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'Significant' Alterations Seen in Updated B-61 Bomb: Report

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

The U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bomb's "Mod 12" variant. A developmental variant of the weapon includes "significant" alterations, an issue expert said on Friday. The U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bomb's "Mod 12" variant. A developmental variant of the weapon includes "significant" alterations, an issue expert said on Friday. (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

Developmental updates to a U.S. nuclear gravity bomb include "significant" alterations to key weapon components, says a new independent report.

The B-61 bomb's "Mod 12" variant incorporates a fully revamped back section, and lacks the parachute incorporated in predecessors, according to the Friday image analysis by Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

The altered weapon's Air Force-developed "tail kit" is designed to improve its targeting precision. Kristensen wrote that the new variant's exact accuracy remains uncertain, but there is a roughly 98-foot margin of error in non-nuclear weapons fitted with the Internal Navigation System thought to be included in the forthcoming B-61 bomb update.

"Even if [the precision] were a little less for the B-61-12, it is still a significant improvement of the [360- to 590-foot] accuracy that nuclear gravity bombs normally achieve in test drops," Kristensen wrote in his assessment, published on the FAS Strategic Security blog.

Bombs refurbished under the U.S. B-61 life-extension program are slated for deployment in several allied NATO states in Europe, replacing older versions. Kristensen wrote that despite plans to revamp the weapons with new detonation features and components to increase their accuracy, lawmakers in Belgium and the Netherlands said Washington had not alerted them to "the upcoming deployment of improved nuclear capabilities in their countries."

"The [Belgian and Dutch] government position is that there is no improvement and therefore no need to inform anyone," he wrote.

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