Weapons

B-2 Spirit carries out B61-12 nuclear bomb qualification flight tests

These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2 Spirit bomber for the B61-12

A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber assigned to the 419th Test & Evaluation Squadron (TES) has completed two non-nuclear system qualification flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb at Tonopah Test Range on Jun. 9.

“These qualification flight tests demonstrate the B61-12 design meets system requirements and illustrate the continued progress of the B61-12 life extension program to meet national security requirements” said Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, National Nuclear Security Administration’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “The achievement is also a testament to the dedication of our workforce and the enduring partnership between NNSA and the U.S. Air Force.”

According National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) news release, the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP) is a joint program that preserves a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad and demonstrates continued support for extended deterrence and assurance commitments. The program will extend the bomb’s service life while improving its safety, security, and reliability.

The tests involved releasing a B61-12 non-nuclear test assembly, which includes the NNSA designed bomb assembly and U.S. Air Force (USAF) acquired tail-kit, from a B-2A Spirit bomber operated by the 419th TES at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California. These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2 Spirit bomber for the B61-12.

The tests are part of a series of joint tests to demonstrate both the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon and the weapon’s non-nuclear functions. The flight test included hardware designed by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory and manufactured by the Nuclear Security Enterprise plants. The tail-kit assembly section was designed by the Boeing Company under contract with the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

The LEP’s first system qualification drop test was conducted in March 2017 under the oversight of the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and DOE/NNSA organization established to facilitate cooperation and coordination in the management of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

The B61-12 LEP will consolidate and replace the existing B61 bomb variants in the Nation’s nuclear stockpile. The first production unit is on schedule for completion in fiscal year 2020.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton / U.S. Air Force and SSGT Phil Schmitten / United States Department of Defense

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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