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B61-11 Concerns und Buckground

The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the
book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by
Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.
Los AIamos Study Group
February 10, 1997
For further information contact:
Greg Mello
Los Alamos Study Group
212 E. Marcy Street, Suite 7
Santa Fe, NM 97501
(505) 982-7747
Researching this issue has been a cooperative effort. This summary could not have been
written without the help of Bruce Hall at Greenpeace, Bill Arkin, and Stan Norris and Chris
Paine of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Background research on new weapons
generally has been partially supported by Tri-Valley CAREs of Livermore, California.
The United States is now fielding a new tactical and strategic nuclear military capability that
has already been used to threaten a non-nuclear country. This new capability was certified
without nuclear testing, using an existing surrogate testing facility with capabilities much less
than those under construction and planned. The weapon was developed and deployed in
secret, without public and congressional debate, contrary to domestic and international
assurances that no new nuclear weapons were being developed. Other new or "modified"
nuclear weapons, earth-penetrating and otherwise, are planned.
The B61-11's unique earth-penetrating characteristics, not to mention its wide range of
yields, allow it to threaten otherwise indestructible targets from the air and are its raison
d'etre. The new weapon is uniquely useful from a military perspective?and hence
provocative from an arms control and nonproliferation perspective.
A central and expressed purpose of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has
always been to arrest the further evolution of the world's nuclear arsenals. This modified
weapon? certified without nuclear testing and deployed after signing the CTBT?undercuts
that treaty and could provide political cover to countries which have their own unsatisfied
nuclear ambitions.
Earth-penetrating weapons, deployed by the Clinton adminstration in the post-Cold-War
era, were rejected for deployment by Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Bush. What is the
new reason to deploy these weapons? What are the new targets? What is known about the
B61-11 strongly suggests that its rushed development has been motivated by a desire to
target one or more non-nuclear-weapon states.
On July 8, 1996, the nternational Court of Justice ruled that any use or threat of use of
nuclear weapons, other than possibly in the case where the very survival of a nation was
threatened, was against international law. After this landmark decision, it is difficult to
legally support the deployment, let alone the new development, of any tactical nuclear
weapon? especially one whose development appears to have been motivated by a desire
to target non-nuclear weapon states.
n order to gain support for indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT), the United States repeatedly assured the world during April and May of 1995 that it
would not continue "vertical proliferation." Yet during these same months the Department of
Energy (DOE) was seeking, and obtaining, approval for a weapon modification with
significant new military utility.
Development of this weapon was approved outside the regular budget process and without
congressional debate, by means of secret letters to key committee chairmen, raising
constitutional questions.
n their efforts to gain acceptance for the advanced surrogate testing of the "science-based
stockpile stewardship" program, Clinton administration officials and nuclear weapons
laboratory spokespersons have for years assured a skeptical public that no new nuclear
weapons would be developed or built. At the very same time, secret development of this
provocative weapon was being requested by the Department of Defense (DoD) and carried
out by the DOE in complete secrecy.
The DOE claims that this weapon, with its unique new military characteristics, is not a new
weapon but rather a minor modification of an existing weapon. Lab spokespersons admit
that other "modifications" are now in the works or planned for the future. What are these?
The current B61 modification allegedly involves only the nonnuclear components of the
bomb (notwithstanding months of effort at Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL]). Yet the
labs maintain that in the future, modifications to the nuclear components will definitely be
made and certified as well, using computer simulations and surrogate tests. Since none of
the modifications can be explosively proof-tested, why won't "confidence" in the reliability of
U.S. nuclear weapons decrease under these plans? Unfortunately, allowing such changes
to be made will likely result, over time, in calls for the resumption of nuclear testing.
Continued modification of the U.S. stockpile is expensive. While this particular project may
or may not be expensive in itself, the DOE's $3 billion construction plans for new nuclear
test simulators, along with its planned Cold-War-level nuclear weapons program funding, is
largely driven by the proclaimed "need" to maintain the capability to develop new warheads
and bombs. These DOE expenses, it must be said, are just a fraction of the $26 billion
spent annually by the U.S. to field and maintain its nuclear arsenal.
For these reasons and others, new or "modified" nuclear weapons like the B61-11 are not
in the security interests of the United States. On the contrary, it is in our manifest interest to
get rid of such weapons as fast as possible and to end their further legitimization, as the
former commander of the United States Strategic Command, General George Lee Butler,
and others have recently said.
