Oct. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense announced Friday that it will begin working on the development of a new nuclear gravity bomb known as the B61-13.
The Defense Department clarified that the decision, which is dependent on Congressional approval and funding, has been made after an extensive period of assessment and review, and is not a reaction to any current event.
The primary objective of this decision, as stated by the agency, is to respond to the shifting security landscape and evolving dynamics in the global security arena.
In a press release announcing the plans, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb emphasized the need for this new kind of weapon.
"Today's announcement is reflective of a changing security environment and growing threats from potential adversaries," said Plumb. "The United States has a responsibility to continue to assess and field the capabilities we need to credibly deter and, if necessary, respond to strategic attacks, and assure our allies."
The B61-13 is set to replace a portion of the existing B61-7s in the current nuclear stockpile while maintaining a yield similar to the B61-7 (360 kilotons), which is greater than that of the B61-12.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the explosion of a 360-kiloton-yield weapon would lead to considerable radioactive fallout that would encompass vast geographic areas. The extent of this fallout, in the event of a B61-13 detonation in North Korea, could reach as far as halfway across South Korea, contingent on the specific target location and prevailing weather conditions.
Additionally, the B61-13 is designed to be deliverable by modern aircraft, which the DoD says will help enhance the deterrence capability against adversaries and offer assurance to U.S. allies.
Despite the anticipated production of the new weapon, leaders say the overall number of weapons in the U.S. stockpile will be kept at a steady level. This equilibrium will be achieved by reducing the production of B61-12 warheads to align with the production of the B61-13s.
"The B61-13 represents a reasonable step to manage the challenges of a highly dynamic security environment," said Plumb. "While it provides us with additional flexibility, production of the B61-13 will not increase the overall number of weapons in our nuclear stockpile."
The DoD says the production of these advanced weapons will provide the United States with additional options for "addressing larger and more challenging military targets."
While the department has made it clear that the development is not a direct response to any recent global event, the announcement's timing coincides with a report from The Pentagon last week that revealed that China has significantly increased its nuclear warhead count.
The report suggests that China has at least 500 warheads in its arsenal, marking an increase of 100 from the previous year and surpassing earlier estimates.
Nonetheless, China's nuclear arsenal is still considerably smaller in comparison to both Russia and the United States. According to data from the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of their January figures, Russia possessed 5,889 nuclear warheads, while the United States had 5,244.