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23. November 2020
from Sandia National Laboratories
A sham strike of the B61-12 in the dusty Nevada desert successfully completed the first of a series of flight tests with the U.. S.. . The Air Force’s newest fighter jet demonstrates the first bomb release from an internal bomb bay at a higher speed of sound.
The flight test of the B61-12 with the F-35A Lightning II this summer was the first in the Tonopah Test Range of Sandia National Laboratories with the fighter jet. It was also the first in a series of tests that ended with demonstrations of full weapon systems to instill confidence that the bomb would always work when needed and under no other circumstances.
« We are demonstrating the greater compatibility and versatility of the B61-12 for the country’s nuclear deterrent, and we are doing so in the world of COVID-19, » said Steven Samuels, manager at Sandia’s B61-12 systems team. « We’re not slowing down. We are still working on the B61-12 compatibility activities on different platforms. «
Working with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Air Force, Sandia completed a demonstration of the B61-12 full weapon system with the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter in March and another with the B-2 in July Air Force Spirit Bomber.
Sandia is the design and engineering laboratory for non-nuclear components of the National Nuclear Stock, including the B61-12. In addition to developing non-nuclear components, Sandia acts as the technical integrator for the entire weapon and ensures that the system meets the requirements as a full weapon system.
During the Aug. . 25 flight test, an F-35A flying faster than the speed of sound, dropped a B61-12 – which contained non-nuclear and sham-core components – from a distance of about 10. Fall 500 feet above the Tonopah test range. The sluggish B61-12 hit the desert floor in the designated target area about 42 seconds later.
« We successfully completed this historic, first-ever F-35A flight test at Tonopah Test Range within the stated delivery criteria, » said Brian Adkins, Range Manager at TTR.
« As with all other weapon assessments, the success of this test is only possible through detailed planning combined with full collaboration between TTR and the program engineers and the execution of test development by field operators and recovery specialists in the combined team of Sandia and TTR’s subcontractors for Operations and Maintenance, Navarro Research and Engineering, « he said. « With the various phases and operational activities involved in a test, the TTR team seeks to integrate security into all segments to ensure that the correct precautions are taken for mission success. «
The coordination between Sandia, Los Alamos, the NNSA and the Air Force made the flight test possible. Initial data show that all systems and interfaces between the overhauled bomb and the F-35A worked as expected.
Unlike previous fighter jets, the F-35A carries the bomb internally. The most recent flight test was the first demonstration of a fully instrumented B61-12 release from a fighter’s internal bomb bay, and the first such release at speeds of Mach 1 or higher, Samuels said.
« This was the first test to test all systems including mechanical, electrical, communication and clearance between the B61-12 and the F-35A, » he said.
The test also took place amid the now-common COVID-19 job restrictions that can make planning difficult but won’t slow Sandia’s vital missionary work, said Christine Mitchell, senior manager of the B61-12 program. « Sandia National Labs, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA and our Air Force partners are working diligently to ensure that key F-35A milestones remain on track despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. «
The F-35A is a fifth generation fighter and is described in an Air Force online fact sheet as an « agile, versatile, powerful 9G capable multi-purpose fighter » with stealth technology and advanced sensors. Nine countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia – were involved in the development of the fighter jet.
« The latest test is an important part of the F-35A and B61-12 program, » said Samuels. « On board the newest fighter, the B61-12 is an important part of the overall nuclear deterrent strategy for our country and our allies. «
The compatibility tests are an integral part of the B61-12 Life Extension Program to refurbish, reuse, or replace components, extend the life of the bomb, and improve its safety and effectiveness.
A service life extension program enables scientists and engineers to study the aging of nuclear weapon components. Some components are re-qualified and go back to a weapon unchanged. others that have aged are recycled using the original specifications; and sometimes the original technology is no longer available, so Sandia redesigns these parts with modern technology.
The first B61 was put into operation 50 years ago. Numerous changes have been made over the decades to improve security and reliability. The B61-12 consolidates and replaces most of the previous variants. The National Nuclear Security Administration recently announced plans to manufacture the first refurbished B61-12 in fiscal 2022.
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B61 atomic bomb, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, fighter aircraft, US Air Force
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