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and contractor Boeing, the Air Force is planning for tests this summer of the B-61's new "Mod 12" variant, which comes with a retooled tail section.

The modernized gravity bomb is to be dropped first out of an F-16 fighter jet. If that test goes well, the B-61-12 will next be tested with an F-15 jet and a B-2 bomber -- aircraft that can carry heavier payloads than the F-16, Eglin Air Force Base spokeswoman Lois Walsh told the newsletter.

"The next test event scheduled for the program is the safe separation test," John Mistretta, a materiel supervisor with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said in an email. "These tests involve drops of Separation Test Vehicles from an aircraft in actual flight. These tests are scheduled for summer 2014 and will be used to verify design and center of gravity."

The move to prepare for separation testing follows the successful completion earlier this month of a full-scale wind-tunnel assessment of the Mod 12 design.

The B-61-12 variant is planned to replace the current B-61-3, -4, -7, and -10 variants. The broader project to extend the service life of the gravity bomb involves maintenance and modifications to the weapon's conventional and nuclear components.

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