The newest American fighter jet, Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II has successfully flight-tested with the B61-12 nuclear bomb at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range.
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The U.S. Air Force along with Sandia National Laboratories conducted the first-ever test with the B61-12 bomb featuring the F-35A fighter jet. A mock B61-12 was used to strike in the Nevada desert, from a height of about 10,500 feet, with “full-weapon systems demonstrations designed to increase confidence the bomb will always work when needed and never under any other circumstances,” said the press release.
“We’re showing the B61-12’s larger compatibility and broader versatility for the country’s nuclear deterrent, and we’re doing it in the world of COVID-19,” said Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 Systems Team. “We’re not slowing down. We’re still moving forward with the B61-12 compatibility activities on different platforms.”
The Sandia National Laboratories also released video footage was the test conducted showing a B61-12 bomb dropping from the internal bomb bay of the F-35A and hitting the designated target area about 42 seconds later.
“We successfully executed this historic, first-ever F-35A flight test at Tonopah Test Range within the specified delivery criteria,” said Brian Adkins, range manager at Tonopah Test Range.
The B61-12 is 12 feet and approximately 825lb is an air-launched nuclear weapon. It utilizes the inertial navigation system (INS) for the precision kill.
“This was the first test to exercise all systems, including mechanical, electrical, communication and release between the B61-12 and the F-35A,” he said.
In 2019, B61-12 was inertly flight testes on F-35A. The F-35 Joint Program Office released photos of the showing drop tests of inert bombs. Earlier, the F-15E Strike Eagle was the first fighter jet to be integrated with the B61-12 tactical bomb.
Sandia labs said that the mock B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb was dropped from 25000 feet from the F-15E fighter and took approximately 55 seconds before hitting and embedding in the lakebed, splashing a 40- to 50-foot puff of desert dust from the designated impact area at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
It said the B61-12 will be certified to be carried for the Air Force’s B-2 strategic bomber, the F-16C/D fighter along with the F-35 fighter.
The F-35s use advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, and advanced sustainment, which gives them superior abilities in comparison to other fighter jets.
Samuels stated that unlike previous fighter jets, the F-35A carries the bomb internally and the recent flight test was the first demonstration of a fully instrumented B61-12 release from an internal bomb bay on a fighter and the first such release at speeds of Mach 1 or greater.
The test also came amidst now commonplace COVID-19 workplace restrictions, which can make planning more difficult but are not slowing down Sandia’s important mission work, said B61-12 program senior manager Christine Mitchell. “Sandia National Labs, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA and our Air Force partners are working diligently to ensure F-35A major milestones stay on track, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.”
In September, the National Nuclear Security Administration, a federal agency responsible for issuing certification for nuclear application for military use, announced that the B61‑12 along with W88 Alt 370 are planned to go into production in 2022.