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U.S. Air Force tests new nuclear gravity bomb with F-35A: Declassified footage

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The United States Air Force has successfully run a round of flight tests to deploy the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb with the high-tech F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, The Jerusalem Post‘s military reporter Anna Ahronheim reported on Tuesday. The test was conducted in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories.

While the test occurred on August 25 at the Nevada Test and Training Range, the video of the test was just declassified on Monday. The video published by Sandia shows the stealth fighter dropping an inert version of the bomb from its internal bomb bay at about 10,500 feet, all while flying faster than the speed of sound. The device contained non-nuclear and mock nuclear components and hit the desert ground at the designated target area 42 seconds after release.

“We successfully executed this historic, first-ever F-35A flight test at Tonopah Test Range within the specified delivery criteria,” range manager Brian Adkins was quoted as saying in the JP report.

According to Ahronheim, the B61-12 is the latest variant of the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs, which have been operational with the U.S. military since 1968.

The intention of this new version of the bomb is to improve the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear capabilities, Ahronheim wrote, and allied nations and can be launched by platforms such as the B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, PA-200, F-35 and B-21.

The 12-foot-long bomb, which weighs approximately 824 pounds, can fit inside the internal weapons bay of the platforms. This means that the F-35 would not sacrifice its stealth capabilities by carrying it, per the report.

The report also details that this version of the bomb, which carries a low-yield nuclear warhead, has four different yield options: 0.3 kilotons, 1.5 kilotons, 10 kilotons, and 50 kilotons.

The August test was part of a series of demonstrations testing the B61-12 full-weapons system on other aircraft such as the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet in March and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber in July, Ahronheim noted. The test with the F-35 was the first demonstration of the bomb from an internal bomb bay on a fighter jet and the first time the bomb was released at speeds of Mach 1 or greater.

“This was the first test to exercise all systems, including mechanical, electrical, communication and release between the B61-12 and the F-35A,” said Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 Systems Team in a statement. “We’re showing the B61-12’s larger compatibility and broader versatility for the country’s nuclear deterrence.”

The latest test “is a critical piece” of both the F-35A and B61-12 programs, according to Samuels.

“Aboard the newest fighter, the B61-12 provides a strong piece of the overall nuclear deterrence strategy for our country and our allies,” he said.

The F-35 will be able to carry the bomb internally and at supersonic speeds while in full stealth mode, Ahronheim added. This is unlike the F-15, which would carry the B61-12 externally and without stealth capability, and the B-2, which flies below the speed of sound.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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