The political-media spotlight beams in on the nuclear escalation in the Korean peninsula, and lets slip, unnoticed in the shadows, a similar escalation in on the Italian peninsula. On 13 April [2017], The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center communicates that, in the polygon of Nellis in Nevada:
“An Air Force F-16 aircraft released an inert B61 nuclear bomb in a test recently, demonstrating the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapon and testing the functioning of the weapon’s non-nuclear components, including the arming and fire control system, radar altimeter, spin rocket motors and weapons control computer.”

What is the significance of this? It indicates that the B61-12, the new US nuclear bomb, meant to replace the B-61 bomb which has been stored in Italy and other European countries, is now in the engineering phase in preparation for mass production. The many components of the B61-12 are planned and tested in the national laboratories of Los Alamos and Albuquerque (New Mexico), Livermore (California), and produced in a series of plants in Missouri, Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee. On top of these is the tail section, manufactured by Boeing, for precision guidance.

The B61-12 is not the B-61 with a few cosmetic updates. Nay, it is far more than that. It is a weapon sui generis with:
 a nuclear head with four power options to choose from, depending on the object you wish to strike;
 a guidance system that permits it to launch not directly above its target, but some distance from it; and
 the capacity to penetrate into the ground to destroy command centre bunkers in a nuclear first strike.

The test confirms that the new nuclear bomb can be launched by the F-16 fighter bomber (model C/D) of the 31st Fighter Wing, the squadron of US fighter bombers stationed at Aviano (Pordenone) which is now ready for attack with 50 (the number estimated by the FAS, the Federation of American Scientists) B 61 bombs. The communiqué specifies that the B61-12 can be also be launched from Tornado PA-200 bomber fighters, such as those of the 6° Formation of the Italian Air Force stored at Ghedi (Brescia), currently ready for nuclear attack with 20 B61 bombs. While waiting for the F-35 fighter bombers to be delivered to the Italian Air Force, the U.S. Air Force announces that, “the B61-12 will be integrated into the F-35”.

That the Italian pilots are being trained for nuclear attack under US command– reports the FAS [1]– is demonstrated by the presence of the 704th Munitions Support Squadron at Ghedi. This is one of the U.S. Air Force’s four units stationed in European bases (in Italy as well as Germany, Belgium and Holland) “where US nuclear weapons are meant to launch from airplanes of the host state”. Pilots from these four European countries and Turkey are being trained to use the B-61, and now the B61-12, in Steadfast Noon. This is Nato’s annual drill for nuclear war. In 2013, this drill took place at Aviano, and in 2014 at Ghedi.

According to the programme, the B61-12, the cost of which is forecast to be in the range of 8 – 10 billion dollars for 480 bombs, will begin to be mass manufactured in 2020. Thereafter, they will substitute the B-61 in Italy and in the other European countries. Satellite photos that the FAS released, show that in the bases at Aviano and Ghedi, and in other bases both in Europe and Turkey, changes have already been made to achieve this purpose. We still do not know how many B61-12 have been earmarked for Italy; however, we cannot rule out that, in light of the growing sense of unease with Russia, that their number will exceed the number of B61 bombs that are currently stored. Neither is it ruled out that they will be stored, as well as in Aviano and Ghedi, in other bases – for example - Camp Darby where the U.S. Air Force’s bombs are stored.

It is a fact that, in an unprecedented move in 2014, Polish pilots with F-16 C/D fighter bombers took part in the Nato drill for nuclear war carried out at Ghedi. This indicates that in all likelihood, the B61-12 will also be stored in Poland and other countries of the former Eastern bloc. The F-16 fighter bomber and other Nato planes at double capacity, nuclear and conventional, are stationed, in rotation, in the Baltic republics, going right up to the border with Russia.

The B61-12 is defined by the Pentagon as “the fundamental element of the US nuclear triad” (land, sea and air). Come 2020, and the lining up of the B61-12 in Europe (though it is not ruled out that it could well be prior to this date), Italy, which is officially a non-nuclear country, will be transformed into the firing line for an increasingly dangerous nuclear confrontation between the US/Nato on the one hand and Russia on the other.

It is in fact General James Cartwright, the former US Strategic Command, who warns that
“nuclear weapons such as the B61-12 which are less weighty (from 0.3 to 50 kiloton) yet more precise, increase the temptation to use them, which could even be for a pre-emptive nuclear strike rather than in an act of reprisal”.

In such a case, it is beyond doubt that Italy would be the first target for an inevitable nuclear reprisal.

Anoosha Boralessa
Il Manifesto (Italy)

[1Status of World Nuclear Forces”, Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, Federation of American Scientists.