A B-2 bomber drops a practical B61-12 aerial bomb during testing. The B61-13, which is intended to convince Congress to allow the B83-1 to be retired, will look the same and will be the main armament of the new B-21 bomber.
The Biden administration has decided to create a new medium-class nuclear bomb, called the B61-13.
The decision to develop a new version of the B61-13 was made shortly after the previous version (the B61-12 nuclear bomb) entered service, began full-scale production last year, and is now entering the nuclear arsenal. The Biden administration has said it will not increase the number of nuclear weapons in the arsenal and that any new B61-13 bombs will come from cutting back on planned B61-12s.
According to Defense Department officials, the B61-13 hull will carry the W61-7 nuclear launcher from the B61-7 bomb, but the bomb will be modified with new safety and control features, as well as a steerable tail kit from the B61-12 for improved accuracy (CAO) compared to with an old B61-7 free fall bomb.
While Defense officials insist that the B61-13 project is not a new development, Pentagon press materials are more straightforward: B61-13 "will provide us with additional flexibility, providing the President with additional capabilities against some of the more complex and broad-based military targets."
Like the B61-7, the B61-13 will be designed to be delivered by strategic bombers: the future B-21 and, until it is retired, the B-2. The aerial bomb is not intended for fighter-bombers. However, the decision to create the B61-13 appears to have less to do with military needs and more to do with a political agreement to get rid of the last high-yield (megaton) munitions in the US arsenal - the B83-1 aerial bomb.
Initially this weapon was scheduled to be phased out under President Obama, but the retirement of the obsolete bomb was reversed in 2016 by the Trump administration. Since then, the B83-1 has become the center of a battle between the Biden administration, which wants to retire it, and congressional hardliners who want to keep the B83-1 in service.
Change of plans
The case with B61-13 is strange.
For the past 13 years, the US Department of Defense's advertising campaign for the expensive B61-12 program has been that it will replace all other free-fall nuclear bombs.
Representatives of the Ministry of Defense announced that by reusing the W61-4 “physical package”, adding new safety functions and ammunition control functions, as well as increasing accuracy using a controlled tail kit, this will be a combination of four existing types of free-fall bombs B61-3/4/ 7/10 in a single type of guided bomb. They also assured that the B61-12 would be able to perform all missions with less collateral damage than high-power free-fall bombs. Improving the bomb's accuracy is the main functional change, with the addition of a tail kit, replacing the parachute braking system of the old weapon.
The Biden administration has argued that by reducing the number of types of bombs, it could reduce the total number of bombs in the arsenal by 50 percent and save a significant amount of money. Moreover, the argument goes, using a B61-12 "physical package" with the least amount of fissile material would reduce the risk of WMD proliferation through theft.
When the B2016-61 was retired in 10, there was an obvious desire to reduce the number of types of nuclear weapons from four to three, and then to a single nuclear bomb for the Air Force. But the Obama administration planned to use it to replace the heavy-duty B83-1 and eventually the penetrating B61-11 Bunker Buster.
The Biden administration has decided to create a new nuclear bomb, the B61-13, to convince hawks to get rid of the old B83-1 bomb.
The Trump administration had other priorities, with the Nuclear Posture Review deciding to retain the B83-1 (for reasons that remain unclear and appear to have to do with both reversing any decisions of the previous Obama administration and new military priorities) , and also keep the B61-11 in service.
When the Biden administration took office, the Nuclear Posture Review decided to continue decommissioning the B83-1, but said nothing about the B61-11. The Republican-controlled House disagreed and used the intervening years to preserve B83-1 at all costs.
Privately, however, Air Force and NNSA officials disagreed.
The high-yield free-fall bomb is no longer needed, and maintaining the B83-1 will cost a lot of money that could be better spent on other programs.
Moreover, NNSA's production schedule is tight, and adding the B83-1 life cycle extension program could jeopardize much more important programs. Although the B61-13 program will add financial burden.
Oddly enough, the name B61-13 had already been used for another type of nuclear weapon: a future bomb intended to replace the B61-12 in the late 2030s and 2040s. These weapons were first described in the NNSA stockpile management plan in 2015.
The designation B61-13 was previously assigned to another nuclear bomb back in 2015.
The new B61-13 bomb will be the 13th modification of the B61. Modifications of the B61 differ in weight, power, safety and control features, as well as delivery platforms. Five such modifications remain in the warehouses of the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Energy (B61-3/4/7/11/12).
