Tests by resetting B61-12 at supersonic speed were carried out as early as August 25, 2020, but the Sandia National Laboratories have only now reported that they were conducted.
The Sandia National Laboratories and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, together with the U.S. Air Force, completed tests on the F-35A Lightning II fighter by dropping the unarmed thermonuclear bomb B61-12. During these tests, in particular, it was dropped without a warhead at supersonic flight speed.
The F-35A tests were conducted in preparation for certification of the combat aircraft as a dual-purpose fighter. This will enable the aircraft to carry both tactical and strategic weapons.
The F-35 fighter family development program initially provided for the capability of combat aircraft to carry nuclear weapons. According to the current plans, F-35A certification as a dual-purpose aircraft is scheduled for January 2023. The combat aircraft will be able to carry and use B61-12 thermonuclear bombs on board together with the software upgrade from the current Block 3A version to Block 4 version.
Tests by dropping the B61-12 at supersonic speed were conducted back on August 25, 2020, but the Sandia National Laboratories have only now announced that they will be tested. The ammunition was discharged from a height of 3.2 thousand meters. All avionics bomb onboard systems were involved. The thermonuclear warhead on the bomb was replaced by a mass dimensional layout.
The first tests of the F-35A fighter by dropping the mock-up of a thermonuclear bomb took place back in 2019. During the tests, the F-35A performed flights with the B61-12 bomb mock-up in the inner compartment of the weapon. For the tests were used not fighter planes, but prototypes of the F-35A, previously conducted flight tests under the development program of this type of aircraft.
The development of the B61-12 aircraft bomb, a new generation ammunition in the B61 family, has been underway since 2012. The new bombs will replace all types of B61, as well as B83 bombs, which have been in the U.S. service since 1983. In fact, the new B61-12 will not be released – this version will be converted with partial replacement of parts with new B61 bombs. The B61-12 is equipped with a guidance system and a variable-capacity warhead. The maximum power of the B61-12 is 50 kilotons.
The production of the upgraded ammunition is planned to be launched at the Pantex plant in Texas. Preparations for the production of bombs have been underway since October 2018. Initially, serial production of ammunition was planned to begin in September 2019, but then this period was postponed until March 2021. The reason for postponing the start of mass production of B61-12 was the lack of spare parts.