DeveIopment, Testing, and DepIoyment
The B61-11 story came to light in slow installments. Dr. Don Wolkerstorfer, Above-Ground
Experiments (AGEX ) Program Manager, Nuclear Weapons Technology Program, Los
Alamos, shed some light on this modification in a July 1995 radio debate: "The services are
looking at redeploying an existing weapon in such an earth penetrating warhead to address
hardened targets, that's exactly right. The hope is to replace the high yield B53, which has
some safety problems..."
n early September 1995, the DOE and its three national nuclear weapons laboratories (
Lawrence Livermore
Los Alamos
, and
) released a revised version of a report about their nuclear stockpile surveillance program.
This report contained a footnote on page 11: "A modification of the B61 is expected to replace
the B53 by the year 2000. Since this modification of the B61 is not currently in the stockpile,
there is no Stockpile Evaluation data for it. The B61-7 data can be used to represent this
For reference, the
is a nine megaton gravity bomb first placed in service in 1962. Retirement of early versions
began in 1967, but later versions of this bomb remained in the arsenal until 1987, when
retirements were halted and retired (but still assembled) bombs were brought back into the
active stockpile. The B53 can be a surface-burst but not an earth-penetrating weapon.
t lacks complete electrical safety. There are thought to be 50 of these weapons in the
The B61-7 is a more recent strategic bomb in the stockpile. t has a selectable yield of 10 to
about 340 kilotons. The original B61-1 first entered the stockpile in 1968; the "mod 7" was first
placed in service in 1985. The B61-7 can be fuzed for air or surface burst and has "a
hardened ground-penetrator nose" with a retarded contact burst fuzing option. t can be
dropped with or without a parachute. There are thought to be 750 of these bombs in the active
stockpile, along with about 600 B61-3, -4, and -10 tactical bombs.
The B61 family of weapons
can be configured with a wide variety of yields, including 0.3, 1.5, 5, 10, 45, 60, 60, 80, 170,
and 340 kilotons.
n recent years, many military strategists have advocated the deployment and use of very
small tactical nuclear weapons against Third-World adversaries, especially in earth-
penetrating roles.
The two lowest yields of the B61 family lie well within this so-called "mininuke" range. The
percent of blast energy converted into shock waves in the earth is extremely sensitive to the
depth of the blast. Thus even a small increase in earth penetrating capability can greatly affect
the military utility of a nuclear weapon to hold deeply buried and hardened targets at risk.
Hardening of the B61 to allow very high altitude release, with consequent high velocity ground
impact, apparently provides such an increase in capability.
n September 1995, when the B61-11 story first received critical media attention, Lab
spokespersons said the development of the modified warhead would take two years, and
would be done primarily at Sandia. Development, but allegedly not deployment, had been
approved at that time.
DOE's classified request to reprogram $3.3 million in funds within its Atomic Energy Defense
Activities account was dated April 18, 1995 and was sent to the following committees:
House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee?
(approval from Reps. Tom Bevill (D-AL) and John Myers (R-N), 5/15/95);
House National Security Committee?
(approval from Reps. Floyd Spence (R-SC) and Ronald Dellums (D-CA), 6/29/95);
Senate Armed Services Committee?
(approval from Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), 7/19/95); and
Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee?
(approval from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), 6/12/95).
Not long after the existence of the weapon became public, Dr. Harold Smith, then Assistant to
the Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy), requested at a Nuclear Weapons Council
Standing Safety Committee meeting of November 15, 1995 that the above schedule be
accelerated, with the First Production Unit (FPU) of the B61-11 be delivered "as soon as
possible, with a goal of December 31, 1996."
The response from the nuclear labs, here from Los Alamos, was positive:
The B61-11 modification project...was originally scheduled for completion by August 1997;
however, DoD requested that we advance the completion date to December 1996. NWT [the
Nuclear Weapons Technology program] is committed to meeting the aggressive schedule, and a
significant reprogramming of resources has allowed us to accelerate our progress...Full-scale
testing, led by Manny Martinez, is in progress, and three successful test drops took place in
Alaska on February 28...
n August 1996, LANL provided an update on the project, along with some additional details.
The essence of the modification is a field changeout of the weapon's case to provide an earth-
penetration capability. The B61's inherent ability to perform this mission was demonstrated in
Nevada almost a decade ago...The engineering and nuclear certification activities are in high gear.
