The U.S. Air Force photo

The B61-13 is the latest in a long line of B61 variants

By Matthew Gault |  VICE

WASHINGTON, D.C. 31 October 2023 (IDN | TNW) — The Pentagon has announced it is making a new nuclear “gravity bomb.” If approved by Congress, the B61-13 will replace the 1980s era B61-7, according to the announcement on 27 October. 

The new bomb will have the same yield as the old, which is estimated to be 360 kilotons, roughly 24 times bigger than the blast that destroyed Hiroshima. The B61-13 will be a so-called gravity bomb, meaning it works by being pulled to ground by the force of gravity instead of flying to the target on a powered missile. A bomber flies over the target and drops the bomb.

According to the Pentagon, the B61-13 won’t change the size of the nuclear stockpile. “The B61-13 represents a reasonable step to manage the challenges of a highly dynamic security environment,” John Plumb, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said in a statement. “While it provides us with additional flexibility, production of the B61-13 will not increase the overall number of weapons in our nuclear stockpile.”

The B61-13 is the 13th variant of the B1 gravity bomb. The sales pitch here is that the DoD is taking older warheads and putting them in new casing. The B61-13 is similar to other B61 models, but has modern safety and control features and an upgraded tail kit to help it fall straight and hit the target.

As noted by the Federation of American Scientists, the announcement of a new nuclear weapon is pretty weird. For the past 13 years, the DoD has been touting the B61-12 as the replacement for its older gravity bombs. The Pentagon said it still plans to keep making BG1-12s, but will change some of them into B61-13s.

It’s all about giving the president options in a nuclear war. “The B61-13 will strengthen deterrence of adversaries and assurance of allies and partners by providing the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets,” a fact sheet about the new nuke said.

“While the B61-13 will provide the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets, the Department of Defense will separately continue its work to complete and implement a comprehensive strategy for defeat of hard and deeply buried targets, as directed in the Nuclear Posture Review.”

Nothing to do with any specific geopolitical event

The Pentagon said this announcement didn’t have anything to do with any specific geopolitical event. “This initiative follows several months of review and consideration. The fielding of the B61-13 is not in response to any specific current event; it reflects an ongoing assessment of a changing security environment,” it said.

The U.S. is rushing to modernize its nuclear forces. Earlier this month, reports revealed that the Air Force has successfully tested a new kind of nuclear missile in 2022. The Pentagon also released a report claiming China had added hundreds of nuclear weapons to its arsenal in the past few years, a claim backed up by outside observers. At the same time, Russia has repeatedly teased its new and advanced nuclear capabilities and has pulled out of several nuclear treaties.  In effect, the world’s nuclear powers are in the middle of an arms race unlike anything we’ve seen since the Cold War. 

“This is an irresponsible escalation of the new nuclear arms race which is seeing the US lead the other nuclear-armed states in the modernization of their nuclear arsenals,” Melissa Park, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement about America’s new gravity bomb. “We call on Washington to cancel this weapons program and its other modernization plans, and instead honor its commitment under the NPT to engage in talks to achieve nuclear disarmament.”

“The use of such a weapon would involve indiscriminately killing civilians and destroying critical infrastructure and would be a war crime,” Park said. “And to announce this plan in the middle of conflicts in Europe and the Middle East involving nuclear-armed states that have increased the risk of the use of nuclear weapons also reflects a cavalier attitude to efforts to ensure these weapons of mass destruction are never used again.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: U.S. Air Force