Update on US nuclear weapons

Training B61-12 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Devan Halstead)

The new B61-12 tactical nuclear gravity bomb has been approved for deployment on the B-2A Spirit bomber.

Article in The Warzone on 11/27/23 provided this news and background on other tactical nukes: B-2 Spirit Now Operational With New B61-12 Nuclear Bombs.

The B61-12 is an update of the long deployed B61 series of gravity bombs. It has increased accuracy, provided in part by improved guidance system and also small rockets in the tail which produce a spin to stabilize the bomb.

Yields on weapons

The B61-12 has the so-called dial-a-yield capability, which means a variable yield can be set based on the application with a maximum yield reported at 50kt.

For contrast, a different article says the B61-7 has reported yield at maximum of 360kt. Warzone article says maximum yield is 400kt.

Same article asserts the B83-1 is in the megaton range, or 1mt.

The B61-13, proposed in late 2023, would have ground penetrating capacity similar to B83-1 and with the warhead of the B61-7, or 360kt.

The B83 reportedly can dial-a-yield from a small amount up to 1.2mt, which puts it in the ballpark of what publicly reported data claimed for the warhead on the now-retired Minuteman II.

The W80 is dial-a-yield with a range from 5kt to 150K, putting it into the strategic category.

Delivery systems

The War zone article provides a table from NNSA listing current US nuclear weapon inventory and the currently authorized delivery systems:

Minuteman III ICBM:

  • W78
  • W87-0

Trident II D5 SLBM:

  • W76-0/1/2
  • W88

F-15, F-16, NATO allies

  • B61-3/4 (only tactical nukes on list)

B-2 Spirit

  • B61-7
  • B61-11
  • B61-12 (the newest, which has just been place in operational status)
  • B81-1 (megaton range, soon to be retired)


  • W80-1 (ALCM)

B-52s are no longer certified to carry gravity bombs on the concept that modern air defenses would not allow the plane to survive long enough to get in range to use gravity bombs. Thus, they are only allowed to carry ALCMs. The W80 is dial-a-yield with a range from 5kt to 150K, putting it into the strategic category.

The planes which will eventually get certified to carry the B61-12 include the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16C/D Vipers, and the B-21A Raider when it is placed in service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *