Nuclear Bomb Upgrade Could Violate Key Treaty

B61-12The Air Force released pictures this week of the new guided tail kit installed on the B61-12 nuclear bomb that improves the bomb’s accuracy. Along with upgrades that allow the U.S. military to lower the warhead’s yield, one analyst said the U.S. is breaking a key nuclear treaty.

Carried by U.S. and NATO nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets, the B61-12 is an upgraded version of the B61, which was designed in 1963. The thermonuclear bomb is guided by an Internal Guidance System and can glide to its target. The B61-12 version has four selectable yields — 0.3, 5, 10 and 50 kilotons — according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The U.S. has started an expensive program to upgrade the B61 that Air Force leaders have been spent years requesting from Congress. The upgrades will cost about $10 billion for 400-500 bombs.

Along with stockpiles in the U.S., the Air Force has B61s deployed across Europe in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The B61-12s will replace the 200 older versions currently in those countries.

At least one nuclear weapons analyst is questioning whether the upgrades to the B61 may be in violation of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that states the life extension programs for nuclear munitions can “not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

Hans Kristensen, a fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, said the new tail kit and lower yield capabilities would allow the U.S. military to employ the bomb in new mission sets. In January, Kristensen asked former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at a Washington D.C. defense conference if the B61-12 upgrade would allow the Air Force to use it against new target sets and offer new capabilities.

“It would have both effects,” Schwartz told Kristensen at the January conference.

Kristensen writes that these upgrade programs could put the Nuclear Posture Review at risk.

“In addition to violating the NPR pledge, enhancing the nuclear capability contradicts U.S. and NATO goals of reducing the role of nuclear weapons and could undermine efforts to persuade Russia to reduce its non-strategic nuclear weapons posture,” Kristensen wrote for FAS.

Schwartz was asked by Kristensen at the conference whether he thought the upgrades to the B61 would increase the likelihood the U.S. would use the nuclear bomb. Kristensen said Schwartz told him the opposite was true. In fact, the upgrades would improve the bombs deterrence capabilities.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Musson

    This is not in support of a new mililtary mission. This is the same mission only with a lower yeild weapon.

    • Ben

      The implication is that smaller yields can lead to use in smaller, more tactical engagements than are feasible with larger yields.

  • FormerDirtDart

    I’m confused. I was under the impression the Nuclear Posture Review was a classified internal US policy, and not a treaty.
    And wasn’t the B61-12 a development program to get the weapons to fit inside the F-35 bays, that was begun before the 2010 NPR?

    • Steve B.


  • hibeam

    Hagel wants a zero kiloton option. “The EPA is concerned these weapons might harm stuff or startle critters” he explained.

    • Rodney

      LOL! Hagel: the Anti-Defense Secretary

  • Lance

    Throw the treaty away we need Nukes and say heck with these liberal anti defense brain dead 60s peace hippy crap treaties Obama loves.

    • bobbymike

      Right on! Abrogate New Start and SORT go back to START I levels of nukes and build a new multi-megaton warhead, new ICBM, SLBM, SSBN and bomber.

    • Ben

      I can’t understand why ANYONE would advocate a larger or more deployable nuclear arsenal. You guys do realize we already have more than enough nukes to decimate any and every enemy we could ever face, right?

      That’s all ignoring the fact that as soon as one nuke starts flying, they all start flying and we’re all f*****.

    • Jacob

      Faith didn’t unleash nuclear energy, the science mindset did. People of faith are people content with ignorance.

  • Well, if they had baals they would fund. New Stealthy long range ALCM, even for B2. And pure fusion warheads


    When you decrease the man power of the military you increase the technology of the military fire power, I hope it’s a smart choice should conflict errupt.

  • Deliverator

    Nuclear weapons are not a military decision. Deployment is political. Use is political. Programs like this are jobs focused and political. This is a terrible investment. Can you imagine the fall out from using such a device? Pun intended. The USA is the only country to have used nuclear weapons. Using a small one is just as politically unsound as using a MIRV’d megaton ICMB. Please, let’s use the funds on something that actually improves the USA. These are dead assets, dead investments for a dead strategy. Deterrent? The MOAB accomplishes nearly the same mission without the fall out.

    • Tehbeefer

      “Deployment is political. Use is political.” I agree.

      “Deterrent? The MOAB accomplishes nearly the same mission without the fall out.” Blast yield of a MOAB: 11 tons TNT. Blast yield of the B61: 300–340,000 tons TNT, according to WIkipedia. I suspect the 291-ton difference might disagree with you.

    • William_C1

      Not even the MOAB compares to the power of a nuclear weapon. Determinant is necessary.

    • tiger

      We are not talking nuking humans so much as infrastructure targets. There are many valid nuke uses.

    • Totally agreed. However, nukes should still be kept at ready for deterrent effect.

  • hibeam

    I wonder how they modulate the yield? I’m guessing they tweak the timing of the shaped charges to get a less than ideal implosion. With really poor timing you get a North Korean style pfffttt.

