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The Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been certified for the use of the B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bomb, news portal Breaking Defense reported on 8 March 2024, citing a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), Russ Goemaere.

The nuclear certification of the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) JSF variant was achieved on 12 October 2023, months ahead of an undertaking made to NATO allies that the certification would be in place by 2024.

This will make the F-35A a “dual-capable” fighter that can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, Breaking Defense quoted Goemaere as saying.

In December 2022 the then German defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, officially sealed the procurement of the F-35A for the Bundeswehr by signing the letter of acceptance for the aircraft, the Bundeswehr wrote on its website at the time. The certification of the aircraft as a nuclear weapon carrier was an important selection criterion in order to secure the Bundeswehr’s continued NATO ‘nuclear sharing’ mission. The F-35A is to take over the nuclear role, previously assigned to the Luftwaffe’s Tornado strike aircraft, without interruption until it is decommissioned. After around 50 years in Luftwaffe service, the Tornado will reach the end of its service life in 2030.

The B61-12 is the 12th version of a nuclear gravity bomb that was introduced in 1968. According to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), it can be used as a ballistic or guided weapon. The 375 kg bomb has been given more precise GPS/inertial navigation with a life extension program. Production was scheduled for 2020 to 2025. The first B61-12 from series production was handed over on 20 December 2021. Version 12 will replace versions 3, 4, 7 and 10. According to unconfirmed information, the adjustable explosive force will be between 0.3 and 50 kilotons.

According to information from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Germany, the nuclear warheads stored in Europe are to be replaced by the B61-12 from the beginning of 2023.

A US Air Force F-35A performing a drop test with an inert B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb. (Photo: F-35 JPO)