The US has brought forward delivery of upgraded B61-12 air-dropped unguided nuclear bombs to NATO bases in Europe, Politico reported on Wednesday, citing a US diplomatic cable and two people familiar with the matter.
According to the report, the change originally planned for next spring is now scheduled for this December.
US officials were said to have relayed the news to NATO allies during a closed-door meeting in Brussels, Belgium this month.
In an emailed comment to Politico, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder declined to discuss the details of the US nuclear arsenal, but said that the replacement of the older-generation B61 bombs for the B61-12 version is “part of a long-planned and scheduled modernization effort.”
“It is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine and was not sped up in any way,” Ryder added.
The B61 is a family of nuclear bombs originally developed in the 1960s. The upgraded version is equipped with a modern tail kit for greater accuracy, according to the US Department of Energy. The weapon is designed to be carried by a number of Western aircraft, including B-2 and B-21 bombers, as well as F-15, F-16, F-35, and Tornado jet fighters.
The news comes as the West and Moscow have been accusing each other of stirring up nuclear tensions amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
On October 17, NATO kicked off its annual nuclear exercise Steadfast Noon, which runs until October 30 and involves up to 60 aircraft, including B-52 long-range bombers. On Wednesday, the US Army and Navy test-fired a rocket as part of their Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) program.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, oversaw a large-scale ballistic missile drill on Wednesday, during which the country’s strategic forces simulated a retaliatory nuclear strike.
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