The F-35A, the Air Force's version of the Joint Strike Fighter, could be certified to carry America's newest tactical nuclear weapon sooner earlier than planned if America's security situation deteriorated. The F-35 is scheduled to be certified to carry the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb in the early 2020s, but those plans could be accelerated, reports Defensetech.
The B61 is the only remaining nuclear free-fall bomb in the U.S. arsenal. First produced in the late 1960s, the bombs are being remanufactured to the B61-12 standard, which increases lobbing range, includes an inertial navigation system to increase accuracy, and most importantly has a "dial-a-yield" feature that allows the explosive yield of the bomb to vary from just 300 tons of TNT all the way up to 50 kilotons. The upgrade is so substantial that one expert at the Federation of American Scientists considers it practically an entirely new weapon system.
The F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon are the only tactical aircraft certified to carry the B61-12 right now. On the F-35A, the bomb would fit inside the internal weapons bay, preserving the aircraft's stealthy capabilities. The F-35A is scheduled to undergo testing and certification for this weapon between 2020 and 2022. According to Defensetech arming the F-35 with the new bomb will require some extra pilot training, but nothing "out of the ordinary from their usual regimen." There are no plans to certify the F-35B version used by the Marine Corps and -C version used by the U.S. Navy.
The F-35 would carry the B61-12 on deep strike and interdiction missions, potentially dropping them on hardened underground command posts, masses of enemy tank and mechanized forces, and artillery, supply, and other force concentrations. The B61-12 would be the weapon of last resort, which means things would really, really have to get bad before the United States would use them.
Critics charge that clearing the F-35A for the tactical nuclear role is unnecessary and expensive-according to the Federation of American Scientists, the certification process will cost about $340 million. Instead, the B-2 strategic bomber could carry out nuclear strike missions. Stealthy and with a long range, the B-2 would seem the obvious choice.
Supporters counter that in a crisis, if tactical nuclear missions are being considered, then the B-2 is bomber would likely be placed on nuclear alert, preventing it from taking on battlefield missions. And it's up for debate whether older, non-stealthy F-15E and F-16 aircraft could penetrate modern enemy air defenses and get close enough to drop their bombs. When a nuclear bomb has to get through, it really, really has to get through.
Read more at Defensetech
You Might Also Like