Hydrotest Shot 3574 in September [at LANL's newly-upgraded PHERMEX surrogate testing
facility] will be the basis for assuring that the underground environment does not adversely affect
nuclear performance. Full-scale penetration tests of real and high-fidelity mock hardware are being
conducted at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada...We are committed to delivering the First
Production Unit kits by the end of the calendar year. [emphasis added]
Note that the "nuclear certification" mentioned is being done on the basis of hydrodynamic
testing and computer modeling, without underground nuclear testing. The reference to earlier
B61 earth- penetration tests is discussed below.
Two months later, Steven Younger, Program Director of NWT, encouraged his troops with
this message: "As see it, our highest priority over the next several months is the B61 Mod
11, and the Air Force is anxiously awaiting this system....The project is proceeding at a very
fast pace, and almost every division associated with our Program is contributing to this
important work."
These goals have now been achieved:
The last in a series of B61-11 full-scale drop tests, prior to the Major Assembly Release (MAR),
was conducted at the Tonopah Test Range on November 20, 1996. More than 60 people from
throughout the complex were on hand to observe the early morning drops. Three units were
dropped from a B2-A aircraft, two units from about 6900 feet above ground level (AGL) and a third
from about 25,700 feet AGL. Prior to November's tests, we had demonstrated compatibility with
the F-16 and the B-1B aircraft...All objectives with the exception of recording the strain
measurements were met...Another attempt to record strain measurements will be made in the
upcoming test, now scheduled for early April [1997] in Alaska. [emphasis added]
Note that the new weapon has been tested for delivery with a variety of aircraft, including the
F-16, a tactical delivery system, marking a considerable shift in application from the B53.
nquiries with DOE have confirmed that deployment is indeed now underway. The "front"
components of the new weapon are being or were made at the Y-12 Plant at the Oak Ridge
Reservation in Tennessee, with "tail" (read: arming and fuzing?) components made at the
Kansas City Plant in Missouri. The decision to retire the B53 is now "pending." The location(s)
where the modifications are being done is classified, as is the number of weapons being
Even Before DepIoyment, the B61-11 Caused CoIIateraI Damage
Why did Harold Smith insist that the deployment of the B61-11 be rushed? sn't the purpose of
the new bomb just what DOE has said, namely to replace the aging and "unsafe" nine
megaton B53 in its role of excavating deeply-buried Russian command bunkers in the event
of a global nuclear apocalypse? f so, why the rush?
The reason for the November 1995 schedule change became clear the following April, when a
series of Pentagon spokespersons, including Dr. Smith, used the imminent deployment of the
B61-11 to threaten Libya. At a breakfast meeting with reporters on April 23, 1996, Dr. Smith
outlined U.S. conventional and nuclear capability for destroying a suspected Libyan chemical
weapons factory, under construction underground at Tarhunah, 40 miles southeast of
Dr. Smith explained that, at present, the United States has no conventional weapon capable
of destroying the plant from the air, and such a weapon could not be ready in less than two
years. Smith went on to tell reporters that an earth-penetrating B61 nuclear bomb, in
development, could take out the plant. The new bomb would be ready for possible use by the
end of this year, Smith said, before the expected completion date of the factory.
Since 1978, the United States has assured the world that it would never use nuclear weapons
against nonnuclear countries who signed the NPT, unless a country were allied in aggression
with a nuclear weapon state. On April 5, 1995, President Clinton reaffirmed this policy, which
has been a cornerstone of U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and an important part of the offer the
U.S. made to skittish nonnuclear states to induce them to vote for the indefinite renewal of the
On April 11, just 12 days before Dr. Smith's announcement, and after an interagency struggle
that pitted the Pentagon against the State Department, the United States signed the African
Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty in Cairo. n this treaty the U.S. pledged not to use or
threaten to use a nuclear weapon in Africa against any of the nearly 50 signatory states,
including Libya.
U.S. negative assurance pledges (pledges of "no first use" except under the circumstances
mentioned) were thus clearly devalued by the Pentagon's threat, which marked a shift in
explicit U.S. nuclear policy. That shift was to openly include the possibility of preemptive
strikes against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities, in addition to the possibility
of a nuclear response to WMD use. Such a posture, if allowed to stand, would have been
unprecedented in nuclear history.
The announcement by Dr. Smith, which had been joined by statements from Secretary of
Defense William Perry and others, sent shock waves through diplomatic circles. A retraction
was given by Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon at a press conference on
May 7, 1996. B61-11 development continued on the previously accelerated schedule,
Finally, and probably coincidentally, the cover photograph of the December 1996 issue of Air
Force Magazine shows an F-16 parked in front of what is clearly a nuclear weapons storage
facility at Aviano Air Force Base, in Pordenone, taly, about 900 miles from Libya.
