The First Images Of The Inert Nuclear Bombs Dropped By The F-35A During Testing
There is no surprise that the F-35A, the CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) model of the Lightning II aircraft, will be a dual-capable aircraft (DCA), which means that it will be capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional weapons. This dual capability is expected to be included in the release of Block 4 software, with an initial ability for the B61-12 weapon.
While the F-35A DCA is expected to receive nuclear certification in January 2023, training at the 461st FLTS, a test team oversees the operational development of all 5th generation F-35 Lightning II models at Edwards Air Force Base, California, began in 2019.
Images just published by the F-35 Joint Program Office (Department of Defense Agency responsible for designing and acquiring F-35A / B / C) indicate various drop tests of inactive nuclear bombs between 2019 and 2020.
The images sent to the DVIDS delivery service provide additional information on the dates on which the experiments were carried out: The first AF-1 separation test flown by Jason Shulze was performed on June 27, 2019; the sixth AF-1 separation test (unspecified pilot) was performed on November 7, 2019; the first AF-6 separation test flown by Major Chris ‘Beast’ Taylor was completed on November 25, 2019.
Separation test # 6 with AF-1 was performed out with F-35 AF-01 flown by Maj. Rachael “Banshee” Winiecki on February 6, 2020. A more recent AF-6 study was carried out on April 2, 2020. (There can be no further details on this test.)
As discussed in the previous article:
“The B61-12 represents the current LEP (Life-Extension Program) update to the B61 nuclear weapons array. This has already been extensively evaluated with the F-15E Strike Eagles of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, back in 2015.”
“The Life Extension Program or LEP will substitute the B61-3,-4,-7 and-10 mods, with the-12 which, along with the B83, will become the only surviving gravity delivered in the inventory.”
“The B61-12 Gravity Bomb guarantees that the US strategic nuclear triad’s present airborne leg capability is fit into the future for both bombers and dual-powered NATO-supported aircraft,’ said Paul Waugh. He is the AFNWC’s Air-Delivery Capabilities Manager at the US Air Force Release dated April 13 (more or less when the world heard of the first use of the famous MOAB in Afghanistan). Hence the B61-12 is aligned with the B-2A, B-21, F-15E, F-16C / D, F-16 MLU, F-35 and PA-200 aircraft.
“The LEP improves the accuracy of the B61 to such a degree that it would have the same capability against hard targets as the far more efficient guns it replaces.”
F-35A drops ordnance during a dual-capable aircraft (DCA) test flight over Edwards Air Force Base, California, November 7, 2019.
With the addition of the B61-12, the “iconic role of nuclear fighters, played in the past by the F-15E and the F-16, is being handed over to the F-35A to play a future role in national security.” Other partner nations are set to transfer the role of NATO nuclear weapons to the F-35A in the future.
See the first images of the inert nuclear bombs dropped by the F-35A during testing below.
Photo credits: F-35 Joint Program Office