Unique photographs show U.S. F-15E carrying B61 JTA mock nuclear bombs during tests at Nellis AFB

Image credit: Eric Bowen

You don’t happen to see an aircraft carrying two dummy nuclear bombs very often.

As we reported in July 2015, the U.S. Air Force is conducting a series of test drops, in Nevada, of the latest LEP (Life-Extention Program) upgrade to the B61 line of nuclear weapons: the B61-12.

These tests involve F-15E Strike Eagles of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, as shown in the accompanying photos taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2015, by The Aviationist‘s contributor Eric Bowen.

F-15E nuke take off
As you can see the F-15E carries two bright orange B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies (JTA) as it is leaving Nellis AFB: noteworthy, the two devices are not quite identical to one another both in overall color pattern, and more interestingly, the tips of each JTA appears to be different.

As Bowen reported in an email to The Aviationist, the Strike Eagle and its unarmed chase plane returned to Nellis AFB approximately 2 hours later with only 1 of the dummy bombs still on board.

F-15E nuke landing
The Life Extension Program or LEP, will replace the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10 mods, with the -12 that, along with the B83, will become the only remaining gravity delivered nukes in the inventory.

The LEP increases the B61’s accuracy so much that it will have the same capability against hardened targets as the much more powerful weapons it is replacing.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Those bombs were most likely built before you were born. And they aren’t making anymore. That said, here’s a picture of an F-15 with 5 of them:


  2. Well when US planes fly into one of the 600 km wide Russian jamming bubbles, its all over for the US planes. No comms, no weapons software, then here comes the S400. Or any other number of ways to shoot them down. The worlds changed. While the US engaged in proxy wars, occupations etc the Russians built up a fearsome arsenal. Not having faced a real enemy for decades its highly likely the US would lose an air war with Russia. But for the US to play the Nuclear option is highly irresponsible. It endangers mankind.

    • nuclear weapons can be safely launched just by submarines : that is way russia is extremely outnumbered and every single russian submarine is tracked by nato since times of scify book red october hunting; oceans are a nato affair: if you launch them by ground positions there is an extreemly high probability that missile goona be intercepeted on russian border: even nuclear caapbilities are much more pending tpowards nato now then 30 years ago; even fuel cell powered israel submarines, sold them by a german-italian-swedish consortium, are armed with trident missiles.

    • Apparently you’ve never heard of “home on jam” or other guidance methods for which jamming is completely useless. And the notion that the US would lose an airwar to Russia is laughable, given the last time Russia faced another country in air combat was WWII. As for “irresponsible” that’s Putina’s middle name.

      • Ive heard of it, the USA is in for a big surprise. Your nation is behind in tech. Jets, Missiles, EW. If your relying on MSM, you dont know that you dont know. Hint: Think F35

  3. So I was checking the dollar numbers of this program around the net. Give or take it’s in the range of 10 Billions $ for 400 weapons, still not totally clear if new builds using components from previous versions or upgrading the older ones. The target is getting a unified B61 nuclear stock at 50 KT yeld, INS/GPS guided similar to the JDAM program, with a CEP of 30 meters (matching the current CEP of a JDAM under INS only guidance). Given that, my understanding all the involved technologies are off the shelves, integrating nuclear devices (1950 technology) + INS/GPS guidance (1990 technology) and aerodynamic shaping for supersonic flight (1960 technology)… a flash came to the mind and it was: WHAT?

    25,000,000 $ /a piece to change the casing, some switches and integrating a guidance section that is the daily routine of the ground personnel?
    This is a slap in the face to the 20% of US population below poverty line and the ones dying for hunger in Africa and fueling rebellions, insurgencies, terrorism and finally war..

    • http://nukewatch.org/B61.html

      The astronomical cost is related to the fact that they need to upgrade the existing bombs instead of building new ones. They can’t produce a new free-fall bomb as that would violate the treaty, so they have no choice but to upgrade.

  4. A this point we literally need a Manhattan Project II a full national mobilization to replace or modernize the entire nuclear enterprise along with the Triad of delivery systems.

  5. Empty comments like this, show how you keep scoring as one of the most stupid commentators on this blog, never questioning crazy expenses or reckless policies. Time for you to grow up, kid. Build your own personal critical thinking and start questioning what your trusted politicians, governments, generals, corporate companies and other people in general say/claim or you will always be screwed by your “trusted” advisors.

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