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.

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Dangers in crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the 1700s.

The Wagram (1810) – a first-rate 118-gun ship of the line of the French Navy, of the Ocean type. Illustration of the 19th century. Image couresy of Adobe Stock.

In addition to the agonizingly long time it took to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the time of sail, the journey carried risk of sickness, especially from scurvy caused by the lack of fresh vegetables.

Edward Lengel provides an illustration in his book, The 10 Key Campaigns of the American Revolution.

On May 2, 1780, the first wave of French troops left France, arriving in Newport Harbor on July 11, 1780. The trip took 70 days.

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No more 747s will be rolling off the production line.

ST MARTIN, ANTILLES – JULY 19, 2013: Boeing 747 aircraft on therunway at Princess Juliana International Airport in Netherlands Antilles in July 19, 2013 in St Martin.

The half century production run of the iconic 747 has come to an end.

On December 6, 2022 the last 747s that will be built rolled off the bone production line in Everett, Washington.

Number 1,574 in the production run is finished. It will be test flown by Boeing pilots, painted, then delivered to the customer, a cargo and charter carrier – not a major airline.

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Nuclear code making equipment put on museum display.

I-7 launch facility, assigned to 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB. Photo by James Ulvog.

Apparently there has been a massive overhaul in the technology behind codes used to launch nuclear weapons. Changes are significant enough the equipment used to generate codes and manufacture the physical documents have been put on display at the National Cryptologic Museum.

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Discussion of nuclear weapons capability of U.S. Navy ships in 1990.

B61 thermonuclear bomb on display at March Air Base Museum, Riverside, California. Photo by James Ulvog.

Nuclear weapons carried on U.S. Navy warships back in 1990 is the focus of the preceeding four posts.  Topic caught my interest after a recent tour of the U.S.S. Midway Museum in San Diego, California.

Turns out there were a lot more nukes at sea with the Navy than I realized. 

Links to the four posts, totaling just over 3,000 words, are below along with a brief description of each post:

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Nuclear weapons at sea with the U.S. Navy in 1990 (and earlier).

Ywb61_1b (B61 “Silver Bullet” thermonuclear bomb, USAF museum) by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Previous articles explained the U.S. Navy had three different nuclear weapons deployed at sea in 1990. That of course got me curious about the capabilities of those weapons.

One of the articles I cited had an intriguing table listing all of the nuclear weapons carried by the Navy over the last several decades. The table provided the data source in a citation, which led me to the following book: U.S. Nuclear Arsenal / A history of weapons and delivery system since 1945, by Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris. I splurged and got a copy at a very nice price (better than what is available as of today).

It is an astounding resource. A veritable encyclopedia of the US nuclear arsenal. It covers warheads, reentry vehicles, missiles, helicopters, tactical fighters, and strategic bombers. Astounding.

For the moment I will dive into some information on the weapons deployed with U.S. Navy in 1990, which also probably covers their loadouts for a decade or two earlier. Will have lots more to discuss from the book later.


There were about 1,000 B43 bombs produced. They were in the inventory from 1961 through 1999.

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Nuclear warfare capability of U.S. Navy in 1990.

B61 nuclear bomb. Ywb61_2b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I have been aware of the US defense posture of maintaining a triad for nuclear deterrence since I was in high school. Since way back then I’ve known the Navy had lots of nuclear weapons on SLBMs under the water.

Only recently have I learned there were a massive number of other nukes in the Navy in the tactical size.

Previous two posts have discussed the nuclear warfighting capabilities of U.S. Navy. Did some more poking around and found that there is actually quite a bit of material available online.

Came across one intriguing article, from Greenpeace of all people:

Article goes into great detail on US capabilities (45 pages), Soviet Union (26 pages), England (11 pages), France (6 pages), and China (2 pages).

Articles written in 1990, which is a useful framework for reference for several reasons.

First, that is about a year before the United States decided (as directed by President Bush) to offload all nonstrategic nuclear weapons from U.S. naval ships. Second, that is a few years after I was on active duty so corresponds relatively close to what was going on my experiences. Third, this corresponds closely to the aircraft on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway Museum, so I have decent pictures to go along as illustrations.

I’ll describe a number of interesting tidbits I found in the article.

Mark 43 thermonuclear bomb, USAF Museum, Ohio, Ywm43_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By the way, since I’m talking about nukes, please know I’ve long since forgotten anything I ever knew so today I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ except what I read in non-government or declassified public documents. Just so you know.

Aircraft carriers

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“Nuclear Weapons Afloat”, official tally

Mark 43 thermonuclear bomb, USAF Museum, Ohio, Ywm43_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As mentioned in the previous post, during a recent tour of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, my curiosity awoke regarding how many nuclear weapons an aircraft carrier had onboard. On of several related questions is how many nukes the Navy had.

Previous discussion described two articles exploring the question.

Immediate answer to my first question is the article asserts a U.S. aircraft carrier typically had 100 nuclear weapons on board during the Cold War.

Deeper answer is the articles pointing to declassified information about the number of nuclear weapons Navy had at sea for the years 1961 through 1991.

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Nuclear weapons deployed with the U.S. Navy during Cold War.

Access to ‘special weapons’ area. A Marine guarding nukes? Trust me, you would NOT want to mess with him. Photo aboard U.S.S. Midway Museum by James Ulvog.

On a recent tour of the Midway Museum in San Diego I walked past the door to the “special weapons” area. The “special” means nuclear.

