As said by officials, if the F-35A receives its full nuclear certification facilitating it to be used in real world battlefields, the Air Force will have a second stealth aircraft in its fleet capable of carrying nukes after the B-2 bomber.
The F-35A, derived from the F-35, is a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant intended for the USAF and is said to be the smallest, lightest version and capable of 9 g, the highest of all variants.
As per reports, only those units shall be equipped with the F-35As with hardware upgrades and the manpower to carry nukes tasked with a nuclear mission.
An official said that although the U.S. Air Force is currently operating the stealth B-2 Spirit bomber, the addition of a nuclear-capable stealth fighter gives the service a boost in capability.
According to the latest estimates, the B-21 Raider heavy bomber, which shall be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, is also expected to join the Air Force’s fleet in the mid-2020s. Although the U.S.Air Force operates the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16C and D Fighting Falcon fighters, they are not equipped with the stealth capability but can carry nuclear weapons.
Weapon system demonstration
The Air Force carried out a complete weapon system demonstration on 21st September with the F-35A, the final flight test exercise of the nuclear design certification process.
B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies (non-nuclear mockups) were released by two F-35A stealth fighters at the Tonopah Test Range. At the same time, the second phase, the nuclear operational certification, is expected to be completed later. The mockups in the Nevada test carried sensors and instruments for collecting and storing data measuring how well the jets performed.
With a presumed variable yield system, the roughly 800 pound weapon is said to be about 12 feet long. It is the newest variant in the B61 family of nuclear gravity bombs to increase the explosive yield up to 50 kilotons of TNT. The first production of the weapon is said to be received by the Air Force in 2022.
The B61 series weapons are tactical gravity nuclear weapons capable of being used by Dual Capable Aircraft like the F-15E and F-16C/D.
Back in 2016, it was mentioned by the Federation of American Scientists that its explosives are capable enough of being adjusted up to 50,000 tons of TNT, which is several times the size of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima during the second world war.
The departments of Defense and Energy now are analyzing the data collected in the test.