The F-35 Joint Program Office has released a bunch of images showing DCA (Dual Capable Aircraft) tests involving the release of inert nuclear bombs.
It is not a secret that the F-35A, the CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft, will be dual capable aircraft (DCA), meaning that it will have the ability to deliver nuclear ordnance as well as conventional weapons. Such dual capability is expected to be included in the Block 4 software release, with initial capability for the B61-12 weapon. Although the F-35A DCA is scheduled to achieve nuclear certification in January, 2023, testing at the 461st FLTS, the test squadron that oversees developmental testing of all variants of the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II at Edwards Air Force Base, California, has started in 2019.
Images just released by the F-35 Joint Program Office (the Department of Defense’s agency responsible for developing and acquiring the F-35A/B/C) show various drop tests of inert nuclear bombs between 2019 and 2020.
The photos distributed to the DVIDS distribution service provide additional details about the dates when the tests were carried out: the first separation test with AF-1 flown by Jason Shulze was conducted on Jun. 27, 2019; sixth separation test with AF-1 (pilot unspecified) was carried out on Nov. 7, 2019; first separation test from AF-6 flown by Major Chris ‘Beast’ Taylor was conducted on Nov. 25, 2019. Separation test #6 with AF-1 was carried out with F-35 AF-01 flown by Major Rachael “Banshee” Winiecki on Feb. 6, 2020. A more recent test with AF-6 was carried out on Apr. 2, 2020 (no additional detail can be gathered about this test).
As already explained in a previous article:
“the B61-12 represent the latest LEP (Life-Extention Program) upgrade to the B61 line of nuclear weapons that has already been extensively tested with the F-15E Strike Eagles of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, back in 2015.
The Life Extension Program or LEP, will replace the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10 mods, with the -12 that, along with the B83, will become the only remaining gravity delivered nukes in the inventory.
“The B61-12 gravity bomb ensures the current capability for the air-delivered leg of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad well into the future for both bombers and dual-capable aircraft supporting NATO,” said Paul Waugh, AFNWC’s Air-Delivered Capabilities director in a U.S. Air Force release dated Apr. 13 (more or less when the world learned about the first use of the famous MOAB in Afghanistan). The B61-12 will be compatible with the B-2A, B-21, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, F-35 and PA-200 aircraft.
The LEP increases the B61’s accuracy so much that it will have the same capability against hardened targets as the much more powerful weapons it is replacing.”
With the integration of the B61-12, the “iconic nuclear fighter role, performed in the past by the F-15E and F-16, is being passed to the F-35A to play a future role in national security.” Other partner nations are slated to transfer the NATO nuclear role to the F-35A in the future.