The B-61 – the ‘more usable’ nuke

B61s in storage at Incirlik.

by Ian Greenhalgh

A few months ago, I wrote an article in collaboration with Jeff Smith about the new generation of nuclear weapons and where we were at pains to stress the point  that these modern nukes represent a far greater threat to peace because they had far higher ‘usability’ than earlier types due to their greater accuracy, lower yield and reduced radiation fallout.

We also wrote articles exposing the use of these modern tactical nukes in Yemen, Ukraine, China and elsewhere; but little did we realise that just a few short months later we could be facing the prospect of a scenario far worse than a single nuclear explosion – the use of dozens of these weapons in a full-scale nuclear, biological and chemical war.

The scenario reads like the script for a remake of Dr. Strangelove with a seemingly out of control dictator seizing control of a stockpile of nukes and using them in a first strike that ignites a terrible war.

The dictator in question is Turkey’s President Erdogan and the stockpile of nukes is the more than 80 B-61 tactical nukes owned by the US and stored at the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey.

Erdogan – perhaps the key supporter of ISIS.

Latest intel reveals that Saudi special forces trained by Israel are ready to seize the Incirlik stockpile and thanks to the US nuclear secrets given to Israel by the Bush cabal, they are able to defeat the 5 levels of security that protect the bombs. F-16 fighter-bombers provided by the Saudis and modified into nuke carriers by the Israelis stand ready to deliver these deadly cargoes.

Incirlik is only 175km from Aleppo in northern Syria, where the key fighting against ISIS is taking place.

Don’t doubt Erdogan’s willingness to add a nuclear dimension to this conflict; he has already used chemical (Sarin gas attacks in Syria) and biological (swine flu outbreaks in Kurdish territory) warfare so clearly the man has few scruples when it comes to WMDs.

Dr. Strangelove’s dark satire of Cold War nuclear lunacy may, half a century later, be more relevant and poignant than ever:

The weapons stored at Incirlik are B61 tactical nukes with a yield of 50 kilotons — tiny compared to the largest nuclear bombs in the megatonne  range but more dangerous due to its usability which derives from a combination of its accuracy and low-yield.

B61s in storage at Incirlik.
B61s in storage at Incirlik.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the B61-12 will be able to strike within 30 meters of its target. This accuracy allows the bomb to destroy targets that would have previously necessitated the use of a larger but more indiscriminate weapon.

As a result of the bomb’s relatively low yield, the weapon would produce less nuclear fallout than earlier nuclear weapons, something which would limit unintended casualties from a nuclear attack.

But this lower fallout also lowers the cost and scope of a nuclear strike — which could in turn increase the possibility that the bomb would actually be used in a military engagement.

Here you can see the latest B61 mod. 12 weapon being flight tested by the USAF. The carrier aircraft is the F-15, but the Turks and Saudis possess F-16s modified by Israel that can carry  this weapon:

This infographic from explains the huge cost of upgrading these weapons to the latest mod. 12 revision:



Here is an excerpt from a November 2015 article published in the UK Guardian newspaper on the B61 upgrade programme:

“… In non-proliferation terms however the only thing worse than a useless bomb is a ‘usable’ bomb. Apart from the stratospheric price, the most controversial element of the B61 upgrade is the replacement of the existing rigid tail with one that has moving fins that will make the bomb smarter and allow it to be guided more accurately to a target. Furthermore, the yield can be adjusted before launch, according to the target.

“The modifications are at the centre of a row between anti-proliferation advocates and the government over whether the new improved B61-12 bomb is in fact a new weapon, and therefore a violation of President Obama’s undertaking not to make new nuclear weapons. His administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review said life extension upgrades to the US arsenal would ‘not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.’

“The issue has a particular significance for Europe where a stockpile of 180 B61s is held in six bases in five countries. If there is no change in that deployment by the time the upgraded B61-12s enter the stockpile in 2024, many of them will be flown out to the bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

“The row has had a semantic tone, revolving on what the definition of ‘new’ is, but arguably the only definition that counts is whether the generals and officials responsible for dropping bombs, view its role in a different light as a result of its refurbishment. Referring to the B61-12’s enhanced accuracy on a recent PBS Newshour television program, the former head of US Strategic Command, General James Cartwright, made this striking remark: ‘If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc, does that make it more usable in the eyes of some- some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.'”

Read more about the B61 bomb here:

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Author Details
Ian Greenhalgh is a photographer and historian with a particular interest in military history and the real causes of conflicts.

His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.

His favored areas of study include state-sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.
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