NNSA Completes B61 Refurbishment
Miller, Scott, Arms Control Today
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that it had completed on Jan. 9 its eightyear effort to refurbish the B61-7 and B61-11 strategic nuclear bombs.
The B61-7 and B61-11 are gravity bombs, deliverable by B-52H or B-2A strategic bombers, with varying explosive yields up to 360 kilotons. The steel-encased B61-11 was designed to have earth-penetrating, or bunker busting, capabilities of up to six meters. According to a report published in 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. stockpile contains an estimated 215 operational B61-7 bombs and 20 operational B61-11 bombs. The number of actively deployed B61-7s is expected to be reduced to 120 by 2012.
Since 1992, when the United States began observing a moratorium on nuclear testing, policymakers have debated how best to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear arsenal. In 1993 Congress introduced the Stockpile Stewardship Program in order to evaluate and address age-related effects on nuclear weapons. In response to this congressional mandate, the NNSA created the Life Extension Program (LEP). Under this program, the NNSA is able to extend the life of its existing nuclear weapons an additional 20 or 30 years without designing new weapons systems.
In contrast, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program would permit the design of new warheads and weapon systems. The Bush administration supported the RRW initiative, but Congress has not funded the controversial program for the past two years, preventing the NNSA from proceeding with its new WRl warhead design. (See ACT, December 2008.)
Work on B61 refurbishment began in 2000 as part of the NNSA's LEP. …