The tests in the Nevada desert come as tensions rise with Russia and the Pentagon seeks to replace its aging nuclear arsenal.
A pair of U.S. Air Force B-2 bombers dropped two 700-pound faux nuclear bombs in the middle of the Nevada desert within the past few days. Now the Pentagon wants to tell you about it.
Conducted “earlier this month,” according to an Oct. 6 press release, the test involved two dummy variants of the B61, a nuclear bomb that has been in the U.S. arsenal since the 1960s. One was an “earth penetrator” made to strike underground targets, the other a tactical version of the B61. Neither carried an actual warhead.
“The primary objective of flight testing is to obtain reliability, accuracy, and performance data under operationally representative conditions,” said the statement from the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department arm that oversees such tests. “Such testing is part of the qualification process of current alterations and life extension programs for weapon systems.”
But why now? Perhaps it has to do with tensions with Russia, which are higher than they have been in decades, and which have sparked fears of a new nuclear arms race. Earlier this week, the Russian government announced it would conduct a massive drill to prepare its citizens for nuclear war.
Full Pentagon Release On Secret Test
NNSA and Air Force conduct two successful joint flight tests
In collaboration with the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, NNSA conducted successful surveillance flight tests using joint test assemblies (JTA) of the B61-7 and B61-11 last month. Analysis and flight recorder data from the tests indicate that both were successful.
JTAs are mock weapons containing sensors and instrumentation that allow scientists and engineers from national laboratories to assess their performance. The assemblies contain no nuclear materials and are not capable of nuclear yield. These assemblies also include a flight recorder that stores bomb performance data for each test.
The primary objective of flight testing is to obtain reliability, accuracy, and performance data under operationally representative conditions. Such testing is part of the qualification process of current alterations and life extension programs for weapon systems. NNSA scientists and engineers use data from these tests in computer simulations developed by Sandia National Laboratories to evaluate the weapon systems’ reliability and to verify that they are functioning as designed.
“The B61 is a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad and the extended deterrent,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “The recent surveillance flight tests demonstrate NNSA’s commitment to ensure all weapon systems are safe, secure, and effective.”
Flight testing is performed jointly by the applicable Department of Defense military service and NNSA. The B61-7 and B61-11 test assemblies were released from two separate B-2A Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomber Wing of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The tests were conducted at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
The B61 assemblies are jointly designed by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. Their components are manufactured at the Kansas City National Security Campus and assembled at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.
What Would War Look Like Today?
Defenseone gives an opinion.
Army Warns that Future War with Russia or China Would Be ‘Extremely Lethal and Fast’
Leaders say warfare in the coming decades will be fundamentally different from the past 25 years.
To envision the wars of the future, first remember those of the distant past, with their soul-numbing artillery barrages and unstinting waves of conventional enemy forces. Then speed up that mental newsreel and imagine a ground war accelerated by artificial intelligence and precision munitions, nested in a larger strategic sphere where everything is moving at Internet velocity.
That’s the picture that Army leaders are working from as they try to prepare their force to deter and defeat America’s enemies over the next few decades.
The nation faces existential threats from “modern nation-states acting aggressively in militarized competition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, Army deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and training. “Who does that sound like? Russia?” He spoke on a future-of-the-Army panel at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington on Tuesday.
China is a growing threat as well, if not one that can project force globally yet. Together, these two powers are mustering conventionally massive militaries that are increasingly technological — and forcing the Pentagon to contemplate and prepare for “violence on the scale that the U.S. Army has not seen since Korea…