Stealth F-35: America's Next Nuclear Bomber?

Kris Osborn

Key point: The F-35 would be an important addition to the nuclear triad.

The Pentagon's accelerated development of a “nuclear-armed" F-35 Joint Strike Fighter attack envelope is of critical importance to a new sweeping strategic nuclear weapons modernization and development strategy aimed countering Russia, China and North Korea -- and addressing a much more serious global nuclear weapons threat environment.

Adding a nuclear-capable F-35 to the air portion of the nuclear triad – to supplement the existing B-2, B-52 and emerging B-21 – will bring a new dimension to US nuclear attack options and potentially place a new level of pressure upon potential adversaries.

Discussion of the F-35’s role in nuclear deterrence emerged recently during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review.

In written testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis cited the F-35 as an indispensable element of US and NATO nuclear deterrence.

“Modernizing our dual-capable fighter bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it,” his testimony states.

Mattis also cited the emergence of the F-35 as a “nuclear delivery system” in the context of expressing grave concern that US nuclear weapons modernization has not, in recent years, kept pace with a fast-changing global threat environment.

“Nuclear delivery system development over the last eight years shows numerous advances by Russia, China, and North Korea versus the near absence of such activity by the United States, with competitors and adversaries’ developing 34 new systems as compared to only one for the U.S.—the F-35 aircraft,” Mattis said in written statements.

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