NATO Nuclear War Exercise
Fourteen NATO countries, including Germany, kick off nuclear war exercise today. Deployment of low-yield nuclear arms on the battlefield is not ruled out, even in the West.
WASHINGTON/BÜCHEL (Own report) – Fourteen NATO countries, including Germany, are launching an almost two-week nuclear war exercise today – in the shadows of the Ukraine war. The „Steadfast Noon“ exercise will practice so-called nuclear-sharing. Fighter jets from those European countries, with stocks of US nuclear bombs, will transport these bombs to their place of operation. Up to 60 warplanes are participating in the exercise, including fighter jets, reconnaissance and refueling aircraft. The B61 nuclear bombs, currently stored at various air bases around Europe – including Büchel in the Eifel – are due to be modernized and replaced by B61-12 bombs. These are allegedly more precision guided and may be deployed with variable explosive power. Military officials and strategist are thus speculating on their tactical use on regional battlefields. The most recent US nuclear strategy accessible to the public has declared that, in principle, such deployments are permitted. According to reports, NATO is also not ruling out such use. Most recently, Ukraine’s president called on NATO to carry out “pre-emptive strikes” against Russia.
The NATO Steadfast Noon exercise traditionally takes place every October to practice so-called nuclear-sharing, wherein fighter jets, from several NATO countries, which do not possess their own nuclear weapons, transport US nuclear bombs to the designated place of operation. The exercise, as is regularly reported, involves all activities necessary for carrying out a nuclear attack. The bombs are brought up from their underground depots, attached to the fighter jets, primed and finally delivered. NATO, however, always emphasizes that these flights are nor practiced with actual nuclear bombs. Steadfast Noon involves not only fighter jets, which would transport and drop nuclear bombs in the course of a mission, but also reconnaissance aircraft, which monitor in detail all movements of enemy forces. The exercise also involves non-nuclear armed fighter jets performing protective tasks as well as refueling aircraft, providing fuel to all other aircraft. According to NATO, up to 60 aircraft participate in Steadfast Noon, including fighter jets of the fourth and fifth generation and US long-range B-52 bombers.
Nuclear Bomb Sites
According to NATO, this year’s official host for Steadfast Noon is Belgium, where around 20 US nuclear bombs are stockpiled at the Kleine Brogel military airbase, according to concurring reports. Exercises will also be taking place over the North Sea and the United Kingdom. The Bundeswehr is participating, because also at Büchel Airbase (in the Eifel) around 20 nuclear bombs are kept on hand in bunkers. Due to the fact that this airbase is undergoing maintenance, (costing a triple-digit million euros) the Nörvenich airbase, southwest of Cologne, is currently serving as an alternative site. Within the framework of nuclear-sharing, other nuclear bombs are stored in Volkel (The Netherlands), ‘Ghedi and Aviano (both in Italy), as well as in Incirlik (Turkey). For some time, the Incirlik base, however, has been wrapped in controversy, because of the delicate special role Turkey plays in NATO. In spite of this, Berlin is sticking to nuclear-sharing and the stockpiling of US nuclear bombs at Büchel. This is best evidenced by the fact that the Bundeswehr intends to purchase 35 F-35 Stealth Jets, to replace its older Tornados, which are currently the vectors for the US nuclear bombs. The F-35s are said to cost €100 million per plane.
Lowering Inhibition Thresholds
The planned modernization of the US nuclear bombs stored in Europe has repeatedly sparked debates. The currently stockpiled B61 bombs are scheduled to be replaced by the B61-12. Allegedly, these are not only more precision-guided, but their explosive strength can also be variated. This means that they can be deployed with a relatively lower blast strength – for example, to destroy a deep-seated bunker, but also to carry out targeted attacks on the battlefield. According to experts, the argument that the B61-12 can be used with a lower blast strength, producing less fallout, threatens to lower the military’s – but especially the politician’s – inhibitions and thereby increase the probability of nuclear weapons use. In this context, the fact that neither the Bundeswehr’s Tornados nor their Eurofighters are assumed compatible for transporting the B61-12s is not without interest. The F-35s, on the other hand, are best suited for the job. Tests to this effect were carried out by the US Air Force last fall. This means that there are no remaining obstacles impeding stockpiling B61-12s – rather than the current B-61 nuclear bombs – in Büchel, if the Bundeswehr should acquire the US-made F-35 fighter planes.
On Regional Battlefields
Waging war with recourse to using relatively low-yield nuclear weapons is explicitly included among the options in the most recently published US nuclear strategy (“Nuclear Posture Review”). In the Trump administrations February 2, 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, it was stipulated that nuclear weapons, if necessary, are to be used on regional battlefields. In the meantime, the Biden administration has produced an updated version of the strategy paper, but is still keeping it secret. For a while, some had hoped that President Biden would be willing to limit the range of the deployments, in any case, this is what had been hinted during his presidential election campaign. In a brief summary, which is publicly accessible, this is no longer mentioned. Experts suppose that Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review will essentially not differ too much from Trump’s, which means the option of limited nuclear war is still actual. So far, only China and India have imposed significant self-restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons, as well as declared no first use of nuclear weapons and not to use nuclear weapons on nations that do not possess them.
“Up to the Nuclear First Strike”
Whereas NATO officially distances itself from recent Russian announcements that the use of nuclear weapons in worst case scenarios cannot be absolutely ruled out, an internal document of the western war alliance, reported on two years ago, raises questions. According to the document, NATO’s heads of governments and states took note of a “secret document” in July 2018, wherein “for the first time” it was expressed that “conventional defense and nuclear deterrence” can no longer be viewed separately, “as they habitually had been within NATO.” “The two must be seen together.” It was further reported that NATO’s defense ministers had approved another “Top Secret” paper prepared by NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, US Gen. Tod D. Walters. This paper is said to contend that the western alliance must defend itself against threats throughout its entire operational realm, using all “defensive and offensive capabilities from missile defense to nuclear first strikes.”
It is possible that with this in mind, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently called on NATO not to “rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Russia.” To do it with “pre-emptive strikes” is “Important,” in this context. Zelenskyy, of course, officially back pedaled publicly saying that he had not been referring to nuclear attacks.
 Lukas von Hoyer: Steadfast Noon 2022: Alles Wichtige zum Atomwaffen-Manöver der Nato. augsburger-allgemeine.de 13.10.2022.
 NATO’s annual nuclear exercise gets underway. nato.int 14.10.2022.
,  See also German Bundeswehr's Nuclear Combat Exercise.
 The US Nuclear Posture Review in limbo. iiss.org, June 2022.
,  Thomas Gutschker: Die Nato kann früher mit Atomschlägen drohen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.06.2020. See also German Bundeswehr's Nuclear Combat Exercise.
 Selenskyj spricht von Nato-Präventivschlägen – Kreml warnt vor „Drittem Weltkrieg“. rnd.de 07.10.2022.