The Air Force dropped two mock nuclear weapons at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada earlier this month in a test of a key element of the nation's nuclear triad.

The tests, which Global Strike Command conducted with the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, had two B-2A Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomber Wing of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri drop joint test assemblies of the B61-7 and B61-11 nuclear bombs, NNSA said in a Thursday release. 

"The B61 is a critical element of the U.S. nuclear triad and the extended deterrent," said Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA's principal assistant deputy administrator for military application, in the release. "The recent surveillance flight tests demonstrate NNSA's commitment to ensure all weapon systems are safe, secure and effective."

The joint test assemblies, or JTAs, are mock-ups of nuclear weapons that have no nuclear materials and cannot detonate in a nuclear explosion, NNSA said. They have sensors and instruments to collect data on how well they performed, and a flight recorder to store that data.

NNSA sought to get data on how reliable and accurate the bombs perform in real-world situations, which scientists will then use in computer simulations from the Sandia National Laboratories to make sure they're reliable and working as designed.

The B61-11 is an unguided earth-penetrating weapon designed to destroy underground targets, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The tests come amid rising tensions between Russia and NATO, including increased nuclear saber-rattling from Russia that has alarmed many in the West.

Last year, Russia warned Denmark that if it joined Nato's ballistic missile defence shield, its warships could become the target of nuclear strikes.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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