According to Defense officials, the B61-13 will have the same maximum yield as the B61-7 (360 kilotons), a significant increase over the 50-kiloton B61-12 bomb.
The “physical package” W61-7 is heavier than the “physical package” W61-4, 140 kg versus 117 kg, but it is also more powerful, 340–360 kt versus 45–50 kt. Therefore, the B61-13 bomb is slightly heavier than the B61-12 - 363 kg versus 340 kg.
Like the B61-12, the B61-13 will also likely have limited soft-ground penetration capabilities, which will be improved by the addition of a steerable tail kit and a stronger nose cone made from special high-alloy steel. The high power and accuracy of the B61-13 will allow the bomb to hit underground, highly protected targets with a yield equivalent to a ground blast weapon, greater than one megaton.
State Department officials insist that the B61-13 bomb production plan is not driven by new developments in hostile countries or new military requirements.
Detonating a B61-13 precision-guided munition as close to the target as possible will increase the likelihood that the target will be destroyed, and a highly protected target could hypothetically be destroyed with one B61-13 instead of two B61-12s. The Defense Department says the B61-13 "will provide us with additional flexibility, providing the President with additional capabilities against some of the more complex and broad-based military targets."
Once the B61-12 and B61-13 are produced and stockpiled, the older versions are replaced, and the B83-1 is retired, the changes to the nuclear bomb arsenal will look something like this:
Although it was previously reported that the B61-12 would also allow the B61-11 to be retired from service, the B61-13 production plan appears to only be intended to replace and retire the B83-1. There is currently no life extension program for B61-11. Perhaps there is no replacement for the B61-11, and its tasks will be performed by the B61-13.
Representatives of the Ministry of Defense explain that the new B61-13 aerial bomb will not lead to an increase in the total number of warheads in the arsenal. The Biden administration plans to partially reduce the number of B61-12s produced, so once the B61-13 enters service, the total number of new bombs will ultimately be the same.
The B61-12 production plan initially included 480 bombs for both strategic bombers and fighter-bombers. Since strategic bombers will now carry both B61-12 and B61-13 bombs (in addition to the new LRSO cruise missiles), and since the actual number of targets requiring high-yield bombs is likely to be small, it seems likely that the number of bombs The B61-13 will be very limited - perhaps around 50 units - and production will begin at the end of the B61-12 schedule, not until 2025.
Unlike the B61-12, some of which will be transferred to Europe for use by NATO fighter-bombers, all B61-13 will supposedly be stored in the United States for use by the new B-21 bomber and B-2 bomber (until replaced by the B-21). . However, since the B61-13 will use the same mechanical and electronic interface as the B61-12, fighters designed to deliver the B61-12 will also be capable of delivering the B61-13. But the current plan is supposedly that the B61-13 aerial bomb is intended only for strategic bombers.
The B61-13 will look identical to the B61-12 (above), but its body contains a much more powerful nuclear bomb from the B61-7 aerial bomb, it is intended for bombers, but technically can be used by fighters.
It is difficult to see a military need for ammunition as powerful as the B61-13 in the arsenal. Most likely, this is a political decision with the goal of having counter-force weapons as a counterweight to Russian high- and medium-power warheads on ICBMs, SLBMs and medium-range missiles.
Defense officials say the decision has nothing to do with current events in China, Russia or other potential theaters of war. The administration's decision is also allegedly not the result of the rigorous study of potential targets mentioned in the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review. "B61-13 is a decision of principle," they explain.
The military does not need an additional, more powerful aerial bomb. In fact, Air Force officials have privately stated that "the importance of the military mission of nuclear bombs is diminishing because of the risk of putting bombers and their pilots in harm's way from heavily defended targets—especially as long-range missiles become more effective."
As such, the military need for the B61-13 munition remains somewhat of a mystery, especially given that the LRSO will be armed with B-52 bombers and that the United States has thousands of other nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
What appears to have happened instead is that after defense hardliners blocked the administration's plans to retire the B83-1, the administration likely agreed to keep the B61-7 bomb in the arsenal as a modern variant of the B61-13 bomb. , which is simpler and cheaper to maintain, so they can finally begin retiring the B83-1.
Hack and predictor Aviator
Thus, the B61-13 will become the second “political” weapon in recent times. The first was the low-yield warhead W76-2/Mk4A, deployed at the end of 2019 on Trident submarines. The next target for behind-the-scenes and other battles in Congress between Democrats and Republicans could be the SLCM-N sea-launched nuclear cruise missile.