F35 becomes world's first stealth fighter to carry nuclear weapons

The American F35 Lightning II has been certified to carry B61-12 nuclear bombs, emerging as the world’s first stealth fighter jet to carry nuclear weapons.

Previously, the US air force deployed B61 bombs on F15E and F16 jets. Now, the bomb is being deployed on more survivable F35 stealth fighters. This was followed by the operational deployment of B2 Spirit bombers with B61-12 bombs in November 2023.

In the last few years, the US air force conducted multiple flight trials of the B61-12 bomb from the F35, and it has been certified to carry this weapon ahead of schedule.

The upgrade includes requisite wiring and data links to use advanced B61-12 nuclear bombs, and this certification doesn’t extend to US marine corps-operated F35B and carrier-borne F35C variants. However, the US air force stated that all F35As in service will be upgraded to carry nuclear weapons.

Unlike the F22 Raptor, which was specifically designed for air-to-air combat, the F35 is a multirole stealth fighter with ground strike capability. It has now become a dual-capable fighter, capable of performing both conventional and nuclear strike missions.

What is the B61-12 bomb?

The B61-12 is the latest version in the B61 thermonuclear gravity bomb family, developed as part of a life extension program aimed at modernising the US nuclear arsenal. It is replacing older versions such as the B61-4, B61-7, and B61-11.

Weighing just 320 kilograms, the B61-12 can be carried by various fighter jets in addition to strategic bombers.

Equipped with a warhead featuring variable blast yield ranging from 0.3 kilotons to 50 kilotons, depending on mission requirements, the B61-12 offers versatility in its destructive power. For comparison, the bomb used on Hiroshima, known as “Little Boy,” had a blast yield of 15 kilotons.

The B61 bombs, including the B61-12, can be used to destroy hardened underground nuclear and chemical storage bunkers in preemptive strikes.

According to reports, the B61-12 is equipped with a manoeuvrable tail kit and GPS-aided Inertial Navigation System (INS) guidance, allowing it to function as a glide bomb with an estimated range of 15 miles (24 km).

This standoff range enables the launch platform to drop the bomb from a safe distance, avoiding both enemy air defence systems and the risk of its own nuclear bomb explosion.

Nuclear bomb on stealth fighter

The F35 is designed with cutting-edge stealth technologies to evade air defence systems and can carry 2 B61-12 bombs in its internal bay. Given that in preemptive strikes, air defence threats are complex and dynamic, integrating nuclear bombs on the F35 allows stealth attack capability in nuclear strikes, making it a more credible nuclear deterrent.

Furthermore, the F35’s advanced electro-optical targeting system allows it to precisely guide the B61-12 Bomb onto the intended target, maximising the probability of destroying hardened underground targets with a single strike.

European F35’s to carry B61-12?

Besides the P3 countries—US, UK, and France—that possess their own nuclear weapons within NATO, the US nuclear sharing program extends to five more European countries, allowing them to host B61 nuclear bombs on their territories.

These countries are Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, and Italy. Except Turkey, the remaining four countries are current or future operators of the American F35.

Germany and Italy have equipped their Tornado jets with B61-12 bombs and are poised to replace these jets with F35s. While 100 B61 bombs currently deployed in Europe are older versions, the F35 is only certified to carry the latest B61-12. There is a possibility of replacing them with the latest version and equipping those bombs on F35s sold to these countries.


Deployment of nuclear weapons on F35 stealth fighters is a significant achievement for the United States, enhancing the US nuclear deterrent. It is likely that this capability will also be deployed on European F35 jets.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Avatar photo
About Vinay Sadham


The writer is a defence enthusiast and content creator with over 8 years of experience. He runs a YouTube channel called Telugu Defence News. He can be contacted at [email protected]