Bunker bomb: How the US is improving nuclear weapons

Denis Telmanov

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of covertly modernizing tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, which are not subject to nuclear deterrence treaties. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia and the United States announced that they had almost completely got rid of such missiles and bombs, but the Americans continue to improve their arsenal. Experts point out that Russia has nothing to fear – the balance of power in Europe will not fundamentally change.

The fact that the United States is engaged in the modernization of its non-strategic nuclear weapons, including delivery vehicles deployed in European countries, was announced by Vladimir Yermakov , Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry .

“In violation of the obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), American non-strategic nu-clear weapons have been deployed on the territory of non-nuclear European cou-ntries, and they are being modernized, including delivery vehicles,” he said.

At the same time, bypassing the treaty, the United States conducts nuclear missions with the participation of non-nuclear NATO member countries . Yermakov’s statement followed after the declassification of data on the number of nuclear warheads in service with the United States. According to the State Department, the country has 3,750 nuclear warheads at its disposal, which is 83% less than at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. The American military department claims that from 1994 to 2020, the United States dismantled more than 11.68 thousand nuclear warheads, about 2 thousand more have now been decommissioned and are awaiting disposal.

The Treaty on the Reduction of Offensive Arms (START), which regulates the number of nuc-lear warheads and their m-eans of delivery to the target – missiles, bombers and submarines – was extended by Russia and the United States in February 2021 after years of negotiations and disputes over whether to include tactical ammunition. missile defense and China. As a result, the parameters of nuclear weapons remained the same – no more than 1,550 warheads, no more than 700 missiles and no more than 800 heavy bombers.

Modernization under the cover of state secrets

According to the State Department, as of September 1, 2021, the United States had 2,854 warheads in strategic complexes, while Russia had 2,727. The number of tactical nuclear weapons, including American ones, deployed in Europe were not disclosed.

Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Scien-ces Konstantin Sivkov noted that the United States did not report on the modernization of its nuclear tactical complexes in Europe, and the Foreign Ministry could receive this information either from intelligence or from reports and messages in open sources.

“It may be an aerial bomb that they are making with high precision, it may be a tactical missile – there is no data. In any case, modernization can provide for an increase in the firing range of ammunition, and an increase in flight speed, and a change in the power of the explosion. We can only guess what kind of weapons systems we are talking about, but in any case, modernization increases the threats to Russia, and they need to be feared – we have the means for this, ”Sivkov said.

According to him, to increase the range of a rocket, it is enough to replace its engine with a more advanced one or use more energy-intensive fuel. And the increase in accuracy is achieved by replacing the control system.

“Neither Russia nor the United States is modernizing the warheads themselv-es. As they were created in the 60-80s, they are still in service. Only delivery vehicles are being modernized, ”the expert explained.

At the same time, the increase in parameters during modernization can reach both several percent and several times.

“The Kh-32 missile is, in fact, an upgrade of the Kh-22 missile: it has the same dimensions, but has almost doubled its firing range, and the flight speed has become hypersonic. The Dagger is the same Iskander, only suspended under the plane. As a result, “Iskander” flies less than 500 km, and “Dagger” – 2 thousand. And there are many other examples, “Sivkov emphasized.

Bunker bomb

Viktor Esin , professor at the Center for Advanced Study of National Security of Russia at the Institute of Experts at the Higher School of Economics, explained that the United States is now replacing tactical free-fall nuclear bombs B61-3 and B-61-4 with their new modification – the B61-12 guided bomb. It is more accurate and can be used to destroy fortified underground structures such as bunkers.

At the same time, he emphasized that replacing existing bombs with new ones would take several years, and the maximum yield of their nuclear warheads remained the same as that of the B61-4 bomb – about 50 kilotons. This is almost 2.5 times more than the bomb detonated over Hiroshima. The creation of fundamentally new US nuclear warheads is not being carried out due to the existing international ban on full-scale nuclear tests, which is adhered to in Washington.

“Without a full-scale test of a nuclear warhead, no chief designer can guarantee that it will be efficient. Therefore, even new bombs are equipped with a proven nuclear charge with a plutonium core. The electronics, housing, control system are new, and the charge itself is developed in the 60s-70s, ”the expert noted.

Now, according to Esin, up to 150 free-falling bo-mbs B61-3 and B-61-4 are deployed at US Air Force bases in five European cou-ntries – Belgium, the Neth-erlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey. For their use in NATO tactical aircraft F-15, F-16 and Tornado are used, and in the future they will be carried by the new F-35A aircraft.

“It is expected that the Americans will finally accept the new modification of the B61-12 nuclear bomb this year. But there are reports that they are already preparing the entire infrastructure for them, including in Europe, ”Yesin added.

There will be no significant increase in threats to Russia from the deployment of the B61-12 bomb, the expert said.

“Of course, the possibility of hitting targets in the event of their use increases, but the very threat of their use, we fend off by improving our air defense systems,” Yesin said.

The specialist emphasized that tactical nuclear weapons are not subject to the Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms between Russia and the United States (START-3 Treaty), therefore, their production and storage is not limited by anything.

“We say that in the framework of the so-called presidential nuclear initiatives of 1991-1992, we voluntarily reduced the stockpiles of such nuclear weapons by four times compared to the Soviet period, and the Americans claim to have destroyed 90% of their such ammunition. But according to some reports, there are now about 50 B61-3 and B-61-4 bombs in the States themselves, another 150 in Europe, and in addition to this, up to 500-700 tactical nuclear weapons are in long-term storage warehouses. These are the former warheads for the Tomahawk cruise missiles. Now American ships and submarines carry these missiles on board in conventional equipment. But it cannot be ruled out that the situation will change, and these warheads will be reanimated, ”Yesin warned.

Konstantin Sivkov , in turn, believes that in order to fend off a new threat, Russia must use the entire arsenal of means – both military and diplomatic.

“It should be a set of measures – we can solve the problem by building up our potentials, we can use diplomatic measures. But, considering that they are already carrying out modernization, we will also improve our complexes, ”summed up Sivkov.

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