The Pentagon has pulled down images of F-35 drop tests with the B61-12 nuclear free-fall bomb soon after the images were published in many media outlets recently.
The page within the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) where the images were posted https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6248234/af-1-dca-safe-separation-6 is returning a "page not found" message.
In a dozen photos published by the F-35 Joint Program Office, the USAF stealth fighter can be seen testing its ability to deploy the latest iteration of the B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bomb. The weapon, with a maximum explosive yield of 50 kilotons, is small enough to fit inside the F-35’s internal bomb bay.
In the test an "inert bomb" was used, the text accompanying the images said. The tests, carried out at Edwards Air Force Base in California, were dated back to June 2019.
Speculation has grown that the release of the images coincided with the Trump Administration introducing a resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC) to extend the Iran arms embargo and an earlier International Atomic Energy Commission report critical of its nuclear activities.
The test has proven that the nuclear bomb can be carried in the weapons bay of the F-35 thereby giving it the ability to take the bomb to its target undetected- a huge tactical advantage that flies in the face of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
F-35A will be the only variant to be certified as a Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA), enabling it to carry both nuclear and conventional bombs. The certification is expected to be complete no sooner than January 2023.
The Joint Strike Fighter’s ability to deploy the B61-12 is dependent on upgrades in Block 4 software release, which has now been delayed by at least nine months. The upgrade will enable the jet to also carry other weapons such as Naval Strike Missile, Meteor and SPEAR missiles, besides laser-guided bombs.
The F-35 is already certified to use the GBU-53 StormBreaker small diameter bomb. It recently suffered a year’s delay owing to a faulty fin design. Weapons that can fit inside the F-35 jet’s bomb bay are scarce but valuable. This is because, if they are mounted on hardpoints on the aircraft’s exterior, they will inhibit its stealthiness.