An F-16 dropped an inert B61-12 over a training range complex at Nellis AFB, Nev., last month. The purpose of the exercise was to test the aircraft’s ability to deliver the weapon and to test the weapon’s “arming and fire control system, radar altimeter, spin rocket motors, and weapons control computer,” according to an Air Force press release. The B61-12 is expected to replace four older versions of the B61 air-dropped nuclear bomb, and the refurbished weapon can be carried by a range of aircraft, including the B-2A, B-21, and F-35. “The B61-12 gravity bomb ensures the current capability for the air-delivered leg of the US strategic nuclear triad well into the future for both bombers and dual-capable aircraft supporting NATO,” said Paul Waugh, who is air-delivered capabilities director at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, according to the release. AFNWC is working with the National Nuclear Security Administration to co-manage the B61 life-extension program, which is set to be completed by 2020, according to the Associated Press.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.