Based at Albuquerque in New Mexico (US), the Sandia National Laboratories has recently come out with a video that shows an F-35 dropping a dummy thermonuclear bomb in some obscure part of the country.
The exercise becomes all the more critical in the light of the recent tensions the world is witnessing among major powers — US-China, China-India, Australia-China, China-Taiwan, Israel-Iran, Turkey-Greece — and the recent war that took place between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Thermonuclear Bomb, popularly called the Hydrogen Bomb or H-Bomb, is regarded as the most powerful bomb available with the major military powers in the world. Formally, only six countries — the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, and India — are considered to possess H-Bombs. There are even claims about Israel and North Korea too, having tested this fusion device.
A thermonuclear bomb is different from an atomic bomb basically in terms of the principle it works and the amount of explosive energy it produces for destructive purposes. While an atomic bomb uses energy in the aftermath of the split of a heavy atomic nucleus, a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb uses the energy that gets released as a result of two light atomic nuclei to form a heavier nucleus.
The video released by the Sandia National Laboratories shows a USAF F-35 fighter dropping a B61-12 thermonuclear bomb. According to the US-based defense magazine Popular Mechanics, the video shows the jet fighter F-35 flying straight in a laydown profile opening its starboard internal weapons bay and then displaying the latest nuclear gravity bomb B61-12.
This 12-foot, 825-pound bomb that belongs to the 1960s’ B61 family of nuclear bombs, is seen falling free and then reaching its target. This bomb reportedly has a dial-a-yield setting ranging from 0.3 kilotons, 1.5 kilotons, 10 kilotons, and 50 kilotons respectively. In the worst-case scenario, when this bomb is to be used, this setting allows the ground crew to adjust the explosive power of the bomb, based on the military strategy and necessity of pulverizing the enemy.
Guided By Internal Navigation System
One major difference between the B61-12 bomb and other bombs with the US military is its use of an Internal Navigation System (INS) instead of a GPS guidance system. It has been done based on the premise that likely American foes Russia, North Korea, or China have made substantial progress on jamming a GPS-run nuclear weapon system and that could be done in case of a real war.
Another significant feature of this H-Bomb lies in its guided tail kit that the highly credible Federation of American Scientists (FAS) believe will help enhance its accuracy that is estimated to be about 30 meters. The B61-12 bomb has a very critical safety mechanism called environmental sensing mechanisms (EMS). It ensures that the bomb is hooked up to a fighter jet, released at the determined altitude in the air, and in case of any of the relevant failures, the bomb does not detonate.
Further, given the emerging military strategy of using more and more underground bunkers and strategic facilities, this bomb has been so designed to pierce the surface before detonating which will help it to reach underground tactical military targets, if and when needed.
Media reports have suggested that the B61-12 bomb will be used as the basis for First Production Unit (FPU) that is expected to commence next year in 2021. The US government has plans to build as many as 480 B61-12 thermonuclear bombs. The bombs are likely to be carried by B-2 Spirit Bomber, F-35, F-15E Strike Eagle, and the imminent B-21 Raider jets.
Considering the extraordinary destructive potential of the B61-12 bomb, there are adequate safety instruments associated with the bomb so that its misuse by any rogue elements, is prevented. There are built-in safety systems requiring authorization codes at varied stages so as to arm the bombs. Also, it needs to be disassembled in a specific sequence and requires highly-specialized tools to achieve the objective.
The need for Permissive Action Links (PAL) at every stage has been designed to make it virtually impossible for unwanted elements to be able to use it for destructive purposes.
The testing of a dummy H-Bomb at this time is strategically important. The global political and military scenario in the Covid-19 aftermath is rapidly changing. China is hell-bent on portraying its image as a serious contender to be a superpower while Russia too, is developing and testing new weapon systems.
North Korea, being an unknown and unpredictable foe, also needs to be watched out for. With the South China Sea being witnessing a massive Chinese build-up, the US also has an extra responsibility to protect Taiwan, against any bellicose Chinese aggression.
India too has gone on a missile and weapon-testing spree in the last few weeks. In the backdrop of such an uncertain global security situation, the US refining its thermonuclear capability could well be an implicit signal to those challenging its global pre-eminent position as well as a consolidation of its numero uno strategic position.