US accelerates delivery of upgraded nuclear weapons to Europe

US accelerates delivery of upgraded nuclear weapons to Europe
B61s on a bomb rack. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The United States has accelerated the delivery of upgraded B61 nuclear weapons to Europe, Politico has reported.

Citing a classified diplomatic cable and "two people familiar with the matter," the report claims that the so-called B61-12 weapons systems, originally scheduled for delivery in Spring 2023, will now be deployed in December this year.

The US has denied that the accelerated deployment was a response to rising tensions between NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.

"Modernisation of US B61 nuclear weapons has been underway for years and plans to safely and responsibly swap out older weapons for the upgraded B61-12 versions is part of a long-planned and scheduled modernisation effort," said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder. "It is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine and was not sped up in any way."

'The most dangerous time since WW2'

The accelerated delivery comes amid escalating rhetoric and actions by both Russia and NATO. NATO is currently engaged in two-week long nuclear exercises which are scheduled to end this Sunday, while on Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin personally oversaw a simulated retaliatory 'massive nuclear strike' on major European cities.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons to win the war — warnings that Western officials are taking increasingly seriously.

In a speech delivered yesterday at the 19th meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based annual discussion forum, Putin claimed that "ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and at the same time important decade since the end of the Second World War."

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In his speech, Putin also accused the West of playing a "dangerous, bloody, and ... dirty game" in Ukraine. He added: "The West has taken a number of steps in recent years and especially in recent months that are designed to escalate the situation. As a matter of fact, they always seek to aggravate matters."

The US is currently estimated to have 100 B61 nuclear missiles stationed across Europe, specifically in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Turkey. They are the only US nuclear weapons system based in Europe.

The original B61 missiles were first developed in the early 1960s. The upgraded warhead, which cost $10 billion to design and produce, will be "significantly" more accurate than previous versions, Pentagon officials claim. Its explosive yield will also be adjustable: at its most deadly, one detonated bomb will have the explosive impact of 11 Hiroshimas.

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