Is the $10 Billion B-61 Bomb Worth It?

September 5, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Leah Fae Cochran

Worth its weight in gold? - The United States is about to spend $10 billion on 400 bombs that military commanders say have “no military value” - all to paper over the political concerns of NATO allies who do not share the full costs or adequately secure the warheads. This prompts Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy to ask if the B-61 nuclear bomb is worth it.

--Instead of spending $10 billion on a bomb of little utility, the U.S. could consolidate its nuclear weapons in Europe at two bases and quietly cancel the B-61 program, argues Lewis. “That means, of course, that over time, the B-61s will come home. My guess is that no one will notice.”

War has perks, for some - “A new war in the Middle East is just about the last thing that the faltering global economy needs,” writes Loren Thompson at AOL Defense, but “defense investors are perking up as rumors spread that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear complex in the Autumn.” Read the full post for how “bad news for everyone else can often be good news for military contractors.”

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Quote - “After the airplane comes off the line and we have it conventionally certified with those weapons, then we’ll transition to the nuke certification. We have never certified an airplane and both weapon types at the same time because it’s very different testing and it would drive a whole lot of expense,” said Lt. Gen. James M. Kowalski, Commander of Global Strike Command, on the certification of the new bomber.

GBI problems - Concurrently developing and deploying defense hardware is risky. The GBI missile defense system acquisition strategy is highly concurrent, with technology development, product development, and procurement happening simultaneously. As a result, cost overruns, delays, and technical failures have plagued the GBI program. George Lewis at Mostly Missile Defense Shows has the story.

”Not that person” - AQ Khan, the Pakistani scientist who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, has formed a political party and is openly considering running in Pakistan’s next elections, reports Carol Giacomo of The New York Times.

-- “The bottom line is that Mr. Khan was quite content to provide some of the world’s most repressive regimes with the capability to blow up its neighbors and anybody else. Pakistan’s needs a vibrant, competitive political system that will produce a new generation of enlightened selfless leaders who will commit to building a functioning democratic state that will serve all its citizens. Mr. Khan is not that person.”

Exports - China is known for its exports of everything under the sun, including, as it turns out, uranium enrichment services, discovers Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk. Operators of US civilian reactors imported LEU from China in 2005, 2006, and 2011.

-- “Although much of the uranium trade is based on long-term contracts (rather than spot sales), over time China might very well muscle into this business with the indigenous centrifuge plant it has constructed at Lanzhou. I wouldn’t be surprised to see words like “dumping” get thrown around in the next decade or so,” Lewis writes.

Y-12 insecurity - “Y-12's reputation as an impregnable fortress lies in ruin; rebuilding it will take time and, most importantly, a recommitment to providing unparalleled security at one of the nation's most important nuclear weapons facilities,” writes the Knoxville News Sentinel about the fallout from the peace activist breakin at the Y-12 nuclear facility.

Operation Teapot - In 1955, U.S. scientists nuked beer and taste tested it afterward. All in the name of science! Tests showed that the surviving beers could “unquestionably” be used for an emergency potable beverage.

--From the report: “Obviously, if a large storage of such packaged beers was to be trapped in a zone of such intense radiation following a nuclear explosion, ultimate usage of the beverages beyond the emergency utility would likely be subject to review of the taste before return to commercial distribution.” Alex Wellerstein cracked open and tipped back the history at Restricted Data.