The last exchange of data on the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States took place in early 2021. According to information published in open sources, in Russia at that time there were 517 ICBMs, ballistic missiles on submarines and heavy bombers, and the USA had 651. In Russia, 1 warheads were deployed on strategic carriers, in the USA, 456.
In total, the United States has approximately 5 nuclear warheads, most of which are not deployed - in storage, or awaiting disposal. Also in service are tactical aviation nuclear bombs (approximately 220 units) for fighter-bombers.
Experts specialized in nuclear weapons, believe that the United States has accumulated more than 100 tons of plutonium, which is enough to create tens of thousands of charges. Since 2019, 4–5 plutonium assemblies have been produced annually.
From 2024, it is planned to release at least 10 new assemblies per year, and from 2026, it is planned to release at least 30.
Thus, the assembly of approximately 2030 new warheads is foreseen by 140.
Aviation nuclear bombs
The most numerous of the thermonuclear free-fall aviation bombs in the American nuclear arsenal are the B61 family bombs.
The bomb was created by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and from the very beginning was considered as a unified aviation nuclear weapon of low and medium power, tactical and strategic purpose. Its mass production began in 1967.
Initially, it was a fairly perfect design, and over the years, the technical and technological part of the bombs has changed little. The main design changes are aimed at increasing the level of reliability and safety.
At present, free-falling nuclear bombs of the B61 family have practically ousted all other models in the US Air Force.
The bomb is 3,58 m long and 0,33 m in diameter and consists of several parts. The nose cone contains the control electronics. Behind it is a compartment with a charge, which looks like a metal cylinder. Then another compartment with electronics and power supplies. In the tail section, equipped with stabilizers, a parachute is placed, designed to slow down the speed of the fall, so that the plane that dropped the bomb can safely escape.
The weight of most B61 is within 330 kg, but may vary depending on the specific modification.
B61 bomb at different stages of assembly
More than half a century has passed since the start of operation of the first model B61-0.
Since then, 9 serial modifications have appeared and a total of more than 3 nuclear bombs of this type have been collected, which entered service with tactical and strategic aviation.
A feature of the B61 is the ability to change the power level of the charge before combat use, depending on the type of target and the tactical situation.
The maximum yield of bombs belonging to this family is within 340 kt.
In all modifications of the B61, the Teller-Ulam scheme is used, which triggers the reaction of thermonuclear synthesis of light elements into heavier ones, in which a huge amount of energy is released. Although during the field tests of the first American thermonuclear explosive devices, the reaction of liquid deuterium (a heavy isotope of hydrogen) was used, such an ammunition is not very convenient for combat use and storage.
In this regard, in all the charges in service, solid lithium-6 deuteride is used as a thermonuclear fuel, which stores deuterium in it at positive temperatures.
To start a thermonuclear reaction, a nuclear detonator (trigger) is used, the task of which is to create the necessary initial conditions - high temperature and pressure. The trigger is a small plutonium charge.
Lithium-6 deuteride is contained in a special "nuclear container" made of a high-density material (Uranium-238 or lead) coated with boron compounds to protect the contents from premature heating by a neutron flux. A nuclear trigger is located strictly along the longitudinal axis of the "thermonuclear container". After assembling the product, the internal space is filled with a special compound, which ensures reliable fixation of the elements of the thermonuclear charge.
After the start of a chain reaction of fission, a high-temperature plasma is formed in the plutonium core, which, under high pressure, acts on the contents of the container. In the course of fission of plutonium nuclei, a neutron flux is created, which, interacting with the nuclei of lithium-6, releases tritium. It already interacts with deuterium and a thermonuclear fusion reaction begins, releasing the main energy of the explosion.
Before detonation, a small amount (about 3–6 g) of thermonuclear fuel is pumped into the center of the hollow assembly. By varying the content of the gas mixture in the charge, it is possible to regulate the explosion power over a wide range.
At the moment, of the nine serial modifications of the B61, there are four "hot" versions in the nuclear cellars of the advanced air bases: B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, B61-11. B61-10 bombs are in reserve.
After the end of the Cold War, the 11th and 12th modifications were created.
The B61-3 bomb, put into service in 1979, has a stepped power adjustment in the range of 0,3, 1,5, 60 or 170 kt. It is designed for tactical aircraft.
The B61-4 tactical thermonuclear bomb appeared shortly after the B61-3. Its energy release can be adjusted in the range: 0,3, 1,5, 10 or 45 kt.
