The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said Thursday it joined with the U.S. Air Force to conduct a non-nuclear flight test of the B61-12 gravity bomb in March.
The test, conducted at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, was intended to assess the bomb’s non-nuclear functions and the F-16 aircraft’s ability to deliver the weapon to ensure its baseline design would meet military requirements, the NNSA said. It represented the first of several tests to be conducted over the next three years to qualify the B61-12 for service, following three development flight tests held in 2015.
The B61-12 program is intended to extend the life of the B61 gravity bomb for 20 years at a cost of roughly $8.1 billion, with its first production unit scheduled to be delivered by March 2020 and production scheduled to finish by 2024. The weapon is a consolidation – through modifications and replacement of aging components – of four versions of the B61 nuclear bomb, which is deployed at several bases in Europe as part of the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.
The New Mexico-based Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories designed the hardware used in the latest flight test, and Boeing [BA] designed the tail-kit assembly section.
Sandia said in its own news release that tracking telescopes, remote cameras and other instruments during the test collected information on the weapon’s performance. “For months, teams will be analyzing a wealth of data they collected from this first of a qualification test series planned over the next three years,” Sandia said.
The NNSA said last August it had approved the production engineering phase of the life-extension program, marking its entry into the final development phase before production.