The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced last week it completed a pair of flight tests on non-nuclear components of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb near the Nevada National Test Site.
“The tests involved releasing a B61-12 non-nuclear test assembly, which includes the NNSA designed bomb assembly and U.S. Air Force acquired tail-kit, from a B-2A Spirit Bomber operated by the 419th Test & Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California,” the agency said in a press release Friday.
The NNSA has also tested some B61-12 hardware on F-15 aircraft, including in November.
The B61-12 life-extension program will homogenize four versions of the nuclear-armed gravity bomb into a single weapon, which would be carried by five different current and future Air Force aircraft. The B61-12 life-extension program has a nearly $790-million budget in the current fiscal 2018, which ends on Sept. 30. The White House requested almost $795 million for 2019, and the House and Senate matched that figure in budget bills approved in June.
The NNSA estimates the B61-12 life-extension program will cost about $7.6 billion and take until fiscal 2025 to complete, with the first battle-ready bomb rolling off the production line in March 2020. The Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is designing the weapon. The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber carries the most recent iteration of the B61 bomb, the B61-11.
Separately, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Thursday released a lengthy program update about the W80-4 warhead life extension. The NNSA in March gave “passing grades” to the California physics lab’s plan to “to refurbish certain components and the proposed approach to developing component cost estimates,” according to the online post and a lab spokesperson.
The NNSA expects to complete the first deployable W80-4 by fiscal 2025. The agency estimates the W80-4 program could cost about $10 billion and take until 2032 to finish. The House and Senate's versions of the NNSA's 2019 budget each meet the administration's request to spend $655 million on the warhead in fiscal 2019: a $255 million annual increase from the 2018 budget. Livermore is the lead design lab for the warhead.
The W80-4 will be fitted on to the new air-launched cruise missile, dubbed the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, which the Pentagon plans to deploy later next decade. Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Raytheon [RTN] are now working on designs for the missile, which could be carried aboard the Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress bomber, among other aircraft.