You wouldn’t want to stick this shiny object in a pencil-sharpener, though, even if you could find one big enough. And you wouldn’t want to chuck it at a dartboard either. Because this shiny toy is a B61-12, the latest upgrade to one of the nuclear bombs deployed by America in Europe.
The first B61 was designed in 1963 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the very first atom bomb was developed. They’ve been here, or hereabouts, since 1968. They also look, come to think of it, rather a lot like the V2 rockets the Nazis used to attack London in 1944. Which is no coincidence, when you consider the history and pedigree of these things. But this baby could do a lot more damage than a few V2s.
As far as knowledge of such things is public and up-to-date, there are currently 180 B61s (11th model) deployed among NATO countries in Europe – Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey. It is one of the primary “strategic and tactical” weapons in what’s called America’s Enduring Stockpile since the Cold War supposedly ended.
In what you might call the official version of history, these things kept the peace for around four decades after the Second World War. Ours pointed at Them, Theirs pointed at Us – no one fires, because if anyone does, everyone dies. Mutually Assured Destruction – or Mad, for short. Crazy logic, but logic of a sort, perhaps.
It’s not quite so clear why they’re still there. And even less clear why they should still be being upgraded.
The B61-12 comes with an $11.8billion price-tag. Which sounds like an awful lot of money to spend on something some experts say will be technologically, militarily, politically and historically obsolete long before its planned deployment in 2024.
It’s hard to see why anyone could want this thing at that price. Or any price, really. Except, of course, the people building and selling it, the people who will get all that dosh out of America’s allegedly stretched public purse. People with friends in Washington.
The official Pentagon line is that the new bomb is not new at all, but a “life-extension” of the existing B61. It has, it says, “no new military capabilities”. Which again makes you wonder why anyone should think it’s worth the money. But it’s not quite true.
The reason they’re not calling it new is that it’s easier to get the budget passed for something billed as merely updating what’s already there. Even though that budget makes it the most expensive single weapon yet built.
And it does have two things the current version doesn’t.
Its tail-fins aren’t fixed, but can be moved remotely, which means the thing can be aimed to hit targets much more precisely.
And it has something called “Dial-a-yield” technology, which means the explosive force can be adjusted right up to the moment it’s launched.
At the top end, it has a potential destructive power of 50 kilotons – enough to wipe out the whole of Norwich from UEA to Whitlingham Broad, Eaton Golf Club to the airport.
Dialled down to its minimum 300 tons TNT equivalent, it could merely destroy something as small as Carrow Road football ground. Positively surgical. Sort of.
Which might all sound good to the military-minded out there. But, quite aside from the cost, it comes with huge dangers.
One is that its very existence could give new impetus to the global arms race. It’s been argued that it will delay, and possibly halt or even reverse, the reduction in nuclear arms in Europe.
Another is that some Pentagon insiders are already talking about it as a “useable” weapon. Which is not a word that should ever be applied to a bomb that could slaughter 200,000 people in one blast. Once it’s been dubbed “useable”, it becomes only too likely that some numbskull will go ahead and use it.
And just think how many schools, hospitals, museums and public loos you could fund for $11.8bn (£8.1bn). Yes, I know that comparison is a cliché, but it’s become a cliché for a very good reason.
And yes, I also know that enormous sum is less than a tenth of the estimated final total bill for replacing the Trident programme. A bill which is itself bigger than all the cuts and other austerity measures our government has yet implemented or thought of.