By Jack Phillips
The Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it will pursue the development of a nuclear bomb that’s much more powerful than the ones dropped on Japan during World War II.
The Pentagon will seek congressional approval to manufacture a modern version of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, or the B61-13, according to a DOD statement.
“Today’s announcement is reflective of a changing security environment and growing threats from potential adversaries,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb stated. “The United States has a responsibility to continue to assess and field the capabilities we need to credibly deter and, if necessary, respond to strategic attacks, and assure our allies.”
The Defense Post reported that the B61-13 bomb—which would be equivalent to the energy of 350 kilotons of TNT—would be about 24 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. The World War II-era bomb, named “Little Boy,” had about 15 kilotons of TNT.
The bomb would have a maximum yield of about 360 kilotons, Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, has suggested, Defense News reported. He told the outlet that he was briefed by the DoD last week on the proposal and that the bomb will use the same warheads from the B61-7 bombs that were produced in the 1980s and 1990s.
The new B61 bomb could be dropped by modern aircraft, according to the Pentagon, giving the U.S. military “additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets.”
“The B61-13 represents a reasonable step to manage the challenges of a highly dynamic security environment,” Mr. Plumb said. “While it provides us with additional flexibility, production of the B61-13 will not increase the overall number of weapons in our nuclear stockpile.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) stated that the proposed nuclear weapon would provide more flexibility, but they cautioned that it’s not a long-term project.
“As the Strategic Posture Commission recently noted, China and Russia are in a full-on arms race, and the US is running in place. Dramatic transformation of our deterrent posture—not incremental or piecemeal changes—is required to address this threat,” they said last week.
The move comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East due to the Israel–Hamas war, following a series of terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in early October. Israeli forces also announced a ground invasion of Gaza over the past weekend, while U.S. officials have warned of a wider war erupting.
At the same time, fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, a year and a half after Russia invaded the country. Russian officials have signaled in recent days that Moscow will likely exit the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in the near future.
The proposal comes also after the Department of Energy confirmed that it carried out the test of an explosion at the famed Nevada nuclear test site in October, although officials said it was a “subsurface chemical explosion.” The reason for the test, the agency said, is to test how the military can detect low-yield nuclear explosions.
“The experiment will help validate new predictive explosion models and detection algorithms,” the Energy Department stated. “Measurements were collected using accelerometers, seismometers, infrasound sensors, electromagnetic sensors, chemical and radiotracer samplers, and meteorological sensors.”
However, the Pentagon said the proposed development of the B61-13 has nothing to do with recent world events.
“The fielding of the B61-13 is not in response to any specific current event,” the DoD stated. “It reflects an ongoing assessment of a changing security environment.”
The United States has about 5,200 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, while Russia has roughly 5,900 nukes, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Both countries had significantly more nuclear weapons during the height of the Cold War decades ago, however.
Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian envoy to the United Nations, said earlier in October that Russia would continue to maintain its moratorium on nuclear testing unless the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is revoked by parliament.
“Never say never. Tests may resume under certain circumstances. I believe that such a development would be negative for the modern world, for maintaining stability,” he told Russian state media. “We have enough turbulence in international relations and wouldn’t want another powerful factor added.”
The Pentagon report said that the CCP “is preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with China by force if perceived as necessary by Beijing.” It comes as the Chinese military has flown more regular sorties near Taiwan and deployed more naval ships in the region.