Since it was first produced in the late 1960s, the B61 has been the only remaining nuclear free-fall bomb in the US arsenal.
Now the bombs are being remanufactured to the B61-12 standard — offering an improved navigation system for increased accuracy and a feature that gives control over the explosive yield.
In a move to further increase precision nuclear attack options, the air force will start integrating B61 Mod 12 nuclear weapons into F-35s this year.
As it stands, the F-35 is able to carry 1587 kilograms of weapons while in stealth mode and 8164 kilograms while flying uncontested, although it’s not yet clear exactly how the nuclear weapon might integrate onto the platform.
While the F-35 isn’t scheduled to carry the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb until the early 2020s, an Air Force spokeswoman said the first steps were underway.
“Detailed risk reduction activities have been completed ensuring the F-35A is fully compatible with the B61-12 weapon. Planning for Block 4 nuclear certification efforts have begun in anticipation of initial B61-12 integration on the F-35A this year,” she told Warrior Maven.
Using six-month increments between April 2019 to October 2024, the Block 4 F-35 will undergo more than 50 technical adjustments to ensure it’s ready.
Unlike a bomber such as a B-2, F-35s offer speed, maneuverability, long-range sensors and lower-altitude flight.
These factors would ensure a nuclear-capable F-35 would pose new threats to a potential adversary.
The B61 Mod 12 has also been engineered with a special “Tail Subassembly” to give the weapon a higher level of GPS accuracy to aid with precision targeting.
In Trump’s administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released earlier this year, it was stated that a nuclear-armed F-35 would be fundamental to deterring Russia.
“We are committed to upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft. We will work with NATO to best ensure — and improve where needed — the readiness, survivability, and operational effectiveness of DCA based in Europe,” the Nuclear Posture Review states.
The spokeswoman added that while she could not offer explicit details, the air force was also working with industry weapons developers to create new weapons for the F-35.
“As we gain increasing experience with the aircraft and these new weapons mature, the program will follow the requirements for incorporating future weapons,” she said.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.