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US completes first B61-12 nuclear bomb qualification flight tests using B-2 bomber


The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the U.S. Air Force completed two non-nuclear system qualification flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb on June 9 at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, the service announced on Friday.


US completes first B61 12 nuclear bomb qualification flight tests using B 2 bomber 001 A 509th Bomb Wing B-2 Spirit conducts a fly-by during the Scott Air Force Base 2017 air show and open house June 11, 2017, which celebrates the base’s 100th anniversary
(Credit: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Tristin English)


These qualification flight tests demonstrate the B61-12 design meets system requirements and illustrate the continued progress of the B61-12 life extension program to meet national security requirements” said Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “The achievement is also a testament to the dedication of our workforce and the enduring partnership between NNSA and the U.S. Air Force.”

The B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP) is a joint program that preserves a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad and demonstrates continued support for extended deterrence and assurance commitments. The program will extend the bomb’s service life while improving its safety, security, and reliability.

The tests involved releasing a B61-12 non-nuclear test assembly, which includes the NNSA designed bomb assembly and U.S. Air Force acquired tail-kit, from a B-2A Spirit Bomber operated by the 419th Test & Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California. These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2A Spirit Bomber for the B61-12.

The tests are part of a series of joint tests to demonstrate both the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon and the weapon’s non-nuclear functions. The flight test included hardware designed by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory and manufactured by the Nuclear Security Enterprise plants. The tail-kit assembly section was designed by the Boeing Company under contract with the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. 

The LEP’s first system qualification drop test was conducted in March 2017 under the oversight of the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Department of Defense and DOE/NNSA organization established to facilitate cooperation and coordination in the management of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. 

The B61-12 LEP will consolidate and replace the existing B61 bomb variants in the Nation’s nuclear stockpile. The first production unit is on schedule for completion in fiscal year 2020.