On June 8th, the US Air Force announced that it had carried out flight test to see if the B6-12 nuclear gravity bomb is compatible with the F-15E Strike Eagle multirole strike fighter jet.
The tests were successful and the mock nuclear bomb was dropped from 25,000 feet and was in the air for approximately 55 seconds before hitting and embedding in the lakebed, splashing a 40- to 50-foot puff of desert dust from the designated impact area at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
The strike was one of a series to show the compatibility of the retrofitted nuclear bomb with the F-15E fighter jet.
The successful full-weapon system demonstration of the bomb’s compatibility with the jet “increases confidence that it will always work when called upon by the president and never under any other circumstances.”
“Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force conducted the full-weapon system demonstration under a full end-to-end test scenario, demonstrating operational crews, representative carriage, release conditions and weapon functionality,” said Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 System’s Team.
“We were able to test the B61-12 through all operational phases, and we have extremely high confidence the B61-12 is compatible with the F-15E Strike Eagle,” he said. “The results speak for themselves, the tests met all requirements, both in performance and safety. It was delivered with precision accuracy; it worked, and it worked well.”
Prior to this, tests were carried out in March 2020.
The final two end-to-end flight tests in March demonstrated Air Force crews’ ability to handle, load, and otherwise simulate the employment of the bomb in both high and low-altitude release profiles.
On Mar. 9, 2020, Air Force crews loaded an inert B61-12 “containing non-nuclear and mock nuclear components” onto an F-15E at an undisclosed location “to ensure the mock weapon was secure and digital and analog interfaces were properly configured and communicating between the aircraft and weapon,” according to Sandia’s release.
Sandia did not say when the subsequent high-altitude test took place exactly. In that case, the F-15E flew at over 25,000 feet, while again flying at near Mach 1, and it took 55 seconds for the bomb to reach the ground.
“This is a full demonstration of a B61-12 delivery on an F-15E – verifying compatibility in real pre-flight and flight environments,” Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 System’s Team, said in a statement. “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.”
The B61-12 has been in development since at least 2011 and is technically a refurbishment and consolidation of four existing variants, the B61-3, -4, -7, and -10.
The U.S. military has also indicated that the new variant could eventually replace the specialized B61-11 bunker-buster version, though it’s unclear how it would be able to provide the same capabilities against deeply buried targets.
The F-15E, as well as the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, have been involved in numerous earlier flight tests. A B-2 actually flew an end-to-end test with the B61-12 for the first time in 2018, but has not yet been certified to employ the weapon.
The ultimate goal of the US Air Force is to certify the bomb on one of its F-16C/D Vipers, as well as at least some of its F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.
The B61-12 project had already suffered numerous delays and cost increases. It has been famously pointed out in the past that each one of the bombs will cost more than its literal weight in gold. It weighs approximately 825 pounds. The bomb is expected to cost approximately $27.5 million per piece and the total cost for building 400 such bombs sits at $11 billion.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Russia Releases New Rules For Using Nuclear Weapons In War
- Norwegian Port In Tromso To Host NATO Nuclear Submarines
- China Warns US Resumption Of Nuclear Tests Would ‘Open Pandora’s Box’