The latest nuclear bomb variant developed during President Joe Biden’s administration has the potential for widespread devastation, although it falls short when compared to recent weaponry advances by Russia and China.
On October 27, the Pentagon unveiled a “modern variant of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, designated the B61-13.” This bomb is the most recent addition to a series of weapons initially created in the 1960s. The expected nuclear blast yield of the new bomb is approximately 360 kilotons, which is powerful enough to cause significant harm, potentially affecting millions of people. However, the nuclear arsenals of Russia and China have introduced even more destructive capabilities. Both countries have recently developed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) equipped with Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) capable of delivering multiple warheads simultaneously, capable of devastating multiple cities.
China’s new DF-41 ICBM can carry eight warheads, each with a yield of 250 kilotons. In contrast, Russia’s RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, known as “Satan 2,” is capable of carrying ten nuclear warheads, each with an enormous yield of 750 kilotons.
While the Biden administration’s B61-13 differs significantly from the new Chinese and Russian ICBMs, the United States has not developed similar weapons in recent years.
Maps generated using Nukemap, an online tool by historian of science and nuclear technology Alex Wellerstein, illustrate the significantly higher destructive potential of Russian and Chinese weapons in comparison to U.S. weaponry.
For instance, a hypothetical B61-13 explosion over New York City would destroy a section of Manhattan within a half-mile radius, causing significant damage miles away, resulting in over 778,000 casualties and more than 1 million injuries. In contrast, a map illustrating the impact of a single MIRV warhead explosion from a Russian Satan 2 reveals much heavier destruction over the same target, with over 1.13 million casualties and around 1.37 million injuries.
A single 250-kiloton MIRV warhead from a DF-41 ICBM would cause slightly less destruction, with a fireball affecting an area of at least six city blocks and damage extending as far as 4.5 miles away, resulting in almost 650,000 casualties and 916,000 injuries.
However, attacks from the Chinese DF-41 and Russian RS-28 ICBMs would likely cause significantly more destruction than the B61-13 due to the MIRV warheads targeting multiple locations. Both missiles have the potential to transform a substantial portion of the U.S. northeast into a nuclear wasteland. All of these warheads, whether Russian, Chinese, or American, would also result in extensive radioactive fallout, spreading for hundreds of miles and likely causing further radiation-related harm.
Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for comment via email.
While the U.S. no longer deploys MIRV-equipped ICBMs, the B83-1 remains in service as the single warhead with the most explosive yield, at 1.2 megatons. The Biden administration announced plans to retire this weapon last year, although it has not been retired yet.
The Federation of American Scientists, an organization dedicated to nuclear disarmament, suggests that the development of the B61-13 is likely a political maneuver to eventually phase out the B83-1.
Russia currently possesses the world’s largest nuclear stockpile, with 5,889 warheads, while the U.S. holds 5,244 warheads, and China has 410, according to the Arms Control Association. Both the Russian and Chinese stockpiles continue to grow, whereas the U.S. has stated that its arsenal will not expand, with the new B61-13s replacing retiring models.
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