The fiscal year 2023 defense budget submitted to Congress includes $384 million that is planned to be spent on upgrading depots for some “special weapons” in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the UK. "Special weapons" are American B61 thermonuclear aerial bombs of the twelfth modification, more accurate and low-power, which simplifies their use.
Hans Christensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), said that there is a special item in the new budget of the Pentagon, in which the United Kingdom appeared among the recipients for the first time in the last 14 years. He suggested that it was a storage facility at the American airbase Lakenheath, located a hundred kilometers northeast of London.
Near London, American weapons of mass destruction appeared in 1954. In the 1990s, there were already 33 underground storage facilities containing 110 B61 bombs. They were supposed to be delivered to the targets by F-15E aircraft of the 48th Fighter Wing of the US Air Force. In 2008, the warehouses were empty and mothballed.
Washington presented the removal of bombs as a gesture of goodwill and a contribution to the process of nuclear disarmament. In fact, the reasons were different.
At that time, the attitude towards air bombs as a deterrent weapon had changed. They do not have a high efficiency of use, and after the appearance in Russia of new highly effective air defense systems, they have some serious restrictions on delivery to targets in order to be considered an effective deterrent.
In addition, the B61 bombs were by that time very outdated and had, rather, intra-NATO significance. Washington considered this weapon an additional motivator for strengthening the "unity of the alliance" and a kind of incentive prize. The states on whose territory these weapons are located have the right to vote when considering the use of atomic weapons and are obliged to provide their own aircraft, if there are no American ones.
Thus, an "elite club" of non-nuclear countries was formed within the alliance, into which Washington introduced Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Today, about 150 old-style thermonuclear warheads are located on their territories. Starting next year, they will be changed to the new B61-12.
Poland wants to get into this "club", which, in order to improve its status in Western Europe, is ready to host anything - an additional arsenal or even empty any of the existing warehouses. At one time, Warsaw insisted on taking the bombs out of Germany, but Bonn showed a certain figure of three fingers, and the offer was withdrawn.
London, which has its own fifth largest strategic nuclear arsenal, does not need such "motivational" tricks. Great Britain, even without bombs, is included in the club of world nuclear powers, along with the United States. In addition, in its foreign policy, London, like a faithful dog, does not deviate from Washington in anything, not an inch.
Why is it planned to revive the warehouse in Lakenheath? Hans Christensen suggested that this vault would be mostly empty and used only as a backup warehouse to confuse Russia.
A very naive assumption that does not correspond to the White House's policy of promoting an arms race, including nuclear ones. Washington has consistently renounced all nuclear arms control treaties (only agreed to extend START-3 for five years), and is rapidly modernizing and possibly building up its nuclear potential. US verification mechanisms have also been destroyed. Moreover, the administration of President Joe Biden now considers it acceptable to be the first to use nuclear weapons.
So, the warehouses may well be filled with new thermonuclear bombs or, which also cannot be ruled out, the arsenal can be moved to the UK from the Turkish Incirlik airbase, modernizing it along the way.
For several years now, the US administration has been thinking about where to evacuate fifty B61 thermonuclear bombs from Turkey. Ankara greatly upsets Washington with its, at times, too independent policy - it tries not to quarrel much with Russia and conducts business relations, it bought a Russian anti-aircraft missile system and did not want to give it to Ukraine, sent its troops to northern Syria without asking permission, closes the straits for warships regardless of the flags.
Of course, there is also Poland. However, transporting Turkish bombs almost to the border with Russia is tempting, but too defiant. But the UK looks like a perfectly acceptable option - far enough away, and at the same time it will give a very clear additional signal that the era of disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, is over.
The fact is that the significance of the B-61 bombs, especially in the twelfth modification, which can be dropped tens of kilometers from the target, has changed again. This was facilitated by multifunctional and stealth F-35 fighters. Recently, the first of twenty-four aircraft appeared at Lakenheath. These delivery vehicles turn B61-12 bombs into medium-range strategic weapons - Washington hopes their F-35s can sneak up to Russian borders unnoticed to dropping distance or even overcome air defenses.
The return of the bombs to the UK would undermine the already precarious security on the Old Continent, especially with the US withdrawal in 2019 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, destroying the entire legal architecture of nuclear security that has struggled to build for decades.