While the world’s attention on Friday was still gripped by the first operational use of the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in Afghanistan a day earlier, the United States announced the successful field test of a modernised gravity nuclear bomb in Nevada.
“The Department of Energy’s (DoE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the US Air Force completed the first qualification flight test of the B61-12 gravity bomb on March 14 [Friday] at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada,” read a statement issued by NNSA.
The test was intended to evaluate the weapon’s ‘non-nuclear functions’ and the capability of the F-16 fighter to successfully deploy the bomb. “An F-16 fighter from Nellis Air Force Base dropped the “non-nuclear test assembly,” the NNSA statement said.
“The successful test provides critical qualification data to validate that the baseline design meets military requirements,” said Brigadier General Michael Lutton, NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for military applications.
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“The test is the first of a series that will be conducted over the next three years to qualify the B61-12 for service,” the NNSA statement said. Three successful development flight tests were conducted in 2015.
It added that the B61-12 consolidates and replaces four B61 bomb variants in the US nuclear arsenal. The first production unit is scheduled to be completed by March 2020.
The B61 is a series of tactical nuclear bombs designed to be delivered by aircraft capable of supersonic flight. All variants, including the one tested on Friday, are gravity bombs which means they are not equipped with any kind of guidance system and simply follow a ballistic trajectory once released by an aircraft.