The B61-7 bomb, created by conversion from the B61-1 in the late 1980s, was originally intended for strategic bombers. Its power is adjustable from 10 to 340 kt.
The B61-10 bomb, intended for suspension under fighter-bombers, was created in the late 1980s on the basis of the W85 warhead from the Pershing II MRBM. Possibility of stepwise adjustment of the explosion power: 0,3, 5, 10 or 80 kt.
The B61-11 bomb was put into service in 1997 and is part of the arsenal of long-range bombers. She is the heaviest in the family and weighs 540 kg. The greater weight of the 11th modification compared to earlier ones is explained by the more durable and thicker body of the bomb, specially designed to destroy well-fortified underground bunkers. This bomb is designed to detonate with a delay after burying several meters into solid ground. In total, about 50 B61-11 bombs were collected. B61-7 bomb warheads were used to create this model.
In the comment to the publication "Powerlessness" of the US nuclear industry one very "patriotic" but not well informed reader literally stated the following (punctuation and spelling preserved):
That is, they are modernizing the weapons of the 60s - and what is the use of these free-fall bombs in modern warfare - the carrier will need to enter the air defense zone of action.
So, the B61-12 bomb (B61 Mod 12) is not a "weapon of the 1960s", but is a very perfect and technologically advanced model, created in an evolutionary way on the basis of early modifications of the B61 thermonuclear bombs.
To be fair, it must be said that Russia is also not going to give up aviation atomic bombs, which are an important component in the arsenal of our military aviation. We do not consider them "outdated".
When the new B61-12 was adopted, there was no question of increasing the number of American atomic bombs. The designers of the B61-12 set the goal to reduce the cost of maintenance, maintenance and create a "special" unified aviation ammunition, designed to eventually replace all nuclear bombs of this family.
B61-12 became the first guided nuclear bomb. Depending on the combat situation, it is proposed to use an inertial or guidance system similar to JDAM.
The new tail section contains navigation instruments and an autopilot capable of tracking the trajectory of the product and issuing commands to the steering cars. It is possible to change the power of the explosion using the bomb's own controls.
After separating the bomb from the carrier flying at high altitude with a transonic speed, a flight range of up to 120 km, greater efficiency and "surgical" accuracy are provided with a lower charge power.
An air blast of B61-12 produces much less radionuclides than the B61-7 bomb. However, to hit well-protected targets, such as silo launchers or underground command posts, the explosion can be made after touching the ground or burying it.
According to available data, when using a satellite navigation system, the CEP of a bomb is no more than 30 m. An underground explosion with a capacity of 50 kt, produced at a depth of 7-10 m, is equivalent in destructive effect to an air explosion with a yield of 750 kt.
Discharge of the inert version of the B61-12 bomb during testing
A number of unauthorized sources claim that in the B61-12 bomb, only a 0,3 kt plutonium trigger from the early B61 modifications will be used to hit targets. However, this is highly unlikely and meaningless. The US nuclear industry, taking into account the previously accumulated reserves of lithium-6 deuteride, is quite capable of ensuring the reloading of all aerial bombs.
According to information published in the United States, the power of the B61-12 bomb in TNT equivalent will be stepwise adjusted within the range: 0,3, 1,5, 10 and 50 kt.
In total, up to 61 previously released bombs of the B12 family can be converted into the B400-61 modification.
The cost of converting one bomb is estimated at approximately $ 28 million.
The practical implementation of the program will start in 2022. The service life of B61-12 bombs should be at least 20 years.
At the first stage, it is planned to convert thermonuclear bombs B61-3, B61-4, B61-7 and B61-10.
Thus, we are talking not only about tactical bombs, but also about those intended for strategic carriers. At the same time, relatively fresh B61-11 will operate in its original form.
However, the line between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is rather arbitrary. Tactical fighter-bombers or carrier-based aircraft are quite capable of solving strategic tasks.
In addition to the B61-7 and B61-11 bombs, the B83-1 thermonuclear bombs are in the arsenal of American strategic bombers.
Thermonuclear bomb В83
The B83 thermonuclear bomb was created by the Livermore National Lorenz Laboratory. Its serial production began in 1983, and a total of 650 bombs were fired. B83 bombs were replaced in strategic bombers: B28, B43 and B53.
The B83 bomb was the first American nuclear weapon to use fire-insensitive explosives. According to American sources, it can stay in burning kerosene for several hours.
