In Germany hidden deep below in underground vaults are American nuclear bombs that date back to the Cold War. The precise number of bombs stored in the underground vaults in the air base is unclear. Estimates range between 15 to 20, and their location is a state secret. The German government has never officially confirmed the existence of the nuclear bombs. The German government only admits to being part of what is officially termed a "nuclear sharing agreement."
In the case of a nuclear strike, the American soldiers who guard the bombs located on the German air base — with an order to shoot at any intruders — would attach the bomb to German fighter jets and activate the code. Then German crews would embark upon what insiders refer to as a "strike mission" — delivering the American bombs to their destination. This agreement — American bombs guarded by American soldiers on a German base but flown by crews and planes of Germany's military forces, the Bundeswehr — dates back to the Cold War and NATO's nuclear deterrence strategy aimed at keeping the Soviet Union at bay.
The nuclear sharing agreement provides for NATO member states of the military alliance without nuclear weapons to partake in planning and training for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO. While the precise number of American bombs stored in Europe is unknown, estimates put them at roughly 150. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy are all part of the sharing agreement. With the exception of those on Italian soil, all of the bombs are located within a few hundred kilometers of each other.
In March 2010, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, passed a cross-party resolution urging the government to "emphatically" work towards getting its American allies to withdraw all nuclear weapons from Germany. It followed then-US President Barack Obama's call to create a world without nuclear weapons. But, a decade on, that goal seems ever more elusive, following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and investment in nuclear-capable medium-range missiles. Now, rather than working towards the bombs' withdrawal, the US military is set to modernize and upgrade them.
Germany is set to receive modernized bombs. The nukes stored are of a type — the B-61-3 or B-61-4 — that was introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they coming to the end of their cycle. The modernization program, which will see the old bombs being dismantled and new ones delivered to American military sites in the US and across the world. The new bomb — the B-61-12 — will have "significantly enhanced capabilities," says Kristensen: It is equipped with a tail kit, which enables it to be delivered and hit its target much more accurately. Kristensen has modelled its accuracy at about 30 to 60 meters (98 to 196 feet). The current bombs are simply dropped from the plane, rather than like ones with tail kits, which guide themselves once released. Many experts worry that may make the bomb more attractive to deploy — as, rather than wiping out an entire region, it could be used to strike a precise target.