I’ve noticed that area on previous times aboard the U.S.S. Midway, but paused to ponder this visit.

This time I wondered:

  • How many nukes did a US carrier have on board?
  • What types?
  • What airplanes were equipped to carry nukes?

As an amusing coincidence, I asked one of the docents if he is aware of open source documents which describe the nuclear loads on carriers. He did not know, but we had a delightful conversation.

Turns out this docent had a parallel job to what I did when I was in the U.S. Air Force. He was based on SSBN submarines while he was in the Navy, having keys to launch the Polaris SLBM. Like I said, what a fun coincidence.

Well, that triggered my curiosity, got me doing a little research, and I found some good materials for starters.

One specific tidbit in the second article link below is directly responsive to my curiosity – the article asserts U.S. aircraft carriers typically carried 100 nuclear weapons on board during the Cold War.

Update: Just so you know, every word I say in my discussions of nuclear weapons is based on what I have read in a public, open-source document. I don’t know anything else at all about nukes.

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Another launch of Starlink satellites and expected crash of Chinese rocket.

Look at the contrast between private-sector space exploration in the United States and government run space exploration in China.

5/9/21 – Amy Thompson at Space.com – SpaceX launches 60 Starlink satellites in record 10th liftoff (and landing) of reused rocket –  On 5/9/21, SpaceX put another load of 60 satellites into orbit, increasing the constellation of Internet-providing satellites.

Of note is that this is the 10th launch and recovery of this particular Falcon 9 rocket. That is the highest number of reuses yet of any in their fleet.

The goal, announced three years ago, is to fly each booster 10 times before major refurbishment and ultimately get up to 100 flights out of every booster.

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Uncontrolled reentry of Chinese rocket expected tomorrow, 5/8/21

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Frequently in a space launch one of the stages in the rocket is so massive that it will not completely burn up when it reenters the atmosphere. The normal, responsible behavior is to have a controlled burn after the payload is launched which will push the rocket stage into a calculated reentry. This allows the rocket owner to pick the place on the planet the residuals will land, say the middle of an ocean far from routine shipping channels.

The irresponsible strategy is skip the reentry burn which means the massive chunks of unburned metal will land on the earth at some random place, say an occupied area or even a major city.

This information from Space News on 4/30/21: Huge rocket looks set for uncontrolled reentry following Chinese space station launch.

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Project Kuiper – Amazon’s planned constellation to provide internet service across the planet.

Merritt Island, FL, USA – December 26, 2020: Photo of the Blue Origin Complex, Merritt Island, Florida. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock and Felix Mizioznikov.

Amazon is developing its own low Earth orbit satellite system to provide Internet connectivity across the planet. They are calling this Project Kuiper.

4/19/21 – Ars Technica – Amazon’s first Internet satellites will not launch on Blue Origin rockets – Some background to start the discussion.

In addition to Amazon, Jeff Bezos also owns a rocket company developing spaceships. It is called Blue Origin. They are developing New Glenn rocket as a lift vehicle. Article says first flight for New Glenn is not expected until fourth quarter of 2022 with likely slippage to 2023.

Big announcement covered in this article is Amazon announcing they will use the Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance for the first nine launches of their satellites.

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Successful nighttime recovery of four astronauts on SpaceX Dragon space capsule.

Crew-2 Mission by Official SpaceX Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Dragon capsule Resilience was successfully recovered during a night landing off the coast near Panama City, Florida.

5/2/21 – Space.com – SpaceX Crew Dragon makes 1st nighttime splashdown with US astronaut since Apollo era

This is the first night landing in the American program since Apollo 8.

Video of the recovery can be seen below. Skip forward to the about the 6 hour 34 minute point in the video. Splashdown is about 6:48. Dragon is onboard at about 7:15 mark.

The video:

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China launches first component of its space station.

ZHUHAI, CHINA- NOVEMBER 6, 2018: Mockups of the New Generation Launch Vehicles of Long March Family are on diplay during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock. I think the tallest one, fourth from right, is the 5B.

China is building their own space station. On 4/28/21 they successfully launched the first of three main components.

4/28/21 – Space.com – China launches core module of new space station to orbit – The central component of the space station is called Tianhe, for Harmony of the Heavens. This module is 54 feet long. Two more sections, each of them 47 feet long, will be launched. The basic station will be assembled by the end of 2022.

A Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket launched the space station.

A cargo launch will go to the station next month with three astronauts arriving in June.

This is not the first space station China has put in orbit. The first one, Tiangong-1, back in 2011 had visits from two crews of three astronauts each before it reentered the atmosphere and was burned up.

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SpaceX uses recycled rocket and recyled capsule for launch to space station.

A previously used Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule lifted four astronauts to the ISS.

4/23/21 – Science Alert – In a Huge First, SpaceX Just Launched Astronauts to the ISS on a Recycled Rocket – In their third flight to the International Space Station, SpaceX used a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule that had both previously been used. This is a big deal in terms of reducing the cost of space travel.

Along with the two previous flights this ends the American reliance on Russian lift vehicles to get crew to the space station.

SpaceX successfully recovered the booster. Again. They sent out a tweet saying this is the 80th recovery of a rocket. Very cool.

With these four astronauts (one from France and one from Japan) on board, there will be 11 people on ISS, which is a record. Another crew will return on the Dragon in a few days.

The crew:

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