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Rocketing costs add to concern that USA’s B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs might not be useful anyway

B-2 Flies First ‘End-To-End’ Tests With New Nuclear Bomb Amid Growing Cost Concerns
The B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs are set to enter service in 2020 and already cost nearly twice their literal weight in gold. The Drive, BY JOSEPH TREVITHICKJULY 2, 2018 

The U.S. Air Force, in cooperation with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, has completed the first end-to-end qualification flight tests of the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb on the B-2 bomber. This milestone comes amid continued concerns about the weapon’s cost, including the recent announcement that the Pentagon’s top internal watchdog has started its own audit of the program.

On June 29, 2018, the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, revealed the two successful test flights in an official press release. A B-2A Spirit stealth bomber from the Air Force’s 419th Test and Evaluation Squadron, situated at Edwards Air Force Base in California, had dropped the weapons, which did not carry live nuclear warheads, on the Tonopah Test…..

The full stockpile of approximately 400 bombs is supposed to be combat ready by 2025. The B-2A, along with various dual-purpose combat jets, such as the F-16C/D Viper and F-15E Strike Eagle, will be able to carry these weapons. The Air Force plans to integrate the B61-12 on the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and B-21 Raider bomber in the future, too.

………. while the U.S. military insists that the B61-12 offers superior capabilities compared to the existing bombs and will allow it to consolidate its inventory of B61 bombs, the project has proven to be time-consuming and very costly. On June 28, 2018, a day before NNSA announced the successful test flights, the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General announced it was reviewing the price and management of the tail kit portion of the program.

Our objective is to determine whether the Air Force is developing the B61-12 Tail Kit Assembly within cost, schedule, and performance requirements,” the office said in an associated press release. “We will consider suggestions from management on additional or revised objectives.”

This is hardly the first time a U.S. government agency has taken a look into the program, either. In May 2018, the Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog, released its own review of the project.

“GAO recommended in a January 2018 report that NNSA document and justify such decisions, in part because GAO’s prior work has shown that independent cost estimates historically are higher than programs’ cost estimates because the team conducting the independent estimate is more objective and less prone to accept optimistic assumptions,” the May 2018 report said. “In response to the January 2018 report, NNSA agreed to establish a protocol to document management decisions on significant variances between program and independent cost estimates, but it has not yet provided evidence that it has done so.”

Providing an accurate scope of the costs for both the bomb and the tail kit, which are managed and therefore budgeted for separately, has been a major source of controversy from the beginning. Just between 2011 and 2012, NNSA’s estimate of the program’s price tag grew from $4 billion to $10 billion, which did not include the cost of the tail kit and various other ancillary components.

This prompted criticism both within sectors of the U.S. government and among advocacy groups. In 2012, the non-profit Ploughshares Fundamong others, noted that this revised cost split among the 400 700-pound nuclear bombs meant that each one would literally be worth more than its weight in gold. At the current price of gold at the time of writing, each one of the B61-12s could actually be worth nearly twice as much per pound.

A significant increase in cost could magnify existing criticisms, as well as questions about whether or not B61s of any kind still have a place in the U.S. military’s over-arching nuclear modernization plans. The Nuclear Posture Review argues that the gravity bombs, despite their low-yield settings, do nothing to deter potential opponents, primarily Russia, from engaging in a limited nuclear confrontation.

Though this basic premise is highly debatable, under this logic, the utility of the gravity bombs becomes particularly questionable. The U.S. military has deemed the B-52H bomber too vulnerable to deliver nuclear gravity bombs in a future conflict and is rapidly approaching that conclusion, right or wrong, with regards to dual-use combat jets.

………… There is also a separate concern about whether the improved capabilities of the B61-12 will make it more “usable” and, in turn, increase the possibility of a nuclear conflict. It is always important to note that the United States does not have a “no first use” policy, which means it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for non-nuclear actions in certain circumstances, something we at the War Zone have explored in detail in the past. ………. Contact the author:


July 6, 2018 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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