More Earth Penetrators, NucIear and Otherwise, to Come
From the DOE perspective, the B61-11 is a "modification" to the B61-7 strategic gravity
bomb. As military capability, however, the B61-11 provides something new?else why deploy
it? That deployment appears to be at odds with the statement of John Holum, Director of the
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, in Geneva three months before, where, in the
context of CTBT negotiations, Holum said that the United States would not develop new
nuclear weapons.
That being said, the B61-11 is not the only new nuclear weapon, and not even the only new
earth-penetrating nuclear weapon, planned for the stockpile. During a DoD news briefing on
April 23, 1996, the following colloquy occurred between spokesman Kenneth Bacon and
KB:...We are now working on a series of weapons?both nuclear and conventional?to deal with
deeply buried targets, working on improving weapons we already had...
Q:...Are we working on new?you said nuclear and non-nuclear?and want it to be very clear. Are
we working new nuclear weapons or modifying and improving existing nuclear weapons?
KB: Yes.
Q: Which is that? New or improved?
KB: We are modifying existing ones [note plural]. As said, this is not a new threat.
...Q:...why is the Secretary not considering, or is he considering, anything specific to deal with
these targets which are much, much deeper than anything we've ever addressed in the last 20
KB: We are.
Q: You're doing what?
KB: We are looking at ways to deal with ever deeper targets. [emphasis added]
n order to address deeper targets at a given yield, deeper earth penetration and hence higher
speed are needed. Such weapons have been under development for many years. A
prototype W86 warhead was developed by LANL for the Pershing missile but was canceled
in 1980 in favor of a Livermore design. There were underground nuclear tests of earth
penetrator warheads in 1988 and 1989 of both "interim" and "strategic" designs; the former
was in fact based on the B61 and was called the W61.
To pick one nuclear command, it can only be assumed that the U.S. Navy has not changed
its previous advocacy of "a wider range of targeting options for maintaining a credible nuclear
deterrent in the new world order," in which low-yield earth-penetrating warheads are an explicit
part of efforts to expand options for the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The Los Alamos Study Group is compiling what is known about other new proposed new and
"modified" nuclear weapons. This work has been partially supported by Tri-Valley CAREs of
Livermore, California.
Reference Notes
See R. Jeffrey Smith, "Retired Nuclear Warrior Sounds Alarm on Weapons," Washington
Post, December 4, 1996, p. A1; "Text of Remarks by Gen. Butler at the National Press Club,"
December 4, 1996; "Text of Remarks by Gen. Butler at the Henry L. Stimson Award
Luncheon," January 8, 1997; "Questioning Nuclear Arms," A debate between General
Charles Horner (USAF, ret.) and former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, The
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS), December 4, 1996; Terry Atlas, "Nuclear Weapons
Criticized: Ex-Generals Want to Eliminate Them," The Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1996;
David M. North, "Destroying Nukes Will Save More Than Lives," Aviation Week and Space
Technology, December 9, 1996, p. 98. [Back]
Broadcast by radio station KSFR in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 18, 1995. [Back]
Kent Johnson et. al., Stockpile Surveillance: Past and Future, Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories, September
1995. This is the text of the report given to Hisham Zerriffi of the nstitute for Energy and
Environmental Research on September 13, 1995 at Los Alamos and subsequently analyzed
in Hisham Zerriffi and Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D.,The Nuclear Safety Smokescreen: Warhead
Safety and Reliability and the Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program, May 1996. The
footnote was abridged in subsequent editions of the report. [Back]
History from Chuck Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, (New York: Orion
Books, 1988), pp. 162-164. [Back]
Robert S. Norris and William Arkin, "Nuclear Notebook," The Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, July/August 1996, pp. 61-63. [Back]
Quote and descriptive information in this paragraph are from Hansen, op. cit.; stockpile
numbers are from Norris and Arkin, op. cit. [Back]
Norris and Arkin, op. cit.; the largest yield is from Arkin, personal communication, January
14, 1997. [Back]
For example, see the following Strategic Review articles: Thomas Dowler and Joseph
Howard, "Countering the Threat of the Well-Armed Tyrant: A Modest Proposal for Small
Nuclear Weapons," Fall 1991, pp. 34-40, and, by the same authors, "Stability in a Proliferated
World," Spring 1995 (Dowler and Howard work at Los Alamos); and Philip Ritcheson,
"Proliferation and the Challenge to Deterrence," Spring 1995. See also, William M. Arkin and
Robert S. Norris, "Tinynukes for Mini Minds," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1992,
pp. 24-25, and William M. Arkin, "Those Lovable Little Bombs," The Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, July/August 1993, pp. 22-27. mportant reviews of the post-Cold-War shift in U.S.
