Home Air US declassifies B61 nuclear bomb documents ahead of deployment of new B61-12

US declassifies B61 nuclear bomb documents ahead of deployment of new B61-12

US Air Force file photo of the older version of the B61 thermonuclear bomb

As the United States is preparing to deploy B61-12, the newest variant of the nuclear gravity bomb that has been in service since 1968, to Europe, the National Security Archive (NSA) has unclassified new documents revealing insight into the bomb’s development.

Releasing the documents, NSA noted that recent events, pointing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “reminded the world that atomic weapons and their political and military importance remain a critically relevant public issue.”

The air-launched B61 bomb has been deployed in NATO Europe for decades and has been a subject of ongoing debates over the alliance’s military posture.

The declassified records, which can be accessed here, here, here and here date back to 1969 but do not reveal extensive detail on the development of the B61. The documents include a 1969 symposium on tactical nuclear weapons held at Los Alamos and a 1975 memorandum to Henry Kissinger, providing some tidbits. Both are from the Digital National Security Archive, where other items provide such details as the B61’s relatively small size, light weight, and its selective yield feature.

NSA released the documents ahead of the planned deployment of the new B61-12 to Europe, where it is expected to replace the estimated 100 B61 stationed in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey.

B61-12 is the latest of many modifications undertaken to improve the B61’s safety, security, and reliability since it first entered service. Four B61 variants remain in the stockpile: the 3, 4, 7, and 11. The B61-12 will replace the B61-3, 4, and 7. The B61-12 LEP refurbishes, reuses, or replaces all of the bomb’s nuclear or non-nuclear components to extend the service life by at least 20 years.