Some updates on nuclear weapons

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress makes a flyover at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India, Feb. 20, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres)

Some articles I’ve bookmarked recently provide some background on nuclear weaponry: the B-52 no longer carries gravity nukes; recap of the capabilities of countries with sea-launched nukes, and losing the nuclear launch codes.

The War Zone – 1/13/20 – The Air Force’s B-52H Bomber Force Has Said Goodbye To Its Nuclear Bombs.

A 2019 update to technical document for strategic bombers says that the B-52H is no longer authorized to carry gravity nuclear bombs. The only weapon it is allowed to carry is the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile with a W80-1 warhead. The only nuclear loads for the B-2A are the B61-7 and B83-1 gravity bombs, which previously were authorized for the B-52H.

The reason is the lack of stealth capability of a B-52. In light of advances in air defense technology there is no way a B-52 could get close enough to a target to drop a gravity bomb. Thus it can only carry standoff weapons.

Article says the current plans are for the B-52Hs to be flying until 2050, which will put the service life of the B-52 series at somewhere around 100 years.

Strategy Page – 2/9/19 – Warplanes: B-52 Stays, B-1B Retires.

The Air Force will be retiring the  B-1B bombers from 2025 through 2035. The B-52 airplanes will be serving until the 2040s.

The in-process B-21 will replace the B-2.

Some of the interesting comments in the article:

The Air Force apparently has a reputation for over promising and under delivering on new weapon systems.

Stealth technology is improving to the point where the newest concept is using heat detection to identify targets. Sensors looking for heat instead of sensors looking for radar returns also have the advantage of not telling the world that you are around.

Article has lots of background on the B-52, B-1A, B-1B, and B-2. New technology and weapon systems (i.e. smart bombs, then small-diameter bombs, now targeting pods) have updated the platforms, especially making the B-52 useful decades after supposedly becoming obsolete.

Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers fly over the Pacific Ocean during a routine training mission Aug. 2, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis)

Strategy page – 11/13/18 –On Point: To Deter China, India Joins the ‘Nuclear Triad’ Club.

In November 2018, India announced its first nuclear powered SSBN had completed its first deployment. This means India has a nuclear triad, meaning nuclear weapons deliverable by bomber, missile, and submarine.

Article provides the following capabilities for the six countries that have SSBNs. Data listed is for country, number of ‘boomers’, number constantly deployed with a ratio of operational subs to continuously deployed of 4:1, and other comment:

US 14 3.5 24 Trident II D5
England 4 1
France 4 1
Russia 4 1 soon to have 6 subs
China 4 0 have 8 subs by 2020
India 1 0


China, according to the article, has zero subs on continuous patrol. Their missiles have intercontinental range.

India will have a second sub in 2019 or 2020, according to the article. Their subs carry either 12 short range or 4 intermediate range missiles.

Article says there is a perception that Israel and China both have diesel electric submarines with nuclear tipped cruise missiles. Israel is reported to have five subs which can launch cruise missiles with a range of 1500 km carrying a 200 kt warhead. With the 4:1 ratio mentioned for SSBNs, that would hint that Israel has the capability to maintain a nuclear armed sub on deployment all the time.

Business insider – 1/3/18 – Bill Clinton once lost the nuclear codes for months, and a “comedy of errors” kept anyone from finding out.

The codes which would be used by an American president to authorize the launch of nuclear weapons are supposed to be carried by a member of the US military and kept in close proximity to the president at all times. In addition (based on what I’ve read about the protocol elsewhere), the president has a certain document on his person which would be used in conjunction with the nuclear ‘football.’

According to the article, which is based on a book by a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a season of time in 2000, the code page personally held by the president was lost.

That’s lost, as in, nobody knew where it was…

Apparently every 30 days an official from the department that oversees the codes was dispatched to see the president and verify he had certain documents in his possession. Said official was told the president was unavailable but he had those documents.

Upon the next visit 30 days later a different official was told the same thing. Apparently this continued for four months until it was time to routinely change out the codes. At that point it was discovered the codes were nowhere to be found. Well, the new codes were put in place and new procedures implemented to make sure the codes are physically sighted every 30 days.


Minuteman II & III & Peacekeeper ICBMs, Warren AFB, Wyoming – Ywwrn_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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