WASHINGTON, (BM) – In the United States, the first photographs of F-35A fighters dropping inert nuclear bombs B61-12 in the vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base, California
The aircraft capable of using both nuclear and conventional ammunition are expected to be certified in 2023. Having gained such a double ability, the F-35 will be able to use the B61-12 special ammunition.
The F-35 Joint Program Office has released a series of photographs demonstrating tests of aircraft designed for combat use of both nuclear and conventional ammunition (DCA, Dual Capable Aircraft). In the pictures, F-35 fighters drop inert nuclear bombs of the B61-12 type (that is, during the tests, an active nuclear explosion does not occur. This is reported by The Aviationist.
It’s no secret that the F-35A Lightning II in the CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) version, that is, with standard take-off and landing, will be capable of delivering both nuclear munitions and conventional weapons to targets.
It is expected that such a dual ability for the F-35 will be provided by the appropriate software in the modification of the Block 4. It will provide the possibility of the combat use of special B61-12 ammunition.
F-35A fighters in the DCA version according to the plan must pass nuclear certification no earlier than January 2023. However, tests with B61-12 as part of the 461st test squadron (461st FLTS, Flight Test Squadron), which tests all variants of the 5th generation F-35 Lightning II fighters at Edwards Air Force Base, began for aircraft of this type in 2019 .
Photographs published by the F-35 Joint Program Office (the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development and procurement of F-35A / B / C) show the various stages of testing the inert free-fall B61-12 nuclear bombs from 2019-2020.
In addition, the pictures contain additional information about the dates of the tests. The first discharge of the B61-12 from the F-35 AF-1 aircraft (pilot Jason Schulze) was carried out on June 27, 2019. The sixth test from the same aircraft (pilot not specified) was carried out on November 7, 2019. The first test for separating the B61-12 from the AF-6 aircraft (the second F-35 serial fighter to enter the U.S. Air Force), controlled by Major Chris (the Beast) Taylor, was conducted on November 25, 2019.
Another test with the B61-12 was conducted on the F-35 AF-01, which was controlled by Major Rachel (Banshee) Wiencki on February 6, 2020. A later test with the AF-6 was carried out on April 2, 2020 (no additional details about it can be collected so far, notes The Aviationist).
The B61-12 are the latest upgrades to the B61 Nuclear Ammunition Line Life Cycle Extension Program. It has already been thoroughly tested on F-15E Strike Eagles from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron in 2015.
The Life Extension Program (LEP) will replace the modifications B61-3, -4, -7 and -10 with “12”, which, along with the special ammunition B83, will be the only nuclear bombs in service.
“The B61-12 free-fall nuclear bomb provides the possibility of the combat use of this type of ammunition by both strategic aviation nuclear forces (strategic bombers) and tactical aircraft capable of delivering both nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. This can provide significant support during the hostilities of NATO forces,” said Paul Waugh, director of delivery vehicles at the US Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC) two years ago.
At that time in Afghanistan, the particularly powerful non-nuclear bomb GBU-43 / B MOAB was dropped on extremist positions in Afghanistan. Massive Ordnance Air Blast can be translated as “heavy ammunition of an air explosion.” In turn, the very common backronym (MOAB) sounds like Mother Of All Bombs – “mother of all bombs.” It seems that after the B61-12 tests, the Americans will not feel the need for ammunition such as MOAB.
The following types of aircraft will be equipped with the B61-12 nuclear bomb: B-2A, B-21, F-15E, F-16C / D, F-16MLU, F-35 and PA-200 (Panavia Tornado).
The LEP program so increases the accuracy of B61-12 getting into the target, that it will have the same ability to destroy specially protected targets as the much more powerful weapon that it replaces, notes The Aviationist.
With the integration of the B61-12 into the US Air Force weapons system, the “cult role of a nuclear fighter”, performed in the past by the F-15E and F-16, is transferred to the F-35A. Now it is he who will play this role in ensuring US national security.
Other Washington partner countries plan to transfer the F-35A nuclear role to the arsenal of several NATO countries in the foreseeable future.
As previously reported by Gazeta.Ru, tests of the modernized B61-12 nuclear bomb without an ammunition began back in 2015 at the Nevada training ground. In open sources, it was noted that the peculiarity of the new aerial bomb is in the tail unit: it makes the bomb manageable and more accurate. Thus, there is no need to accurately fly over the target and drop a bomb with a parachute. You can simply drop it from an airplane flying at high altitude, after which the ammunition autonomously plans many kilometers towards the target, if necessary, taxiing.
“The B61 bomb itself is a 1960s nuclear weapon. Despite its considerable age, the bomb today is the main weapon of the US strategic nuclear forces” explained Deputy Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Konstantin Makienko.
Over the past few decades, the ammunition has been upgraded 12 times – just the last modification of this bomb was named B61-12, the expert recalled.
According to him, the fundamental differences between the B61-12 type nuclear bomb and all previous modifications are that if the B61 bombs used to be free-fall aviation munitions, the next modernization of this munition turned it into a highly accurate guided weapon.
“Now the B61-12 bomb consists of two parts – the actual nuclear munition and a set of equipment based on GPS technology that converts a free-falling bomb into an all-weather corrected munition (Joint Direct Attack Munition, JDAM),” Makienko said.
JDAM, a specialist recalls, is a combination of a tail unit with controlled plumage, allowing the bomb to carry out the necessary maneuvers in the guidance process, and a computer with navigation equipment.
Bombs equipped with the JDAM kit are sent to the target with an integrated inertial guidance system paired with an improved GPS receiver, providing them with a range of up to 30 km from the drop point. The value of the quadratic probable deviation in this case is within 10 m.
“That is, by and large, this kit will transform a conventional B61 nuclear bomb into a high-precision munition,” Konstantin Makienko believes.
According to the U.S. military, the new B61-12 guided aerial bomb fully corresponds to their ideas about low-power nuclear munitions, which some analysts believe are unlikely to exceed 5 kilotons of TNT.
However, in combination with high guidance accuracy, this will make the B61-12 bomb a very formidable weapon. First of all, experts suggest, such ammunition will be used against buried and underground points of the highest military and state administration of potential US opponents.