The US Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter moved a step closer to being able to carry nuclear weapons and conduct nuclear strike operations with a recent milestone test, the service reported this week.
Two fifth-generation F-35A stealth fighter jets released B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies, non-nuclear mock-ups of a nuclear bomb, at the Tonopah Test Range, which is part of the much larger Nevada Test and Training Range that has been used in the past for nuclear weapons testing.
The full weapon system demonstration carried out by the Air Force on Sept. 21 with the F-35A was the final flight test exercise of the nuclear design certification process, one of two phases in the nuclear certification process.
The second phase is the nuclear operational certification, which will be completed at a later date.
The B61-12 is the newest variant in the B61 family of nuclear gravity bombs, a roughly 800-pound weapon with a presumed variable yield system that can increase the explosive yield up to about 50 kilotons of TNT. The Air Force expects to receive the first production in 2022.