A test over the Nevada desert has confirmed that the latest version of the nation’s B61 nuclear bomb is compatible with the U.S. Air Force’s primary fighter plane, defense officials and researchers at Sandia National Laboratories said Monday.
Officials with the lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced that the mock bomb was dropped over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, marking the last in a series of flight tests designed to demonstrate that the refurbished weapon could be delivered by the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Data was collected during the test on metrics that included the weapon’s ability to arm and fire.
Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 System’s Team, said the test in early March represented a start-to-finish scenario that involved operational crews, the plane’s carriage system, release conditions and the functions of the weapon, which contained non-nuclear mock components. He said it was delivered with precision and worked as designed.
“This is the real deal, minus the nuclear package. This test brought together years of planning, design, analysis, test and qualification to fully demonstrate the B61-12 on the F-15E Strike Eagle,” he said.
The test began with loading the weapon onto the fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas and ended with two flights at Tonopah Test Range. During the lower altitude test, the plane flew at about 1,000 feet off the ground and at nearly the speed of sound as it released the mock bomb. The higher altitude test was done at 25,000 feet.
The testing is part of program aimed at extending the service life of the B61 by at least 20 years.
Defense officials say the nuclear bomb has almost 50 years of service as a deterrent for potential adversaries, making it the oldest and most versatile weapon in the U.S. stockpile. Numerous modifications have been made since 1968 to improve safety and reliability.
The National Nuclear Security Administration recently announced plans to manufacture the first refurbished B61-12 in fiscal year 2022. Sandia is responsible for the design and engineering of the system’s non-nuclear components, while Los Alamos is responsible for producing detonators and other components.