The bomb's curb weight is 1 kg. Length - 088 m.Diameter - 3,7 m.
At present, the B83 is the only American thermonuclear ammunition of the megaton class, its maximum yield is 1,2 Mt. It is the most powerful weapon in the US nuclear arsenal.
It is stated that the power of the B83 explosion can be regulated, but it is not disclosed to what extent.
The highlight of the B83 is the possibility of supersonic bombing (up to 1,4 M) against heavily fortified targets (ICBM silos, bunkers). The bomb was designed from the very beginning to hit hard on reinforced concrete surfaces.
For this, it has a powerful steel hull, divided by three internal bulkheads. The bomb is equipped with a hollow shock-absorbing steel tip with concentric crush rings to prevent ricochet or slip.
The warhead is located in the first compartment. In the middle are the control circuits. The first two compartments need impact protection, and their critical elements are surrounded by fiberglass honeycombs. The tail section contains the cocking circuits and thermal batteries. Attached behind them is a parachute system consisting of a main Kevlar-nylon band parachute, steel cables and a pilot chute. The parachute system is capable of reducing the speed of the bomb from 900 km / h to 80 km / h in a very short time period.
Currently, 50 bombs of the B83-1 modification, which have passed through the resource extension program, may be in operation. About the same amount is kept as an emergency reserve.
Nuclear cruise missile warheads
American AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles are equipped with W80-1 thermonuclear warheads.
The W80 family of warheads was developed by specialists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and has much in common with the warhead of the B61 aviation bomb. The production of W80 nuclear warheads began in 1979.
Thermonuclear Warhead W80
The W80 thermonuclear warhead with variable explosive power (5–150 kt) is very compact. Length - 0,8 m.Diameter - 0,3 m.Weight - 130 kg. A heat-resistant explosive is used to initiate the plutonium core.
Initially, the assembly of two modifications was carried out: W80-0 (for the Tomahawk Land-Attack naval KR) and W80-1 (for the AGM-86 ALCM airborne KR).
Modified versions of the W80-2 and W80-3, designed for advanced cruise missiles, were not mass-produced.
Loading a W80-1 warhead into a cruise missile
At present, the W80-0 warheads of the decommissioned nuclear-powered Tomahawks have been dismantled from the carriers, and a little more than 500 W80-1 warheads intended for the AGM-86В CD are considered combat-ready.
According to information published in American sources, up to 500 thermonuclear cruise missile warheads may be in storage.
In 2017, the US Congressional Budget Office announced a nuclear modernization program, which provides for the refinement of the W80-1 warheads to the W80-4 level. The modernization of the W80-1 provides for the bulkhead of warheads with the replacement of some components.
Such a decision will make it possible to increase the service life of warheads and not go beyond the framework of the treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.
It is expected that the practical implementation of work on the W80-4 will start in 2025. The deployment of new cruise missiles with updated W80-4 warheads is scheduled for 2027.
It is planned to complete the improvement of all existing warheads intended for installation on cruise missiles by 2032. For these purposes, it is expected to spend $ 11,6 billion.
Nuclear warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles
In the recent past, the American silo-based LGM-30G Minuteman-III ICBMs were equipped with W78 thermonuclear warheads and the newer W87 - dismantled from the decommissioned LGM-118A Peacekeeper (MX) missiles.
The W78 warhead was developed in the mid-1970s by specialists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Serial production was carried out from 1979 to 1982. A total of 1 units were produced. The W083 warheads have replaced the 78 kt W3 thermonuclear warheads on the Minuteman-62 ICBMs (withdrawn from service in 170).
Currently, about 200 W78 nuclear warheads may be in a state suitable for further use, and about 400 more - in the process of processing or in storage.
Platform with warheads Mk.12A
A number of sources give different weights of the W78: from 180 to 270 kg (perhaps the last figure is the weight of the Mk.12A warhead). Height - 172 cm, diameter at the base of the warhead - 54,1 cm.
Initially, an ICBM could carry three warheads.
Between 2002 and 2006, the Americans unilaterally reduced the number of warheads to one on all Minuteman-3 missiles.
At the moment, W78 are in the final stages of their life cycle. Previously, information was published that some of the W78 warheads could be converted to the W78-2 variant. At the same time, their capacity will be reduced from 350 to 6 kt. In this case, only the plutonium "lighter" will remain on W78-2, and the container with lithium-6 deuteride will be removed.
However, the creation of the W78-2 modification is not entirely justified.