nuclear targeting plans can be found in Hans Kristensen and Joshua Handler, Changing
Targets: Nuclear Doctrine from the Cold War to the Third World, Greenpeace nternational,
January 1995; and William Arkin, "Nuclear Agnosticism When Real Values Are Needed:
Nuclear Policy in the Clinton Administration," F.A.S. Public Interest Report,
September/October 1994, pp. 3-10. [Back]
Jonathan Weisman, "Old Nuclear Warheads Get New Life," Tri-Valley Herald (Livermore,
CA), September 21, 1995, p. A-1; John Fleck, "Sandia Redesigns N-Bomb," The Albuquerque
Journal, September 22, 1995, p. A-1; Nancy Plevin, "Activists Accuse LANL of Creating New
Nuclear Bomb," The New Mexican (Santa Fe), September 22, 1995, p. A-1. [Back]
Approval letters are on file at the office of DOE Defense Programs. [Back]
Memorandum from Thomas Seitz, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Military
Application (DASMA) and Stockpile Support to weapons program administrators at Sandia
and Los Alamos National l Laboratories, November 17, 1995, requesting response as to
feasibility of earlier FPU delivery date. Dr. Smith followed up his request at the November 15
meeting with a letter to Mr. Seitz on November 21. [Back]
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Weapons Insider, April 1996, pp. 1-2. [Back]
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Weapons Insider, August 1996, pp. 2-3. [Back]
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Weapons Insider, October 1996, p. 1. [Back]
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Weapons Insider, January/February 1997, pp. 1-2. [Back]
Telephone conversation with John Ventura, DOE Defense Programs, January 29, 1997. n
a statement prepared for delivery before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee on March
19, 1997, C. Paul Robinson, director and president of Sandia National Laboratories, said, "For
twenty years we have known that there was a need to replace the B53 thermonuclear bomb
with a system equipped with modern surety features. Yet, replacement was repeatedly
postponed. Today, am very pleased to report that we have begun the replacement of the
B53 without designing a new weapon and are bringing the replacement on-line in record time
with only a very modest budget. On November 20, 1996, Modification 11 of the B61 bomb
passed its certification flight tests. All electrical and mechanical interfaces performed as
expected. n December, four complete retrofit kits were delivered to the Air Force, two weeks
ahead of schedule. This delivery met the milestone to support Mod. 11 conversions in the
field by a joint DOE/DoD team in January. The B61 Mod. 11 has been accepted as a 'limited
stockpile item' pending additional tests during 1997. Work on the B61-11 had been authorized
in August 1995, with a requested delivery date of December 31, 1996. This schedule required
one of the most efficient development efforts in our laboratory?s history. The retrofit involved
repackaging the B61-7 into a new, one-piece, earth-penetrating steel case designed by
Sandia. The Mod. 11 will now permit us to retire the B53, which is a 35-year-old weapon, and
provide the operational military with a safer, more secure, and flexible system. This program
establishes one route to keeping the stockpile modern." See, Statement of C. Paul Robinson,
Sandia National Laboratories, United States Senate Committee on Armed Services
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, March 19, 1997. [Back]
Art Pine, "A-Bomb Against Libya Target Suggested," Los Angeles Times (Washington
Edition), April 24, 1996, p. A4. [Back]
Charles Aldinger (Reuters), "U.S. Rules Out Nuclear Attack on Libya plant." The
Washington Post, May 8, 1996, p. A32. [Back]
Personal conversation with Stan Norris, Natural Resources Defense Council. See also,
William M. Arkin, "Nuking Libya," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 1996, p.
64. [Back]
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), DoD News Briefing, Tuesday
April 23, 1996. [Back]
See photograph and caption in Thomas B. Cochran. et. al., Nuclear Weapons Databook
Volume 2: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing
Company, 1987), p. 37. [Back]
The source for this information wishes to remain anonymous. [Back]
Kristensen and Handler, op. cit., p. 9, quoting "STRATPLAN 2010," June 1992, U.S. Navy.
Copyright 1998 The Brookings nstitution