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Op-Ed

U.S. Nuclear Gravity Bomb

Stephen I. Schwartz

“Box-Office Bomb,” in the April 2 Washington Insight column, notes the impending retirement of the nine-megaton, 8,850-pound B53 nuclear bomb, described as the weapon “ridden bronco-style to nuclear armageddon” by Slim Pickens in the classic 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove.”

Before celebrating the passing of the approximately 50 remaining versions of this thermonuclear behemoth, you should have noted that it is being replaced (in roughly equal numbers) by the B61-11, a newly reconfigured nuclear gravity bomb designed to burrow underground some 50 feet before detonating. Even with an explosive yield six million times smaller than the B53, the B61-11 is quite capable of destroying underground command bunkers in Russia and other heretofore impenetrable targets, such as the reputed underground chemical weapons factory at Tarhunah, Libya. And unlike the cumbersome B53, the B61-11 can be carried by the B-1B and B-2A bombers as well as the F-16 fighter.

The United States is thus actively deploying a significant new and highly usable nuclear capability even as it pressures Russia to ratify the START II treaty as a necessary precondition for even deeper arms reductions and pledges to non-nuclear countries–in order to secure approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and renewal of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty–that it seeks further nuclear cuts.

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