Defenders and Critics Assess Modernization of the B-61 Nuclear Bomb

Prototype of a B61-12 on an F-15E aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Image by Dan Sagalyn. United States, 2015.

Jay Coghlan from Nuclear Watchdog Mexico tells PBS NewsHour that the U.S. is building the world's first nuclear smart bomb. The Air Force says they aren't making a new weapon, but Coghlan disagrees. "By the time you replace virtually every other component, what is it really? It's a new weapon."

"The B61 is 1960's technology," explains Major General Garrett Harencak of the U.S. Air Force. He says the weapon needs an updated design to replace old parts, improve safety, and"bring it into 2015."

Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists says that the U.S. isn't building a new bomb, but taking an existing warhead and "life-extending it." But the result, he adds, is an enhanced weapon with greater precision that might encourage its future use. Should taxpayer dollars be used for this? For Kristensen the answer is no.

What are the differences between the existing B61 bomb and the new version? Two top weapons officials cite a new tail-kit that allows more precise targeting and other enhancements but tey insist that this does not constitute a "new" weapon overall.