F-35A Fighter Jets Successfully 'Test Dropped' Inert B61 Nuclear Bombs

Moving the aircraft one step closer to nuclear weapons delivery certification.
Ameya Paleja
A file photo of F-35s.guvendemir/iStock

Two F-35A aircraft recently completed a Full Weapon System Demonstration of the U.S. military's B61 -12 nuclear bombs said a public release from the F-35 Joint Program Office.  The recent test concludes the guided releases of the B-61s on the F-35's. 

Designed in 1963, the B61 nuclear bomb has served the U.S. military for decades. Currently, under a life extension program, the U.S. military is consolidating four of its previous but active variants into the B61-12. The 12-foot-long (3.6 m) bomb is expected to weigh about 825 pounds (374.2 kg) is being designed to be delivered from the air either as a ballistic or in a guided-gravity drop mode, the press release said. 

On October 4th, pilots from the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron took off in the U.S. Air Force's F-35A aircraft from the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and conducted two separate drops of the mock B61-12's at the Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range, located 160 miles (257 km) away. The 'inert' bombs were released at different altitudes and airspeeds, marking the last tests of 10 guided releases from F-35. The aircraft cleared the planned flight envelope, the press release confirmed. 

Following the test drops, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE), who are partners in the program, will now analyze the data to verify if the test requirement were met by the B-61 during its operation on the F-35. The guided releases are considered as 'graduation' flights and if the performance criteria are met, the F-35 will be certified for use in nuclear operations. 

While the U.S. military has never set an official date for its induction, the F-35 is expected to play an important role in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO's) nuclear deterrence mission and will be deployed overseas for this purpose, the press release said. 

The B61-12 is also expected to be certified for flight on the F-15E, B-2, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, PA-200, and B-21. 

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