Why the Pentagon Is Equipping the F-35 With a Thermonuclear Bomb

The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is nearly ready to take on a new mission, that of a nuclear-capable bomber.

The Air Force has completed the flight testing to ensure the F-35A can safely—and reliably—drop the B61-12 thermonuclear bomb. The combination of crewed aircraft and nuclear bomb will ensure the U.S. government would have options in the event of a crisis, including one where a nuclear bomb could be literally recalled at the last second.

Nuclear weapons are divided into two categories: strategic and tactical. The two main differences between the two types are explosive yield and range. Tactical nuclear weapons typically range from about .3 kilotons.

Strategic nuclear weapons are in an entirely different class altogether. The yield of strategic nukes can range from 100 kilotons to well into the megaton range, with the U.S. military’s largest weapon having a yield of 1.3 megatons (the equivalent of 1,200,000 tons of TNT). Tactical nuclear weapons are generally shorter range weapons with ranges of 500 miles or less, while strategic nuclear weapons are designed to cross entire oceans to strike targets on the other side of the planet.