Besides the F-15E, the B-2, the F-16 and the F-35 will be certified to carry the B61-12.
Sandia National Laboratories announced on Jun. 8, 2020 that the F-15E Strike Eagle is the first US Air Force (USAF) aircraft to prove it is compatible with the refurbished B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.
The test took place in March.
‘Dropped from above 25,000 feet, the mock B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb was in the air for approximately 55 seconds before hitting and embedding in the lakebed, splashing a 40- to 50-foot puff of desert dust from the designated impact area at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range in Nevada,’ Sandia National Laboratories said in a news release.
‘That strike was the last in a series of flight tests designed to demonstrate the refurbished B61-12’s compatibility with the U.S. Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter. The successful full-weapon system demonstration of the bomb’s compatibility with the jet increases confidence that it will always work when called upon by the president and never under any other circumstances.
‘“Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force conducted the full-weapon system demonstration under a full end-to-end test scenario, demonstrating operational crews, representative carriage, release conditions and weapon functionality,” said Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 System’s Team.
‘“We were able to test the B61-12 through all operational phases, and we have extremely high confidence the B61-12 is compatible with the F-15E Strike Eagle,” he said. “The results speak for themselves, the tests met all requirements, both in performance and safety. It was delivered with precision accuracy; it worked, and it worked well.”
‘Sandia is the design and engineering lab for non-nuclear components of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, including the B61-12. In addition to non-nuclear component development, Sandia serves as the technical integrator for the complete weapon, assuring that the system meets requirements as a full-weapon system.
‘The early March demonstration of the fully functional weapon — containing non-nuclear and mock nuclear components — began with loading the weapon onto the fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas and ended with two flight tests at Tonopah Test Range. Initial data from the demonstration is consistent with the F-15E being fully certified to carry the refurbished bomb. The demonstration was possible with coordination between Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Kansas City National Security Campus, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Air Force.
‘“This is a full demonstration of a B61-12 delivery on an F-15E — verifying compatibility in real pre-flight and flight environments,” Samuels said. “This is the real deal, minus the nuclear package. This test brought together years of planning, design, analysis, test and qualification to fully demonstrate the B61-12 on the F-15E Strike Eagle.”’
The bomb is conceived to be air delivered in either ballistic or guided-gravity drop modes and is 12-feet long and weighs about 825 pounds. Besides the F-15E, the B-2, the F-16 and the F-35 will be certified to carry the B61-12.
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 following video (by Joel Ortiz and Dale Green) shows the full-weapon system demonstration of the B61-12 on the F-15E Strike Eagle at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range.
Photo credit: SSgt. Cody Griffith / U.S. Air Force