Recent photographs have been released by the F-35 Joint Program Office that shows practice tests that were carried out throughout 2019 and 2020. The photographs show an Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter dropping an unarmed B61-12 nuclear bomb.
It is worth noting that the B61-12 bomb itself is still under development and thus no possible armed bomb could exist. The B61-12 is the latest life-extension upgrade to the venerable B61 series of nuclear bombs designed back in 1963. The bomb is already compatible with other aircraft including the B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, Tornado PA-200, and the B-21 Raider that is currently under development.
The upcoming Block 4 software release for the F-35A will fully integrate the aircraft from conventional only to Dual Capable Aircraft ability (DCA). This means that not only will it be able to deliver conventional ordnance but also nuclear weaponry as well without changes to the airframe.
The F-35A DCA is on track to receive its nuclear certification in early 2023. The 461st Flight Test Squadron will handle the developmental testing of all variants of the F-35 at Edwards Airforce Base, included in the testing will be the DCA F-35A.
The photos released by the Joint Program Office depict various drop tests of unarmed nuclear B61-12 bombs. The photos span 2019 and 2020 with the first test taking place on 27 June 2019. The pilot and unit were unspecified in the released description.
The latest full separation test was conducted on 2 April 2020 and it can be presumed that testing has continued since then as the DCA certification date approaches.
In addition to the United States Air Force passing the role of ‘Nuclear Fighter’ from the F-15E and F-16 to the F-35A, it seems that other partner nations who have purchased the F-35A will be making the switch in the near future as well as the preferred NATO Nuclear Fighter.
All Photos Courtesy of the F-35 Joint Program Office