On Wednesday, it was revealed that the United States has sped up its plan to send "upgraded" nuclear weapons to European allies.
The new B61-12 air-dropped gravity bombs were originally scheduled to arrive in early 2023, however they will now be ready by December of this year.
According to Politico, sources revealed that the new timeline was announced during a closed-door meeting in Brussels between US officials and NATO allies.
The weapons are set to replace existing models, including the nearly 100 stored at air bases in Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherland, and Turkey.
The National Nuclear Security Administration explained in December that the latest $10 billion Life Extension Program for the B61s involved "refurbishing, reusing, or replacing all of the bomb’s nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the service life by at least 20 years." Upgrades include making them more accurate and compatible with new aircraft, upon which they would be mounted.
While the accelerated timeline came as a surprise to some, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder explained that, "modernization of US B61 nuclear weapons has been underway for years and plans to safely and responsibly swap out older weapons for the upgraded B61-12 versions is part of a long-planned and scheduled modernization effort."
Dispelling rumors that the expedited delivery was decided upon in response to Putin's nuclear threats, Ryder noted that the plan "is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine."
Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund disarmament group suggested that despite Ryder's claims, the move could be seen as "escalatory" by Russia, despite the fact that there are already B61s in Europe that could be used at a moment's notice.
Collina contended that perhaps the decision to speed things up could be seen as being "aimed more towards NATO than Russia," as well.
Earlier this month, President Biden warned that Putin was "not joking" about using Russia's potential use of nukes, and on Tuesday, Russia announced that it would be conducting "nuclear exercises," including the testing of missiles.
The threat of a possible nuclear war has US officials and European allies on high alert.
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