“Photo of damaged B61 nuclear bomb at RNLAF Volkel Air Base was a training dummy,” Pentagon says

Los Alamos National Laboratory included the picture of a damaged B61 nuclear bomb in a 2022 presentation for student job applicants in New Mexico and it geolocated the image to Volkel Air Base, Netherlands.

The Pentagon clarified that the publication of the photo featured in this post showing a damaged US B61 nuclear bomb at Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Volkel Air Base was a picture of a dummy weapon being used in a training exercise.

The image caused concern among arms control advocates.

As reported by The Guardian, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) released a photo of a B61 bomb being inspected for damage by US soldiers, including two from an explosive ordnance disposal unit, and a civilian. The rear of the bomb appears to have been twisted by an impact and one of the tail fins is missing. There is pink sticky tape covering an apparent hole.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) included the picture in a 2022 presentation for student job applicants in New Mexico, one of the country’s nuclear weapons facilities, and it geolocated the image to Volkel in the Netherlands, one of six bases in five European countries where a total of 100 B61 nuclear bombs are being stored as part of a nuclear-sharing agreement with the US.

The bombs remain American property, but aircrews from six NATO allies are trained to put them on planes and fly them. According to Alert 5, in the event of hostilities, it would require the agreement of the US, the NATO nuclear planning group, and the British prime minister for the weapons to be transferred to allied planes.

Hans Kristensen, the director of the FAS nuclear information project, said in his FAS blog that was unclear whether it was a real bomb or a training model. US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and LANL would not comment on the photograph, but on Apr. 3, 2023 after publication of Kristensen’s blog, the Pentagon said it was a dummy weapon being used as part of a training drill.

“At every military facility, we have a response team that has to train together, and that is what this was, and the photo was put in a recruitment manual,” Oscar Seára, a Pentagon spokesperson, said.

A USAFE spokesperson would not comment directly on the photograph, but said: “The US maintains the highest level of standards for personnel and equipment supporting the strategic arsenal, which includes routine training, maintenance and security activities, to safeguard America’s critical capabilities.

“It is US policy [that] we can neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location, including specific exercise or real-world operations.”

The Los Alamos National Laboratory said in an emailed statement: “No additional information is available for that photo.”

Arms control advocates have long argued that the B61 is militarily obsolete and should be withdrawn from Europe. The Obama administration contemplated its withdrawal, but met with resistance from some European allies, who saw it as symbolic of the US nuclear umbrella protecting them. Instead, the weapon was modernized, and the new version, the B61-12, is due to be delivered to Europe.

The B61 bomb remains a controversial issue, with some arguing that it should be withdrawn from Europe as an easy step towards disarmament, while others see it as symbolic of the US nuclear umbrella protecting European allies.

The photo showing military personnel inspecting what appeared to be a damaged B61 nuclear bomb.

Photo credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

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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