NATO shows off new steerable nuclear bomb – Russia not happy about it – an annotated infographic

The United States plans to deploy 180 precision-guided thermonuclear bombs to five European countries between 2020-24. The B61-12 has a “dial-a-yield” feature and is able to strike within 30 metres of its target.

Russia has threatened to take countermeasures over reports that the U.S. is to upgrade nuclear weapons in Europe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said plans for the U.S. to station up to 180 modified B61–12 guided nuclear bombs in five NATO countries “would lead to a violation of the strategic balance in Europe.”

Under a $10.4 billion “Life Extension Programme” (LEP) the new munitions will be converted from existing B61 free-fall bombs into precision-guided “smart” bombs. Under the LEP the bombs will receive a state of the art guided tail kit assembly and new spin rocket motor, which, through a system of satellite and laser guidance, can glide the bomb to within 30 metres of its target.

In addition, a “dial-a-yield” will enable the detonation to be varied between 300 tons and 50 kilotons of TNT — four times the explosive power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Hans M. Kristensen of the  Washington-based Federation of American Scientists described the B61–12 as an “all-in-one nuclear bomb on steroids.” In September, Kristensen described NATO’s practice of “nuclear sharing” to German television programme Frontal 21: “In case of war, the nuclear weapons stationed in Germany would be used at the orders of the U.S. president. The U.S. forces would then hand over the nuclear weapons to German pilots and these German pilots would then attack the target with nuclear weapons.”

The stationing is “a hidden American weapons build-up,” he said. The new bombs allow “themselves to be steered to the target.” This is “a new weapon” because the U.S. previously had “no steerable nuclear bombs.”

The first development test flight of an inert B61-12 bomb took place at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada in July.

There are an estimated 480 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, deployed at bases in Belgium (20), Germany (150), Italy (90), the Netherlands (20), Turkey (90) and the United Kingdom (110).

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is trying to placate its critics, saying that with the help of the B61–12, America’s total stockpile of airborne nuclear bombs could be reduced by around half its current amount.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.


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