NNSA announces successful completion of B61-12 radar drop tests

The National Nuclear Security Administration recently announced the successful completion of two B61-12 radar drop tests at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on August 14 and August 15.

The tests were part of an ongoing effort to refurbish the aging B61 nuclear bomb without using underground nuclear testing. Current B61s use decades-old vacuum tubes as part of their radar system. The new radar system was assembled in a gravity bomb configuration for the system's first test outside of a laboratory environment.

The new radar system successfully functioned when the B61 was dropped from a helicopter.

"The B61 contains the oldest components in the U.S. arsenal," Don Cook, the NNSA's deputy administrator for defense programs, said. "As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure and effective without the use of underground testing. The B61 has been in service a decade longer than planned, and our refurbishment program is a scientific and engineering challenge."

The B61 Life Extension Program moved from the planning stages to development engineering in February 2012. The scope of the program includes the refurbishment of both nuclear and non-nuclear components to address aging, improve reliability, safety and security and ensure extended service life. Existing B61-3, -4, -7 and -10 bombs will be replaced by the B61-12 bomb.

"These successful tests have given us confidence in our ability to integrate the new radar design and move forward with our efforts to increase the safety and security of the bomb," Cook said.

The radar drop test is one of multiple critical milestones for the B61-12 LEP in 2013. Radar testing will continue as more B61-12 components are integrated, including the weapon and firing control units to demonstrate the firing, fuzing and arming subsystem.

The NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, said the B61-12 LEP ensures the continued vitality of the air-delivered leg of the U.S. nuclear triad.