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B-2 bomber tests new B61-12 nuclear weapon guidance capability

New B61-12 on B-2 Spirit bomber
US airmen test load a new nuclear-capable weapons delivery system for the B-2 Spirit bomber on June 13, 2022 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Photo: US Air Force

A US Air Force B-2A Spirit stealth bomber released a B61-12 Joint Test Assembly (JTA) utilizing a new capability known as Radar Aided Targeting System during a capstone test at the Tonopah Test Range on June 14.

Tested only on the B-2, RATS improves weapon guidance accuracy in a Global Positioning System-degraded environment, the air force explained.

“We flew multiple sorties testing the new RATS capability over the last nine months and collected test points on its performance,” said Capt. David Durham, 72d Test and Evaluation Squadron B-2 weapons flight commander. “Using RATS for the JTA release demonstrated what the new capability brings to the warfighter.”

Durham also noted that the trial marked the first release of the production unit of the B61-12 JTA.

A software tool designed in-house by the 72d TES was also flight tested. Known as the RATS Application Tool, it provides pilots an early indicator of the RATS’ functionality, verifying that the system is operating correctly prior to weapon release.

“This tool has opened the door for rapid and innovative software development in support of the B-2,” said Master Sergeant Matthew Gibson, 72d TES lead analysis software developer. “Due to the success of this product, we’ve received requests to build tools for other in-flight capabilities from the 509th Bomb Wing and 325th Weapons Squadron.”

The air force said future releases of the latest iteration of the Pentagon’s nuclear gravity bomb would be conducted during annual weapon system evaluation program flight tests as part of Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Department of Defense surveillance tests.

The 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 life extension program refurbishes, reuses, or replaces all of the bomb’s nuclear or non-nuclear components to extend the service life by at least 20 years.

A B61-12 JTA being loaded onto the B-2 for the trial. Photo: US Air Force

“Modernization is at the forefront of our minds as we plan and execute each of these tests,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Young, 72d TES commander. “The development of this tactic and the creation of the innovative software tool speak to the dedication and ingenuity of this team. They are focused on equipping the warfighter for today’s fight.”

The test event was led by a collaborative effort between the 72d TES, the 509th BW, Air Force Global Strike Command, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Boeing Company, and Sandia National Labs.