A Matter of Perception

Equipping the Air Force’s F-35A with nuclear weapons would not lower the threshold of their use, Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said Thursday. “Using nuclear weapons is a decision made by the President of the United States, nobody else,” Weinstein said during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va. “I don’t see a potential use of an F-35 [as being] any different than having a dual-capable aircraft now with the F-15E … or the F-16, so I look at it as continued modernization of our force,” he noted. When asked whether the F-35’s stealth capability changes the equation, Weinstein said the aircraft doesn’t change who authorizes the use of nuclear weapons. He suggested the perception of a dual-capable F-35 will act as a stronger deterrent. Weinstein also said he traveled to Europe a few months ago and that NATO’s commitment to maintaining dual-capable aircraft “is as strong as it’s ever been.” In April, F-35 program director Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told lawmakers the service anticipates beginning B61 Mod 12 integration on the F-35A in 2018. The first production of B61 Mod 12, which pairs an upgraded warhead with a precision-guided tailkit, is expected by 2020.