Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are claiming success with the first in a new series of test flights involving an upgraded version of a nuclear bomb that has been part of the U.S. arsenal for decades.
Work on the B61-12 has been ongoing for years. An F-16 from Nellis Air Force Base dropped an inert version of the weapon over the Nevada desert last month to test its non-nuclear functions, as well as the plane’s ability to carry the bomb. With a mere puff of dust, the mock bomb landed in a dry lake bed at the Tonopah Test Range.
Scientists are planning to spend months analyzing the data gathered from the test. Tracking telescopes, remote cameras and other instruments at the test range recorded information on the reliability, accuracy and performance of the weapon under conditions that were meant to replicate real-world operations.
More test flights are planned over the next three years, and officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration said the first production unit of the B61-12 – developed under what is called the Life Extension Program – is scheduled to be completed in 2020.