If everything goes to plan, Turkey will receive the United States’ newest nuclear weapon in 2019. Turkey currently hosts between 60 and 70 B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik air force base. During the Cold War, Turkish aircraft were on full nuclear alert status – meaning that Turkish aircraft were loaded with nuclear weapons and ready to take to the air in minutes, should NATO give the order. Now Turkish F-16 are only nuclear certified and would have to fly to Incirlik and pick up the bombs.
(An interesting side note – During Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, the Americans apparently got so nervous that they removed the warheads from Greece’s alert fighter aircraft and its squadron of nuclear armed Nike air defense missiles. In Turkey, the United States also opted to remove the weapons from Turkish alert fighters. These concerns, along with many others, led to the use of Permissive Action Links (PALs) on American nuclear weapons in Europe.)
The B61 is a family of five nuclear weapons (The B61-3, 4, 7, 10, and 11 – dubbed mods). The United States only deploys the B61-3 and 4 in Europe. The B61-3 has a dial-a-yield ranging from .3 to 170 kt, while the B61-4’s yield ranges from .3 – 50 kt. These weapons, because they are deployed in Europe and carried by fighter bombers, are dubbed to be strategic. (The range of the delivery vehicle matters for classification purposes)
The new weapon, dubbed the B61-12, will cannibalize parts from all of the B61 mods and consolidate them into a new bomb. The new bomb will use the B61-4 explosive package, meaning that the future B61-12’s maximum yield will be 50 kt. Critically, the Department of Defense has mandated that the new bomb be able to perform all of the mission requirements assigned to the old mods. Therefore, it must be able to be used on the battle field (.3 kt yield), for bunkers (B61-11), and for strategic missions (Thus, designed for delivery by the B2 bomber, which is classified as a strategic delivery vehicle)requiring a larger yield (B61-7). However, the United States has pledged not to build new nuclear weapons, nor to augment the capabilities of its current stockpile whilst undertaking a program to modernize and extend the life of its current stockpile. (For the record – I believe that the B61-12, especially when paired with the F-35 augments the bombs current capabilities).
Enter the guided tail kit. The new B61-12, in order to perform all of the previously allotted missions, will be outfitted with a guided tail kit – thus making the future bomb America’s first “smart” nuclear weapon. The bomb is being designed for delivery by the F-35, the B-2, and the B-52. Turkey is a partner on the international F-35 program and has indicated, on multiple occasions, that it intends to purchase 100 aircraft. The tail kit will allow mission planners to rely on the weapons accuracy, rather than a larger yield, to hold deeply buried targets at risk. NATO signed off on these changes in 2010 and the U.S. Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration are busily trying to get this bomb out on time.
I have a number of criticisms about the LEP program, but because this is a Turkey centric blog, I’ll simply invite you to look at Hans Kristensen’s excellent post on the subject. In any case, Turkey, is on pace to receive the B61-12 in or around 2019. To help plan for any delays in the delivery of the F-35, the Pentagon is also modifying Turkey’s current fleet of F-16s to carry the bomb. Thus, we are looking at a nuclear weapons filled future here in Turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!