The guidance capability, by means of a tail kit mounted on the rear of the bomb, should however be available for the F-35, fifth-generation combat aircraft acquired by several European countries – including Belgium -, according to this site, The War Zone.
He explains, on the basis of information obtained under the American Open Government Act (FOIA) from the Inspectorate General of the Department of Defense, that the United States Air Force does not plan to carry from the B61-12 without a guidance kit by the F-16s – whether American or in service with European air forces – and by the Tornado of the German Lutfwaffe.
“When paired with the F-16, the B61-12 will operate in unguided mode,” an Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC) spokesperson confirmed to The War Zone.
The US Air Force currently only plans to carry this bomb in its guided version on its current F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bombers and B-2A Spirit bombers as well as on future B-stealth bombers. 21A Raider. And the B61-12 could eventually be coupled with certain American and NATO F-35 Lightning IIs, adds the specialized site based on the objectives of the B61-12 LEP (“Life Extension Program”) program.
Launched in February 2012, the program should make it possible to modernize nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the life of the current gravity atomic bomb by improving its “security” and “reliability”. Weighing around 400 kilos for a length of four meters, the B61-12 bomb is to replace the current B61-3, -4, -7, and -10, some of which have been in service since the late 1970s. The power of each bomb can be set to vary from 0.3 to 50 kilotons, or the equivalent of 50,000 tons of TNT, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
The program could cost more than ten billion dollars. Production of the first craft was completed late last year, “after more than nine years of component design, development, qualification and production,” according to the US Department of Energy (DoE). Full-scale production is due to end in fiscal year 2026 – which will start on October 1, 2025.
Experts estimate that the United States is stationing some 150 to 180 B-61 bombs of older versions at six air bases in five European countries: Germany, Belgium (at Kleine-Brogel), Italy, the Netherlands Bas and Turkey for use, according to a “dual key” principle (American and national) by “dual capacity” aircraft (conventional and nuclear) such as the F-16A and the Tornado – with the exception of those present the Turkish base at Incirlik, reserved for American use only.
Most of these planes will be replaced in the next few years by F-35s.
The Kleine-Brogel air base (Limburg) is presumed to host between ten and twenty of these gravity bombs that can be used by the F-16s of the 10th tactical wing and an American detachment, the 701st Munitions Support Squadron (701 MUNSS).