Work on the B61-12 has been ongoing for years, and government officials say the latest tests using mock versions of the bomb will be vital to the refurbishing effort.
An F-16 from Nellis Air Force Base dropped an inert version of the weapon over the Nevada desert last month to test its non-nuclear functions as well as the plane’s ability to carry the bomb.
“It’s great to see things all come together: the weapon design, the test preparation, the aircraft, the range and the people who made it happen,” Anna Schauer, director of Sandia’s Stockpile Resource Center, said in a statement.
Scientists are planning to spend months analyzing the data gathered from the test.
Tracking telescopes, remote cameras and other instruments at the test range recorded information on the reliability, accuracy and performance of the weapon under conditions that were meant to replicate real-world operations.
More test flights are planned over the next three years, and officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration said the first production unit of the B61-12 — developed under what is called the Life Extension Program — is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
The B61-12 consolidates and replaces four older versions in the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It’s outfitted with a new tail-kit assembly and other hardware.