Military Aviation

Photos show mock B61-12 nuclear bomb being loaded on B-2A Spirit stealth bomber before capstone test

A B-2A Spirit stealth bomber released a B61-12 Joint Test Assembly utilizing a new capability known as Radar Aided Targeting System during a capstone test at the Tonopah Test Range.

A B-2A Spirit stealth bomber released a B61-12 Joint Test Assembly utilizing a new capability known as Radar Aided Targeting System during a capstone test at the Tonopah Test Range, on Jun. 14, 2022.

Tested only on the B-2, RATS improves weapon guidance accuracy in a Global Positioning System-degraded environment.

The 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron test loads a new nuclear-capable weapons delivery system for the B-2 Spirit bomber on Jun. 13, 2022 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The 72nd TES conducts testing and evaluation of new equipment, software and weapons systems for the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber. 

“We flew multiple sorties testing the new RATS capability over the last nine months and collected test points on its performance,” said Capt. David Durham, 72d Test and Evaluation Squadron B-2 weapons flight commander, to 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin, 53rd Wing, for the article B-2 executes new nuclear tactic in B61-12 JTA capstone test. “Using RATS for the JTA release demonstrated what the new capability brings to the warfighter. This test was also the first release of the production unit of the B61-12 JTA.”

A software tool designed in-house by the 72d TES was also flight tested. Known as the RATS Application Tool, it provides pilots an early indicator of the RATS’ functionality, verifying that the system is operating correctly prior to weapon release.

“This tool has opened the door for rapid and innovative software development in support of the B-2,” said Master Sergeant Matthew Gibson, 72d TES lead analysis software developer. “Due to the success of this product, we’ve received requests to build tools for other in-flight capabilities from the 509th Bomb Wing and 325th Weapons Squadron.”

Future B61-12 JTA releases will be conducted during annual Weapon System Evaluation Program flight tests as part of Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Department of Defense surveillance tests.

“Modernization is at the forefront of our minds as we plan and execute each of these tests,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Young, 72d TES commander. “The development of this tactic and the creation of the innovative software tool speak to the dedication and ingenuity of this team. They are focused on equipping the warfighter for today’s fight.”

The test event was led by a collaborative effort between the 72d TES, the 509th BW, Air Force Global Strike Command, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Boeing Company, and Sandia National Labs.

Aimed to consolidate and replace most of the previous B61 variants, the B61-12 is the latest iteration of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb which entered service 50 years ago. Over the decades numerous modifications have been made to increase safety and reliability. The B61-12 is critical to sustaining the US airdelivered nuclear deterrent capability.

The B61-12 first production unit (FPU) will occur in FY 2022. The bomb will be approximately 12 feet long and weigh approximately 825 pounds. It will be air-delivered in either ballistic gravity or guided drop modes and is being certified for delivery on current strategic (B-2A) and dual capable aircraft (F-15E, F-16C/D & MLU, PA-200 Tornado) as well as future aircraft platforms (F-35, B-21).

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Devan Halstead / U.S. Air Force

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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