The US military recently released for the first time a video of its F-35A fighter jet dropping the new B61-12 nuclear bombs, which displayed the whole process from F-35A releasing the mock bomb from its internal bay , the bomb being ignited in air and hitting the target on independent navigation. According to the US military authority, the test was conducted over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on August 25 this year, which was described by some media as a major step of the US military’s attempt at the full deployment of nuclear weapons.
As the most destructive weapons ever created by human, nuclear weapons have mainly been used for deterrence. Yet, the US government has repeatedly announced in recent years that its existing nuclear deterrence strategy is outdated, and the growing nuclear strength of other countries and terrorists’ use of “asymmetrical” means have both posed real threats to the country.
In response, Washington has to work out various counter plans, including nuclear strikes. Under Trump, the White House paid more attention to putting nuclear weapons into real combat to maintain its military superiority. Still, their excessive destructive force has been a bottleneck impeding their actual application. To break this bottleneck, the Pentagon turned its eyes to low-yield nuclear bombs, a new type of tactical nuclear weapons.
Featuring a small size, lightweight, good maneuverability, and low equivalent, this kind of nuclear weapons can be launched with artillery, short-range ground-to-ground missile, tactical aircraft and torpedo to deliver ordnance on target in the enemy’s tactical depth and help secure advantages on the battlefield. During the Cold War, both the US and Soviet Union manufactured and commissioned tactical nuclear weapons in large quantities. Still, they were never put into use for, among other things, low accuracy and nuclear contamination.
The development of precision guidance technology has brought this kind of weapons back to life. The US military held that developing and deploying small nuclear weapons and matching them with high-precision launching vehicles can support battles on land, at sea and in air, make up for the short links of conventional strike capabilities, and hit important targets in the enemy’s tactical depth. They can also comprise a full spectrum of deterrence of various forces and destructive effects. As a result, America’s national defense budget for the fiscal year of 2020 has allocated 8.3% more funds to developing low-yield nuclear bombs.
In its new round of R&D of such weapons, the B61 family of bombs is one of the top priorities, whose precision has been considerably enhanced thanks to the use of spin rocket motor, safety devices, precision-guided tail kit assembly, and the new guided system. Earlier this year, the B61-12 was already tested on an F-15E fighter jet, which was the first aircraft to launch the B61-12 nuclear bomb.
During this test, the F-35A fired B61-12 mock nuclear bombs from 3,200m above ground, which hit the target 42 seconds later. This was the first comprehensive test of the future tactical nuclear strike system by the US military, and also the first time that B61-12 nuclear bombs were launched from an internal bay.
According to the plan, some F-35A fighters will be modified to accommodate both nuclear and conventional weapons during the 4th round of upgrades. As a fifth-generation fighter with ultrasonic stealth performance, the F-35A boasts cutting-edge combat capability and penetration against advanced air defense systems.
Once the F-35A is combined with new-type tactical nuclear weapons, carrying out tactical nuclear attacks will become much more feasible for the US military. The lowered threshold for using nuclear weapons will not only trigger a nuclear race among nuclear-weapon states and lay waste to the nuclear disarmament outcomes but will also increase the risk of nuclear conflicts. It calls for high vigilance of the international community.