F-35 Cleared To Carry Nuclear Weapons

The US warplane is the world’s first stealth fighter certified to deploy the bomb

The Pentagon has given the green light to equip the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with thermonuclear weapons, a military spokesman told Breaking Defense. The latest addition to the US fighter fleet, the F-35 has faced a long line of technical issues and cost overruns.

In comments to the outlet on Friday, F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Russ Goemaere confirmed that the plane was certified to carry the B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bomb last October, making it the first dual-capable stealth jet in service.

“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,” the spokesman said.

The decision currently applies only to the Air Force’s F-35A variant, with the Marine Corps and Navy models still restricted to conventional munitions.

The main hydrogen bomb in the US arsenal, the original B61 gravity bomb was designed at the height of Cold War nuclear brinkmanship and has been assigned to a variety of other bombers. While around 100 older models of the bomb were still deployed at US bases in several NATO states as of last year, the F-35 is only authorized to carry the latest B61-12 variant, which was set to arrive in Europe in late 2022.

The largest B61 variant carries a warhead with a maximum yield of 340 kilotons, capable of annihilating a city the size of Washington, DC and leveling much of its surrounding suburbs.

Though it was designed to replace older US fighters and serve as a multi-role aircraft, the F-35 has been plagued by a series of design flaws since its introduction into the air fleet. Despite years of upgrades, a Pentagon review published in January found that the “operational suitability” of the plane still remained “below service expectations and requirements,” also reporting “critical failures” in several F-35 components.

A recent Government Accountability Office report also criticized significant cost overruns and production delays for the warplane, noting that the price for F-35 upgrades had exceeded initial estimates by billions. Dubbing the jet the Pentagon’s “most expensive weapon system program,” the office said total costs to buy, operate and sustain the F-35 would ultimately exceed $1.7 trillion.

Will Porter is assistant news editor at the Libertarian Institute. Find more of his work at Consortium News and ZeroHedge.