Report: US Speeds Up Upgrade of Nuclear Arsenal in Europe

But there's no connection to Ukraine war, Pentagon says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2022 8:00 AM CDT
Pentagon: Nuclear Weapon Upgrade Not Connected to Ukraine War
Air Force personnel load two B61-3/4 bombs on the top rack of a vault and two B61-12 bombs on the lower rack.   (USAF, obtained by Joseph Trevithick under FOIA.)

With nuclear tensions at their highest since the end of the Cold War, the US has stepped up plans to upgrade the arsenal of nuclear weapons it maintains at NATO military bases in Europe, Politico reports, citing a diplomatic cable and "two people familiar with the issue." According to the cable, American officials told NATO allies this month that delivery of upgraded versions of the B61 "gravity bomb"—another term for an unguided "dumb bomb"—will happen this December instead of next spring. The US has around 100 B61 bombs at bases in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The Europe upgrade is part of the $10 billion "B61-12 Life Extension" program for the weapon, which was first developed in the 1960s.

The Drive reports that the new version of the bomb has both guided and unguided modes, though some NATO jets will be unable to use it in its guided delivery mode, which uses movable control fins. Like the bombs it is replacing, the B61-12 has "dial-a-yield" capabilities that control the force of the detonation. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told Politico that "modernization of US B61 nuclear weapons has been underway for years and plans to safely and responsibly swap out older weapons for the upgraded B61-12 versions is part of a long-planned and scheduled modernization effort. It is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine and was not sped up in any way."

Tom Collina at the Ploughshares Fund disarmament group tells Politico that the move seems to be "aimed more towards NATO than Russia." He says the Russians know that B61s are already in place and "they work just fine. The new ones will be newer, but it’s not really that much of a difference. But it may be a way to assure the allies when they are feeling particularly threatened by Russia." NATO and the Russian military both held planned nuclear drills Wednesday and Vladimir Putin repeated the claim that Ukraine plans to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb," the AP reports. Western authorities say the claim is false and a possible "pretext for escalation." Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the exercise Wednesday simulated a "massive nuclear strike" in retaliation for an attack on Russia. (More nuclear weapons stories.)

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