The story goes that Sir Issac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and the discovery of gravity was born. Ever since then, the science world has been fascinated with the inner workings of things falling to the ground. Inevitably, this would include those working on military advancements. Airplanes were weaponized and the rest is a very explosive history. However, it’s still evolving before our very eyes. There’s a bit of distance between World War I, World War II, and today, but dropping bombs out of planes isn’t going anywhere. One interesting take on the weaponry is the gravity bomb. What it may lack in guidance, it can make up for with an explosive payload.
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What Is a Gravity Bomb?
A gravity bomb is traditionally an unguided bomb that free-falls without a guidance system. Gravity bombs follow a ballistic trajectory when dropped from an aircraft. Until near the end of World War II, these were the standard bombs used. They remained in use until the late 1980s.
As precision-guided munitions gained prominence, there arose a need to distinguish them from unguided bombs, leading to the term “dumb bomb,” later evolving into the term “gravity bomb.” Unguided bomb casings are typically aerodynamic and equipped with fins to improve accuracy or stability during flight.
These bombs typically use contact fuzes for detonation upon impact, or shortly after to achieve penetration. On the other hand, others have altimeter fuzes for air bursts at specific altitudes. Proximity fuzes are for air bursts at set distances from the target.
However, gravity bombs have evolved as have nuclear weapons. Placing a nuclear weapon inside of such bombs, as is the case with the B61 gravity bomb, can provide devastating effects. This is one of the key developments moving forward as The Pentagon is building up its nuclear capabilities.
A Big Arms Race Calls for a Big Boom
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is ready to build up its nuclear arsenal. Though Congress still needs to approve the initiative as of this writing, the DoD is working on creating revealed plans for the B61-13.
While this is an advanced version of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, today’s technology allows for much more precision and advanced guidance systems. B61 gravity bombs may be a thing of the past in their traditional form, but they are inspiring the next wave of nukes.
The “nuclear gravity bomb” is 24 times more powerful than the one America dropped on Hiroshima in WWII. It’s a move coinciding with China’s intent to double its nuclear warheads by 2030.
Deliverable by modern aircraft like the B-21 Raider, the B61-13 falls under the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Furthermore, it aligns with the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review in response to evolving security challenges and increased threats.
Gravity Bomb-Inspired Evolution for Modern Nuclear Needs
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, Dr. John F. Plumb, highlighted that this decision underscores the U.S.’s commitment to adapt to changing security dynamics and assure our nation’s allies with credible nuclear deterrence practices.
The B61-13’s versatility enhances deterrence against adversaries and expands options for addressing military targets. A necessary evolution for nuclear warfare and most importantly, avoiding nuclear strikes altogether.
America’s new nuclear weapon is replacing some bombs in our current arsenal. The modern version of the B61 gravity bomb delivers a maximum yield of 360 kilotons with the potential to replace the B83-1 gravity bomb.
The next decade will see the U.S. investing over $750 billion for the nuclear update. These weapons are perfect for a variety of high-yield bomb scenarios, with around 50 weapons expected. Gravity bombs are a thing of the past. Nonetheless, they are still inspiring the future, albeit, with much more explosive, accurate yields of destruction.