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USAF F-35As complete design certification for B61-12 nuclear weapons

An F-35A Lighting II carrying a B61-12 Joint Test Assembly sits on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on 21 September. Two F-35A Lightning II aircraft released B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies during the first Full-Weapon System Demonstration, completing the final flight test exercise of the nuclear design certification process. (US Air Force)

The US Air Force (USAF) has completed the nuclear design certification process for use of the B61-12 air-launched tactical gravity nuclear bomb with the F-35A Lightning II conventional take-off and landing stealth multirole combat aircraft.

During the first Full-Weapon System Demonstration of a Lightning II platform configured for a nuclear strike role, two F-35As from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron – part of the USAF Air Combat Command's (ACC's) 53rd Test and Evaluation Group operating out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada – conducted two separate drops of high-fidelity, non-nuclear B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies at Sandia National Laboratories' Tonopah Test Range on 21 September.

β€œThe [aircraft] released the inert weapons at varying altitudes and airspeeds, clearing the desired flight envelope in which the F-35A plans to operate,” the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said on 4 October. The last of 10 guided releases of B61-12 test assets on the F-35A, the event in September marked the first release of the most representative B61-12 test asset from an operationally representative F-35A, and moves the platform β€œone step closer to becoming the next air force aircraft, and first fifth-generation platform, to achieve compatibility with the refurbished B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb,” the JPO said.

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