NUCLEAR WEAPONSRefurbishing Nukes: Major Milestone for B61-12 Life Extension Program

Published 3 February 2022

Sandia National Laboratories marked a major milestone in November 2021 when the Nuclear Security Enterprise successfully produced the first completely refurbished bomb for the B61-12 life extension program.

 Sandia National Laboratories marked a major milestone when the Nuclear Security Enterprise successfully produced the first completely refurbished bomb for the B61-12 life extension program in November 2021.

“This is the first complete unit built with nuclear and non-nuclear components that has been fully qualified from the ground up,” said David Wiegandt, a Sandia senior manager on the B61-12 program. “The first production unit is the first War Reserve B61-12 built at Pantex that meets all customer requirements and is acceptable for use by the U.S. Air Force.”

More than 5,000 employees have worked on the B61-12 life extension program at Sandia during the last decade.

“Sandia’s role within the complex is unique,” said Jim Handrock, Sandia Weapons Systems Engineering director. “We have the design engineering responsibility for the non-nuclear components, and also the key systems integration role to put all the individual parts together to make sure that everything does what needs to be done to provide the full system to the customer.”

As part of the program, Sandia worked to refurbish, replace or reuse about 50 different components and sub-systems that make up the B61-12.

“In addition to design development, we completed the highly rigorous qualification, verification and validation testing to demonstrate that the B61-12 will always work with high reliability when authorized, and never function under any other conditions,” Wiegandt said.

The B61, a nuclear gravity bomb deployed from U.S. Air Force and North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases, has been in service since 1968. The B61-12 will replace most older modifications of the B61 and have an extended service life of at least 20 years. The life extension program addresses all known age-related concerns found within the nation’s stockpile of B61 weapons, upgrades encryption algorithms, modernizes the safety and use control features of the weapon and supports compatibility with future aircraft designs.

Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Boeing are the design agencies responsible for the design and engineering of the B61-12, with Sandia also producing custom electronics. Additional production activities are performed at Kansas City National Security CampusY-12 National Security Complex, the Savannah River Site and the Pantex Plant.

The refurbished B61 is set to begin full-scale production in May 2022, with completion expected in 2026.