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B-61 Update Plan at Odds With Obama Nuke Pledge: Expert

Plans for updating B-61 gravity bombs deployed around Europe are at odds with the Obama administration's pledge in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review not to "support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities" for the nation's atomic arsenal, one issue expert said in a Sunday London Guardian article.

The United States expects to spend roughly $10 billion to extend the service life of its B-61 stockpile, including roughly 200 bombs spread around installations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Tail fins being added at a cost of $1 billion would enable the weapons to be directed to a target and carried by F-35 aircraft.

"This will be a significant upgrade of the U.S. nuclear capability in Europe," said Hans Kristensen, who heads the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of Nuclear Scientists. "It flies directly in the face of the pledges Obama made in 2010 that he would not deploy new weapons."

"What will be going back to Europe will be a guided nuclear bomb," Kristensen added. "Especially when you combine it with F-35 with stealth characteristics, that expands the targets you can hold at risk from Europe, because by placing the explosion closer to the target you can choose a lower explosive yield. That is very important as there is less radioactive fallout. For many people this is a great concern because it means making nuclear weapons more 'usable.'"

Obama insiders counter that the tail fins would not drastically alter the mission of the B-61 or breach its promise in the Nuclear Posture Review.

Kristensen also noted on Monday that the U.S. Air Force intends to eventually field its developmental Long-Range Standoff Weapon nuclear cruise missile on the B-2A stealth bomber as well as the B-52H and planned Long-Range Strike Bomber.

"The B-2A bomber is designed to penetrate air defenses undetected. So why would the Air Force want to add a nuclear cruise missile to its mission?" he wrote in a blog post. "The answer appears to be that expected improvements in enemy air defense systems by 2030 will make the stealth bomber less stealthy and that a standoff capability therefore is needed for the nuclear strike mission."

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