Authorization for nukes in the fuselages of Dutch F-35A jets

Following the provision of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus by its ally, Russia, the United States seems to be supporting the Dutch F-35A in assuming its duty as a nuclear carrier platform. 

Authorization for nukes in the fuselages of Dutch F-35A jets
Photo credit: Reddit

In the wake of escalating nuclear tension across Europe, the Netherlands has publicized its attainment of an “initial certification for the deterrence mission.” This intimates that numerous F-35A stealth fighters within NATO’s fleet are edging toward complete nuclear readiness.

The US Air Force initially aimed to certify the F-35A as a “Dual Capable Aircraft [DCA]” by January 2024, equipping it with the formidable B61-12 nuclear bomb. Yet, any formal confirmation about whether the US Air Force has certified any other nation’s F-35As to deploy this nuclear weapon remains undisclosed. 

#ACC “Ready for Operations”—the outcome of this week’s US inspection of our team.” These were the words of Johan van Deventer, the Dutch Air Combat Command commander, in a post on platform X. He noted the initial certification of the F-35 for the deterrence mission signified a significant step in the transition process. He underscored that such an achievement was realized through effective teamwork.

Despite not possessing nuclear weapons independently, The Netherlands can still participate in NATO’s nuclear initiatives, thanks to the organization’s ‘Nuclear Sharing’ principle. This allows member nations without their own stockpile of nuclear arms to partake in NATO’s nuclear readiness activities. 

At present, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands are afforded access to the B61 family of nuclear weapons, courtesy of the United States. The Dutch Air Force’s F-16 fighter jets are equipped to carry these nuclear munitions.

It is anticipated that the Royal Netherlands Air Force [RNLAF] will declare full operational capability of its F-35A in the early part of 2024. This official declaration, however, hinges upon the aircraft’s successful completion of all tasks currently assigned to the F-16. 

The ongoing process of transitioning this aircraft into a nuclear carrier is proceeding at a satisfactory pace. However, the successful implementation of B61-12 will likely be a prerequisite for this declaration of full operational capability.

The inspection of the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s [RNLAF] F-35A fleet’s operational readiness was conducted by officers from the US Air Force, visiting Dutch Air Combat Command. Although the deployment of the said bombs remains undisclosed, the officers were able to ascertain the RNLAF’s ability to undertake nuclear strike missions using the F-35A, thereby granting the necessary certification. 

F-35 jet can destroy 300K in Moscow with a single B61-13 strike
Photo credit: USAF

A photograph was released showing the RNLAF’s F-35A equipped with the test variants of the B61-12 nuclear bombs. The B61-12 is a massive 825-pound, 12-foot-long weapon, replete with an inertial navigation system [INS] for guidance. The bomb includes both new elements – such as a precision guiding tail kit – and reconditioned components with varied yields, derived from older B61 models.

The assortment of approximately 150 older B61-type nuclear bombs currently stored across six European bases is expected to be replaced by the B61-12 variants. These bases are spread throughout Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Volkel Air Base houses between ten and fifteen B61 nuclear bombs which are deployed by the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s [RNLAF] F-16s. 

In 2021, the US Air Force carried out the requisite flight examination to establish the compatibility of the B61-12 nuclear bomb with the F-35A. Despite confirming the compatibility, the Air Force also noted that the fighter plane still needed certification to carry out nuclear operations. The intention to enhance the F-35’s nuclear capabilities forms part of the country’s wider nuclear advancement strategies.

There will now be six air-to-air missiles in the F-35 'belly'
Photo credit: Aviation Week

Vintage aircraft like the F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16C/D Fighting Falcons currently operate in dual-capable roles, being equipped to deploy the B61-12. The introduction of the F-35A to this fleet offers the Air Force a swift and clandestine method for transporting nuclear weapons beyond contemporary air defenses. This argument has been equally relevant to NATO, which has been in a tense state following Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine the previous year. 

In due course, the F-35A is slated to supersede these more antiquated jets both in the United States and within NATO as the preferred dual-capable fighter jet. This forthcoming transition is evident in the avidity displayed by the U.S., as it actively works towards installing and trialing this weapon on an RNLAF F-35A.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence that these novel weapons have been deployed in Europe, signs are emerging that the B61-12 bombs are being planned to be sent to the European region. This move aligns with the continent’s evolving strategic landscape, specifically concerning Russia. The Dutch Commander’s announcement further symbolizes this shift, as it’s relatively rare for NATO allies to officially divulge details about their nuclear weapons-sharing arrangements. 

US military awaits Congress green light for B61-13 gravity nuke
Photo credit: USAF

The timing of this announcement is noteworthy, given the escalating nuclear posturing in the wake of Russia’s exit from key agreements, suggestive rhetoric about potential nuclear weapon usage, and the positioning of tactical nuclear arms on Belarussian territory.

Russia waves the ‘nuclear’ flag

The probability of a nuclear conflict between Russia and the West is again a prime concern given Russia’s comprehensive invasion of Ukraine. While allies largely agree that Russia’s escalating the scope of the Ukraine conflict is improbable, there is a growing divergence around the conditions that could elevate this risk and the potential manner of such escalation. 

Russia fired a Yars nuclear ballistic missile over Arkhangelsk
Photo credit: YouTube

As per some United States and NATO defense officials, were Russian forces on the brink of collapse, or Ukraine on the verge of reclaiming Crimea and considerable portions of the occupied territory in its southern and eastern regions, Russia might be more inclined to execute a partial nuclear strike using a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon to forestall a significant military loss. 

In addition, Europe’s sole ally of Russia, the President of Belarus, stated in June this year that his nation had received tactical nuclear weapons from Russia. He even claimed that some of these weapons were thrice as potent as the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 

The Russian President acknowledged in March that he had permitted the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, drawing a parallel to the United States’ long-standing placement of such weapons in several European countries. 

What a nuclear attack in Ukraine might look like - an expert
Photo credit: Sputnik

Russia’s nuclear muscle-flexing has been consistently apparent since the conflict’s inception, starting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, activating his strategic command. Recently in June, he cautioned that supplying military equipment to Kyiv could pose a “danger”, risking pushing NATO countries deeper into the Ukraine conflict. 

He emphasized Russia’s large stockpile of nuclear weapons during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, highlighting that Russia possesses more of these weapons than any NATO member. 

“Nuclear weapons are established to ensure our broader security and the continued existence of the Russian state,” Putin conveyed. He further stressed that conversations surrounding nuclear weapon usage reduce the chance of actually deploying these weapons. 

Russia's new silent Borei-class sub carrying 16 nukes to be tested
Photo credit: TASS

 He stated, “We have more such weapons than the NATO countries. They are aware of it, and yet they continue to push for a reduction in these weapons.” 

Putin threatened in February to withdraw Russia’s participation from the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with the United States, which could destabilize the exclusive agreement controlling the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. Russia’s Foreign Ministry subsequently qualified this decision as “reversible”

Furthermore, the Russian President endorsed a legislative decree enabling Russia to withdraw its ratification of the international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapon tests. While this decision was largely expected, it demonstrates the stark schism between the US and Russia regarding the conflict in Ukraine. 

In light of these circumstances, the US-led NATO has recalibrated its efforts towards bolstering and fortifying deterrence in this region, while concurrently acknowledging the marginal likelihood of Russia resorting to its nuclear arsenal in the ongoing war against Ukraine.

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