F-35A Becomes First Certified 5th-Gen Fighter To Carry Thermonuclear Gravity Bombs

The nuclear deterrence capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are set to be significantly enhanced as the US Air Force’s newest fifth-generation fighter jet, the F-35A Lightning II, has been operationally certified to be equipped with B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bombs for the first time. 

“The F-35A is the first 5th generation nuclear capable aircraft ever, and the first new platform (fighter or bomber) to achieve this status since the early 1990s. This F-35 Nuclear Certification effort culminates 10+ years of intense effort across the nuclear enterprise, which consists of 16 different government and industry stakeholders,” F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Russ Goemaere told military blog Breaking Defense

Goemaere said, “The F-35A achieved Nuclear Certification ahead of schedule, providing US and NATO with a critical capability that supports US extended deterrence commitments earlier than anticipated.​”

In 2021, an F-35 dropped a mock nuclear bomb at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range over the Nevada desert. 

In late 2022, Germany signed a contract with the US to purchase dozens of F-35s capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Under NATO’s nuclear sharing program, Germany has about 20 B61 bombs.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The “dual-capable” stealth fighter that can now carry both conventional and nuclear weapons is replacing fourth-generation fighters in almost all NATO states that participate in nuclear sharing. The F-35’s ability to carry modernized B61-12 nuclear bombs will beef up NATO’s regional deterrence capabilities and help deter further Russian aggression. 

“This move is part of the US expanding effort in and among the US and NATO allies to counter Putin’s coercive threats to use nuclear weapons as a means to break our collective strategic resolve against Russia. Putin knows that the F-35 is more than capable of stealthily penetrating his airspace and delivering sensitive payloads,” said David Asher, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute

It remains to be seen how Moscow will react to nuclear-capable F-35s flying near Russian borders and in the Baltic area. Russia also has a fifth-generation fighter jet, the Su-57 fighter, known by NATO as ‘Felon.’  


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