Several US nuclear security experts have criticized the W78 warhead for using heat-resistant explosives to compress a plutonium core.
In other words, the W78 warhead can detonate when exposed to an open flame, which does not meet modern requirements and creates operational risks that could potentially lead to a large-scale nuclear disaster.
Apparently, it will not come to the conversion into the W78-2 version, and all the existing W78s will be dismantled from the carriers and disposed of in the near future.
Considering that all American LGM-30G Minuteman-III ICBMs are currently equipped with only one thermonuclear warhead, existing W87 warheads - dismantled from LGM-118 Peacekeeper missiles in 2003-2005 biennium
Mk.21 warhead platform
The creation of the W87 thermonuclear warhead was carried out at the Livermore National Laboratory; it was put into service in 1986.
In total, 1988 units were produced by December 525.
The W87 warhead has an energy release equivalent to an explosion of 300 tons of TNT. Weight - up to 000 kg. Length - 270 m.Diameter at the base of the warhead - 1,75 m.
During the development of the W87, it received modern security tools, including heat-resistant explosives, a fireproof shield and advanced means of preventing unauthorized activation of warheads.
The W87 warheads are among the most recent in the US nuclear arsenal, and they can serve on the Minuteman-3 ICBMs until 2030, until these missiles are decommissioned.
A number of sources mention the W87-1 warhead, which is now allegedly being worked on.
Most likely, this designation was assigned to nuclear warheads with an extended resource. Previously, under the designation W87-1, there was a 475 kt nuclear submarine designed for the MGM-134 Midgetman small ICBM.
Submarine ballistic missile nuclear warheads
Currently, the Ohio-class nuclear-powered missile-carrying submarines are armed with UGM-133A Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (also known as Trident D5).
The Trident-2 SLBM is capable of carrying 8 88 kt W475 thermonuclear warheads or 14 W76 100 kt warheads.
Currently, a reduced number of Mk.5 individual warheads are being installed on American SLBMs.
Platform with mock-ups of warheads Mk.5
The W88 thermonuclear warhead was developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Production ran from September 1988 to November 1989. During this time period, 404 units were produced.
The weight and size characteristics of the Mk.5 warhead containing the W88 differ greatly from one source to another. The following data are most often given: weight - about 350 kg, length - 1,6 m, diameter at the base of the warhead - 0,46 m.
American authors argue that the W88 nuclear submarine of the Trident-2 SLBM structurally has much in common with the W8 nuclear submarine intended for the Minuteman-3 ICBM.
Unlike mine-based ICBMs, submarine-based SLBMs are less likely to be attacked by nuclear weapons, and therefore the W88 was designed with less stringent standards of protection against the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion.
Due to the high density of the combat compartment, the W88 warheads are located in close proximity to the third stage jet engine. Due to the senselessness of using heat-resistant explosives, fire safety requirements were reduced. The use of an ordinary blasting agent made the warhead cheaper.
Initially, the W87 warhead carrier had better accuracy (KVO 90 m) than the Trident-2 (KVO 120 m). Therefore, to ensure an equal probability of hitting a protected target, the power of the W88 warhead was increased to 475 kt.
As you know, submarine ballistic missiles are the basis of the American nuclear triad, in connection with which work has been carried out to extend the service life of a significant part of the W88 warheads.
Currently, there can be approximately 380 W88 nuclear warheads in an active state.
To equip the UGM-96 Trident I and UGM-133A Trident II SLBMs from 1978 to 1987, a 76 kt W100 thermonuclear warhead was produced. Approximately 3 warheads of this type have been assembled. Like many other American nuclear warheads, the W400 was created by Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Sectional view of the W76 warhead and the Mk.4 warhead
According to some reports, the mass of the W76 warhead is 98 kg. Combat unit Mk.4 - 165 kg.
In 2008, all Trident-1 missiles were decommissioned. As of 2009, 3 warheads remained in service.
The W76 was originally planned to have a service life of 20 years and a life extension program was launched in 2000.
The warheads upgraded under this program were designated W76-1, and the warheads were designated Mk.4A. Until 2018, 2 warheads passed through the Life Extension Program. The work, as with most other American nuclear weapons, was carried out at the Pantex Plant in Texas.
In the 1990s, American nuclear physicists criticized W76 for a number of inherent disadvantages: low energy yield, high vulnerability of electronic components and fissile materials to neutron radiation.