  • William_C1

    How is it that the Russians can develop new ICBMs but we can’t incorporate a simple GPS/INS upgrade into an existing bomb? Some past variants of the B61 had selectable yields too.

    Considering we haven’t designed or built any new nuclear weapons in a long time now, this is probably more a necessity to keep them operational than anything else.

    • retired462

      Soon Russia will have more weapons than us, and if you think they are honoring their commitment on nuke limits; you could probably qualify for “czar” that Hagel wants to appoint.

  • Rob

    These should have been scrapped a decade ago. They are part of a disgusting con game. Details:

  • Bob

    If we refuse to learn from history and cold hard reality about the foolishness of “trusting” our enemies to reduce weapons arsenals, and we continue to live in our little dream worlds that nations like North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China have no intentions of defeating us militarily some time in the near future, then we all deserve to suffer the consequences. History has shown that a militarily strong nation is very seldom provoked by others and generally respected. Great Commander-in-Chiefs like Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Ronald Reagan kept our world a lot safer through military might. I say “to hell” with pacifying our enemies and tear up the treaties them give them all the leverage and us very little. Let’s modernize and increase our military capabilities.

  • Mitch S.

    Hey I want that workshop/hangout.
    Cool round workbench, awesome thick door, all kinds of neat tools and a nuke!

  • my uncle has better and cooler “tools” in his garage! I don’t think that a REAL nuke rebuilding shop!!

  • Maj Kong

    Putin can invade Ukraine and say FU to Uncle Sam. Well guess what? Here’s an upgrade to the B61, suck it Vladimir!

  • frank

    And we all know that Obama will do anything that Putin tells him too.

  • Dave

    It said “The upgrades will cost about $10 billion for 400–500 bombs” How do they justify $20 million per bomb, when this is just a nuclear JDAM????

  • rtsy

    This program is designed to justify the future use of a Nuke. Putting it in a platform that’s smaller and more precise means some idiot is going to argue that a nuke can be a “surgical strike”.

    How could anyone support this program?

  • Zues

    What the shit, 25 mill for a set of fins…. Are they gold

  • Good move, these will be the weapon of choice against Iran.

  • TonyC.

    Upgrading existing weapons should not violate any nuclear treaty. Developing new weapons is more problematic. The Russian’s have a new medium range nuclear missile, why worry about the B61 upgrades at all? The delivery system for these weapons are aircraft, easily intercepted. The new medium range ballistic missile is a different story. There has to be verifiable treaties, not promises.

    • blight_

      So long as INF treaty compliance is met and there is no funny business about fudging the number of bombs both sides keep in inventory we’ll be fine.

      I honestly doubt the Russians are telling us the full truth of their nuclear weapons inventory (indeed, we only ever got half truths about Biopreparat and their chemical weapons arms); but maintaining their nuclear security is prohibitively expensive. It’s cheaper to draw down their Rocket Forces and invest it in the army so they can keep pushing over small countries like Georgia.

      Contrast Georgia to Chechenya in ’93. Very different Russian Army after a decade of rot and rebuilding.

  • Richard Browne

    The Nuclear Posture Review is definitely not a treaty. It is an internal US government policy statement subject to change.

    • john

      ah! Good to know, actually! thanks!

  • ereilad

    Surely Russia and China have the very latest of technology employed in their weapons.
    Do you really think they are worried about following any treaties at this time?
    Russia is in the Crimea because they think they have better weapons than we do.

    • blight_

      Russia is in the Crimea because they never left Sebastopol. It’s the home of the Black Sea Fleet and the Ukranians didn’t remove them in the first place (or couldn’t).

      I’m surprised as to where all the paramilitary goons came from, but they look like light infantry. Bring fire engines and hose them down with water cannons. It’s unlikely Putin will order his paramilitary goons to respond with deadly force, but you never know…

  • Given the current situation with the Tsar Putin, “Treaty” worries!!! Really!!! I’d say upgrade your Atomics to the point you can fly’em right into Tsar’s freakin’ Office……and we all used to worry about the Commies….apparently it’s Russia in general is the problem …..maybe Patton was right???!!!!!

  • Chris

    NPR is not a treaty. The onion has more factual pieces than this..

  • G. S.

    Just looking at that picture brings back a lot of fond memories of an M&I facility. I’m proud of my service on these devices and happy to see them being upgraded for our countries defense.

  • James B Gibb

    What’s all this crap about the nukes, this shithead President hasn’t got the balls to use nuclear weapons. Like everything he touches, it’ll be useless if he has his way. They should store a 50 ton toy under the Whitehouse with a Zero delay fuse, so if this ass pushes the button he meets Allah first. The professionals say he’s a nut case and yet he still has he trigger? You can’t get a gun if someone thinks your a hazard, what’s so special about this fool, when he scares the hell out of us all?

  • tiger

    Looking at that B-61 just resting there, do any of you get the urge just Hop on wearing a Stetson & doing a Slim Pickens impersonation????
    “Hey. Where is Major Kong?”

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