December 11, 2023

President Joe Biden‘s administration has proposed building a new nuclear bomb as the production of weapons to replace the aging U.S. stockpile ramps up.

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on Friday that it was pursuing the development of a new variant of the B61 gravity bomb, a type of weapon that was first produced in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. Until very recently, U.S. nuclear weapons production had largely been at a standstill since the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Weapons in the B61 series, a key part of the existing U.S. stockpile, are so-called “tactical” gravity bombs, unguided weapons designed to detonate at targets reached after being dropped out of an airplane. The DoD said in a press release that the new variant, the B61-13, was needed “to assure our ability to achieve deterrence and other objectives.”

“The B61-13 will strengthen deterrence of adversaries and assurance of allies and partners by providing the President with additional options against certain harder and large-area military targets,” the release states, while adding that the bomb would “include the modern safety, security, and accuracy features” of the B61-12, an Obama-era variant.

Joe Biden Making New Nuclear Bomb Military
President Joe Biden on Monday is pictured at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The inset image features a nuclear explosion at a Nevada test site in 1957. The Biden administration announced on Friday that it was developing a new nuclear bomb variant.
Anna Moneymaker; CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The B61-12, which was not produced until after Biden took office, added a tail kit to provide guided navigation intended to improve the accuracy of the weapon. Like other nuclear weapons produced by the U.S. since the end of the Cold War, the B61-13 is expected to be made with warheads repurposed from older bombs.

The Pentagon said that the B61-13 would have an explosive yield “similar to” that of the B61-7 variant, a bomb with a maximum yield of 360 kilotons, according the Federation of American Scientists.

If the yield figure is accurate, the B61-13 would have more than 22 times the explosive force of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, but far less force than the most powerful nuclear weapon currently in the U.S. arsenal, the 1.2 megaton B83.

The yield of the B61-12 variant is lower than the B61-7. While the Biden administration previously touted the B-61-12s as “critical to sustaining the Nation’s air delivered nuclear deterrent capability,” the production of B61-13s is expected to reduce the number of produced B61-12s.

“The B61-13 will not increase the overall number of weapons in the U.S. stockpile,” Friday’s DoD release states. “The number of B61-12s to be produced will be lowered by the same amount as the number of B61-13s produced.”

While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden pledged that, if elected, he would “work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons, so that the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never repeated.”

Newsweek reached out for comment to the White House via email on Friday evening.

The Biden administration previously announced that it was planning to retire the large-yield B83. However, production on the first new nuclear weapons to include freshly produced warheads is taking place under his administration.

A 10-year, $750 billion effort to replace the nuclear arsenal is “the country’s most ambitious nuclear weapons effort since the Manhattan Project,” according to the Associated Press.

“The nation’s current nuclear forces are reaching the end of their service life, and some delivery systems may not be capable of having their service life extended further,” a Congressional Budget Office report on the replacement effort states.

Biden’s pursuit of nuclear weapons continues a decades-long push from several of his predecessors. In 2003, during the administration of former President George W. Bush, the U.S. lifted a 10-year ban on developing tactical nuclear weapons. Bush’s efforts to build a new low-yield weapon were unsuccessful.

The B61-12 variant was approved during former President Barack Obama‘s administration, which also oversaw the development of new nuclear cruse missile, known as the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO), which may still be in the testing stage.

Development of new and updated nuclear weapons was also active under former President Donald Trump, with the U.S. Navy adding the submarine-launched W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead to its arsenal during his administration.