During the implementation of the modernization program, in addition to extending the service life of the charge, its radiation resistance was increased and a new fuse was installed, allowing for a buried detonation. In addition to the warhead itself, the warhead has undergone revision, which received the designation Mk.4A. Thanks to the modernization of the detonation system and more accurate control of the position of the warhead in space, in the event of a flight, a command is given for an earlier high-altitude detonation of the warhead.
A nuclear strategy review published in 2018 announced the creation of a new modification, the W76-2.
During the next "modernization", which took place at the Pantex Plant, a container with thermonuclear fuel was removed from part of the W76-1 warheads. After that, the target must be hit with a 5-6 kt plutonium trigger.
Alteration of fifty W76-1 began in February 2019 and ended in September 2020.
Preparation of the Mk.4A warhead with the W76-1 warhead for modernization at the Pantex Plant
At the end of 2019, the USS Tennessee SSBN (SSBN-734) first went on combat patrol with a Trident-2 missile equipped with a W76-2 nuclear warhead.
In the Russian media, the partial transition to the W76-2 warheads is often presented as an example of the "nuclear degradation" of the United States.
However, it should be understood that there are 1 W700-76 warheads on alert and in "hot" reserve (1-6 warheads on each missile), which are the most numerous in the American strategic nuclear forces.
The "low-power" W76-2 are only a very small part of the arsenal. American experts in the field of nuclear weapons write that the vacated volume in the warhead is occupied by improved guidance systems, which have significantly reduced the CEP.
Thus, it reflects the concept also implemented in the B61-12 guided nuclear bomb. Thanks to the "surgical" accuracy, one type of nuclear weapon makes it possible to solve both strategic and tactical tasks.
Prospects for improving existing and creating new nuclear warheads
Unfortunately, the statements of a number of "experts" that the American nuclear forces have passed the point of no return are not supported by the facts.
Until 2026 alone, the US Department of Defense plans to spend $ 325 billion on nuclear modernization.
As part of the nuclear weapons modernization program from 2025 to 2030, the W80-1 thermonuclear warheads will be converted to the W80-4 modification, after which they will be able to serve on the new generation cruise missiles (AGM-20 or AGM-180) for another 181 years.
Most of the B61 family thermonuclear bombs in service will be modified to the B12-61 version, after which they, together with the B61-11, will also remain in active service for another two decades.
Apparently, the only American thermonuclear bomb of the megaton class - B83-1 - will remain in service. In any case, representatives of the Combat Aviation Command, which includes strategic bombers, announced their intention to retain the B83-1 bombs for the next 10 years.
The W78 warheads will be removed from service along with the Minuteman-3 ICBM. At the same time, YaBZ W87-1 on missiles of this type are planned to operate until 2030. By 2030, a new thermonuclear warhead is to be created for a new generation of ICBMs.
The release of the updated and modernized W88 warheads for the Trident-2 SLBM is scheduled for 2022–2026. After the modernization of the W76-1 / 2 warheads, they can be operated on SLBMs for another 40 years.
The production of a new low-yield nuclear warhead (without a thermonuclear charge) for a promising sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) is scheduled to begin in 2029.
The new W93 nuclear warhead for SLBMs may appear as early as 2030, and will enter service in 2035. It must be flexible in use, which sometimes implies the ability to control energy release, and meet special requirements, the essence of which is not disclosed. There are discrepancies in the comments of two representatives of the US Department of Defense: one argued that the new W93 warhead is replacing the W88, the other said that the W93 will replace the W88 and W76.
However, there are doubts that all new nuclear charges planned for creation will be put into service on time. In this case, the American nuclear industry will have to dramatically increase the rate of assembly of plutonium assemblies and increase the production of thermonuclear fuel. So far, the available production capacity is clearly not enough for this.
A number of experts agree that the US Department of Defense will not speed up the creation of new types of warheads, as long as the reliability of existing nuclear warheads is ensured by less expensive modernization.
According to open sources, taking into account the allocated funding, from 2026 it is planned to produce at least 30 new plutonium nodes, and from 2030 they should be produced annually at least 80 units.
Based on the available figures, it can be predicted that the American nuclear weapons research and production complex is capable of creating at least 2030 new warheads in 2045-1.
Taking into account the extension of the service life of the existing charges, such volumes of production are able to cover the urgent needs.
It should also be understood that in the event of global military challenges, the United States, possessing a very serious scientific and industrial potential and enormous financial capabilities, is able to rapidly increase the production of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.
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