F-35A joins nuclear arsenal.

By Aaron Mehta

America’s most advanced fighter jet is on its way to becoming the newest addition to the nuclear arsenal.

The Air Force recently wrapped up the flight testing needed to ensure the B61-12 thermonuclear bomb design is compatible with the F-35A Lightning II, paving the way for the jet to begin carrying nuclear weapons. The airframe must still become certified to conduct nuclear operations as well.

Two F-35As launched realistic test versions of the B61-12 for the first time on an unspecified date earlier this year at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, the Air Force said Oct. 6. Past versions of the B61 have relied on gravity to drop onto their targets, but the newest design can also hit coordinates using digital guidance.


Delays to the B61-12 and W88 Alt 370 could cost taxpayers a lot of money, but the National Nuclear Security Administration has a plan.

The B61-12 is a refurbished, consolidated version of earlier gravity bombs that will offer four blast options measuring from 0.3 to 50 kilotons — more than double the estimated yield of “Fat Man,” the larger of two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped in Japan in 1945.

The U.S. plans to produce 480 B61-12s from fiscal 2022-2025 and phase out those with much higher yields. Experts estimate the U.S. now owns 680 B61s in total, including 230 for non-strategic platforms like fighters.

The F-35′s atomic ambitions are a piece of the country’s nuclear modernization plan — slated to cost $634 billion from 2021 to 2030 alone — that flies under the radar.


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