The US Air Force set to upgrade nukes stationed in Germany

B61-12 is "the most expensive gravity bomb that the US has ever built".

Germany’s air force is preparing to adapt some of its Tornado warplanes to carry more up-to-date US atom bombs in light of plans by Washington to modernize its nuclear arsenal in Germany, media reported on March 2020.

The German newsmagazine “Spiegel” reported that US President Barack Obama had approved the last phase of development for the atom-bomb model B61-12, which is to go into full-scale production from 2020.

Aerial view of Büchel air base in the Eifel region of Germany.

The US has stored nuclear bombs across Europe as a deterrent against Russia — including in Germany, where parliament voted in 2010 to withdraw the bombs. But for now, they are here to stay — and set to be modernized.

Americans activate the nukes, Germans deliver them

The plans come as Poland and Baltic states urge NATO to up its nuclear and other military deterrents in the face of what they see as Russia’s territorial aggression. On the record, the Germany government only admits to being part of what is officially termed a “nuclear sharing agreement.”

In the case of a nuclear strike, the American soldiers who guard the bombs located on the German air base — with an order to shoot at any intruders — would attach the bomb to German fighter jets and activate the code. Then German crews would embark upon what insiders refer to as a “strike mission” — delivering the American bombs to their destination.

In essence, the nuclear sharing agreement provides for member states of the military alliance without nuclear weapons to partake in planning and training for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO. Additionally, officials argue, it allows for their views to be taken into account by nuclear-capable countries, including the US.

While the precise number of American bombs stored in Europe is unknown, estimates put them at roughly 150. Turkey, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy are all part of the sharing agreement.

A German Tornado figher jet over Büchel airbase. The Tornado is capable of delivering B61-12 nuclear bombs.

Six U.S. nuclear weapon facilities in five NATO countries: Belgium (10-20), Germany (10-20), Italy (60-70), Netherlands (10-20), and Turkey (60-70). The US F-15E, F16C/D, Belgian, Dutch, and Turkish F-16s, and German and Italian PA-200 Tornado are capable of delivering B61 nuclear bombs.

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Modernized Bombs

Despite a clear majority of its Germans firmly opposed to nuclear weapons, Germany seems unlikely to withdraw from the deal any time soon. Rather, it is set to receive modernized bombs. The nukes stored in Büchel, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists and a leading experts on nuclear sharing and weapons. explained, are of a type — the B-61-3 or B-61-4 — that was introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they coming to the end of their cycle.

The new bomb — the B-61-12 — will have “significantly enhanced capabilities,” says Hans Kristensen: It is equipped with a tail kit, which enables it to be delivered and hit its target much more accurately. Hans Kristensen has modeled its accuracy at about 30 to 60 meters (98 to 196 feet). The current bombs are simply dropped from the plane, rather than like ones with tail kits, which guide themselves once released.

But, according to one pilot, first tests for the integration of the weapon onto German Tornado jets are set to happen this year. Once the software update has been tested, it could be rolled out for the entire fleet stationed in Büchel. Only a small circle is privy to the modernization process, he told DW.

The pilot doubts whether even the German commanding officer of Büchel would be informed about the bombs’ arrival: Whenever an American plane arrives at the air base, he said, the entire airfield is closed off. “It’s all so top-secret that you never know whether the plane has loaded Coca-Cola or bombs.”

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