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.

      • Stan

        Exactly, they are turning it into a tactical nuke where precision would matter much more. Who the heck knows, maybe they’ll stuff something like this into a ground penetrating jacket…

        • Nadnerbus

          That was the first thing I thought. Lower the yield, give it the ability to penetrate a few dozen feet of concrete, and it suddenly has some very real and plausible uses.

          • Jacob

            Well, the only real and plausible use I can think of is if there’s an imminent threat of North Korea about to nuke the South, and we happen to know their nukes are stashed in some underground bunker which can only be destroyed with a tactical nuke. Other than that, I don’t see how any situation rises to the level of urgency that would warrant us using a nuclear weapon.

  • 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.

  • 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*****.

      • Nadnerbus

        well said.

        As the world’s super power (for the time being anyway), the US nuclear arsenal should be entirely defensive, and only be designed to deter their use by other nations and regimes. Churning out more and larger warheads is not in line with that goal.

        I’d never advocate unilateral disarmament or anything, but the fewer we can have and still protect the nation, the better as far as I am concerned.

      • oblatt2

        >I can’t understand why ANYONE would advocate a larger or more deployable nuclear arsenal.

        Its been studied and its known that it comes from a feeling of personal powerlessness.

      • john

        You have no idea how far it really goes! XD Our arsenal is enough for omnicide. Killing off every living thing on the planet.

    • 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

    • Ben

      … Why?

      • bobbymike

        Cause Peace Through Strength baby!

        • James Longmire

          You’re doctor may be able to helpalleviate those feelings of inadequacy you’re experiencing with a prescription for Pure Fusion nuclear strength Viagra.

          • Uranium238

            Leave it to someone as unprofessional as this person to post attacks on a personal level.

            Some of you liberals do not read history well. Wars have been won due to SUPERIOR FIREPOWER, not rainbow colored unicorn excrement.

            We need superior firepower as deterrence.

            “Speak loudly and carry a big stick.”

    • blight_

      More Baal idols? That’s pagan talk.


    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.

    • zoneofsubduction

      Germany tried and failed with that strategy in the 1940s.

      We don’t need the best and we can’t afford the best any more. We need good enough and enough numbers to deter.

      • William_C1

        Why can’t we afford the best anymore? We used to be able to. The economy hasn’t gotten any smaller.

  • 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.

    • Nadnerbus

      According to Wiki, it is done by varying the primary yield by boosting with fusion, varying the primary yield by changing the timing on the neutron initiators (right next to the flux capacitors), and by enabling/disabling the second stage fusions device.

      From what I read, the implosion has to be perfect every time or there will be no critical mass and no chain reaction. At least with the small amount of fissionable material in modern warheads.

    • William_C1

      The proper North Korean technique to adjust the yield is to just bash the thing with a hammer enough times.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Lightingguy

      If you bankrupt the economy doing it, the protection they provide becomes redundant.

      • john

        true, but it works two ways. The economy is just as rudundant if it’s evaporated, incinerated and irradiated. A nation needs something to defend it from evil, as much as a defense needs something to defend from that evil. we need a defense that doesn’t break the bank, but does the job properly, as well. Balance.

  • Mitch S.

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

    • nick

      standard vibration setup for ESS (envitomental stress screening).
      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!

    • Steve B.

      Recall that Russia invaded Georgia (the European Georgia – it’s on the eastern side of the Black Sea, not south of Tennessee) back in ’08 and Bush could only watch and bitch. No different now.

      • blight_

        At best, the US could send back Georgian light infantry battalions from Iraq to get mauled by an actual nation-state army.

        Good foreshadowing of Rumsfeld doctrine motorized infantry against a modern army, instead of lightly armed savages.

      • rtsy

        Russia did not initiate that invasion. Georgia invaded Russia so Russia showed them what a stupid idea that was by occupying every square inch of Georgian territory for a few months.

      • AS was correct back then…we shouldn’t be doing anything. Obama drawing another line in the sand is a moronic move. He has absolutely no foreign policy plan at all, everything is ad hoc.

        • john

          heh. Not far off. he seems a bit overwhelmed. good intentions are useless if you can’t carry them out. he’s a decent guy, but he’s a weakling in the political arena. That’s the problem. He’s not a bad man. But a president must be strong, so it’s not wrong to say he’s a bad president. A bad president with a good platform is still a bad president. Not a crooked president, just a bad one. My point being that he’s an “honorable weakling”.

  • frank

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

    • Steve B.

      You’re right. Maybe this is a good time to go grab pesky Canada.

      • john

        Yeah! XD Maple syrup has become a valuable strategic resource in the 21st century, haha!

        • john

          Actually, thinking about it, that might make the stuff cheaper to buy in stores, too!

          yes, we should go conquer Canada!

  • 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????

    • Raraavis

      Defense contractors gotta eat.

      Except for a few years in the late 1940s and a tiny blip and the end of the Cold War, the United States has had a War Economy since 1939. We have spent trillions and trillions on weapon systems for exaggerated enemies. Even with the country 16 trillion in debt and an economy still in the mist of Depression 2.0 nobody bats an eye at 10 billion here and 10 billion there. The US defense industry is the greatest scam in the history of the world.

  • 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?

    • Do you read what’s going on in Iran? If it come to it, would you like us to blow up half the country and kill tens of miilions or use a few of these and take out their nuclear program. Come on dude, think!

      • rtsy

        Do you have any idea how bad it would be for the USA to use even a small nuke while we go around telling Iran and North Korea that they can’t even have the hardware to make nukes because we don’t trust them?

        The US or any other nation ever using a Nuke, even one with a “small yield” modular core, would mean the absolute end of any semblance of a diplomatic community and start WWIII.

        This program is dangerous because it make people think it’s okay to use these weapons. It isn’t.

  • Zues

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

    • joe

      And low-yield capabilities.
      I’m no expert, but I’m assuming the fuzing systems on a nuclear warhead probably do contain gold, and are probably more expensive on a per-weight basis – if the fuze on a tactical nuke doesn’t qualify as a “absolutely cannot malfunction evar!!1!!” system, I don’t know what does…

  • 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…

      • Steve B.

        I recall a few days ago, news reports of transport planes as well as helicopters bringing in troops. Thus I assumed, but never saw confirmed, that Russia flew in light airborne forces. As well I think they had some ground forces including naval infantry, in the region, where they had a brigade stationed.

  • 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???!!!!!

    • blight_

      Won’t be long before we start funding Islamic radicals again to go after the big russian bear to keep them off our backs.

      Then they will be Freedom Fighters again…ha ha ha.

  • 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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