Washington Post Editorial: B-61, To Be or Not To Be?

Who will be deterred by the refurbished B-61? Is the symbolism of deploying the nuclear gravity bomb in Europe worth the billions of dollars?

Globe_with_Orange_Glow_SmallA world free of nuclear weapons is an appealing dream, but the reality is that the atomic bomb will not disappear soon. As long as the United States possesses a nuclear arsenal and needs to deter threats, the warheads and bombs must be kept safe, secure and, if deployed, effective. This is a goal of a major U.S. effort to refurbish and extend the life of its existing weapons.

One of the oldest of them is the B-61 gravity bomb, first designed in the 1960s to be dropped over a target by airplane, either as a strategic weapon carried by long-range bombers, or as a tactical or short-range nuclear weapon in Europe. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has been gearing up for a “life extension” program for the B-61, which will replace old parts and add security systems and controls.

The B-61 life extension was estimated two years ago to cost $4 billion. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the program, announced July 25 that the cost has doubled to $8 billion, according to a new administration estimate. What’s more, Ms. Feinstein said, an independent Pentagon cost estimate is $10 billion. The project is still at an early phase, but it looks to be ambitious and complex, combining four versions of the weapon into one by 2017. The Air Force separately wants to add a new tail assembly to improve the bomb’s accuracy.

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Source: Editorial Board | The Washington Post