The F-35A fighter aircraft successfully completed its final fight test on Sept. 21 for the nuclear design certification process.
“Having a fifth-generation [dual-capable] fighter aircraft with this capability brings an entirely new strategic-level capability that strengthens our nation’s nuclear deterrence mission,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Jackson, division chief of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at Air Combat Controls headquarters, after the test.
During the full weapons system test, the F-35A Lightning II aircraft released two B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies from operationally realistic flight envelopes over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The test marks the completion of on-aircraft testing for the initial nuclear design certification process. Next steps will include nuclear operational certification, which ensures training and validation of maintenance and aircrews at potential future bases.
“No date has been released for full F-35A nuclear certification in support of real-world operations,” the Air Combat Command said in an Oct. 4 statement. Lt. Col. Douglas A. Kabel, Air Combat Command deputy director for strategic deterrence, told Air Force Magazine on Oct. 5 that even once certified, not every F-35 will become nuclear capable.
The F-35 is being developed primarily for conventional missions, but there will be some nuclear variants largely pursuant to U.S. extended deterrence commitments to NATO.—MARY ANN HURTADO