The Nuclear F-35

The F-35 is intended to take over the tactical nuclear weapon delivery role now filled by the F-15E and F-16, but creating this capability is still only in the concept stage, according to the Air Force. The F-35 cannot carry the current B61 nuclear shape in its weapon bay, and moreover can’t use the weapon because of the lack of a digital interface with the analog weapon. In response to a query from the Daily Report, an Air Force spokeswoman said the nuclear capability will be incorporated in the F-35 “as part of the program’s future development,” although she did not state a timetable for the project. She said the effort to make the B61 compatible with new aircraft “is in concept development. Part of the study is looking at aircraft interfaces. The F-35 is an all-digital aircraft.” The project to make the B61 compatible with new aircraft will be a “shared responsibility” of the Air Force and the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Any interface developed will not add any new military capability, could enhance weapon security, and must be compatible with legacy aircraft nuclear interfaces,” the spokeswoman said. The project is called the B61 Life Extension Program. In an early April exit memo about the F-35, Sue Payton, then USAF’s top civilian service acquisition official, noted that the F-35’s requirement document calls for it to be a “dual-capable” aircraft, but that this requirement “has yet to be funded.” She recommended that a plan for integrating the nuclear mission in the F-35 be developed by early June.