Former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz has confirmed that a planned upgrade of the B61 nuclear bomb (the B61-12) will give the weapon enhanced military capabilities (Hans M. Kristensen, “General Confirms Enhanced Targeting Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 23 January 2014):
[When asked] whether the relatively low yield and increased accuracy of the B61-12 in terms of targeting planning would change the way the military thinks about how to use the weapons[,] General Schwartz responded: “Without a doubt. Improved accuracy and lower yield is a desired military capability. Without a question.”
When asked whether that would result in a different target set or just make the existing weapon better, General Schwartz said: “It would have both effects.”
As Kristensen explains,
The confirmation is important because the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) pledged that nuclear warhead “Life Extension Programs…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”
In addition to violating the NPR pledge, enhancing the nuclear capability contradicts U.S. and NATO goals of reducing the role of nuclear weapons and could undermine efforts to persuade Russia to reduce its non-strategic nuclear weapons posture.
Confirmation of the enhanced military capability of the B61-12 also complicates the political situation of the NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) that currently host U.S. nuclear weapons because the governments will have to explain to their parliaments and public why they would agree to increase the military capability. …
For NATO, the improved accuracy has particularly important implications because the B61-12 is a more effective weapon than the B61-3 and B61-4 currently deployed in Europe.
The United States has never before deployed guided nuclear bombs in Europe but with the increased accuracy of the B61-12 and combined with the future deployment of the F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter-bomber to Europe, it is clear that NATO is up for quite a nuclear facelift.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense photo