Germany's governing political factions are split over U.S. plans to update B-61 nuclear gravity bombs deployed in the European state, Der Spiegel reported on Monday (see GSN, April 6).
The U.S. Defense Department intends to roll out a new variant of the bomb, dubbed the B-61 Mod 12, which would incorporate alterations to nuclear and non-nuclear components with the aim of affecting the detonation. The weapon -- which would also include adjustable fins for greater controllability -- is slated to enter detailed design refinement in 2012 and full manufacturing in 2017, once the first of the updated weapons are prepared, according to the magazine.
The current B-61 Mod 4 would form the basis for the new design, Der Spiegel reported. Germany's Büchel Air Base is thought to host between 10 and 20 of B-61 Mod 4 bombs, according to specialists. The United States also continues to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey (see GSN, April 22).
Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration officials have described planned B-61 updates as "the most complex [NNSA] life-extension effort undertaken" yet of a nuclear weapon, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The United States early last year started conferring with "certain NATO allies," settling on the "key military characteristics of the bomb."
The planned weapon updates could prove to be a source of conflict within Germany's governing coalition, which is headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-of-center Christian Democrats with the Free Democrats serving in a junior capacity, Der Spiegel reported (see GSN, Oct. 23, 2009).
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a member of the Free Democrats, has demanded the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from German territory. The "reduction of tactical nuclear weapons and, in this framework, their withdrawal from Germany" is an "important part of our agenda," the Foreign Ministry said.
Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, a top member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, offered a seemingly opposing view when he reaffirmed a commitment to the role of nuclear weapons (Der Spiegel, May 30).