The US government may currently have no plans to carry nuclear weapons on the F-35C, the carrier-based variant of Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter, but some in Washington are keen to revive the concept.
They see as attractive the concept of carrier-based nuclear deterrence operations, particularly with an eye towards a 2017 review of the country’s nuclear posture and planned initial operational capability of the naval fighter jet in 2018.
Thomas Karako of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies says it might not be the current policy to deploy nuclear weapons on aircraft carriers, but there needs to be some debate, particularly while the F-35C is still in development.
I’ll admit that I didn’t even know the Air Force had begun the process of integration for the F-35A.
Aside from the B-52 and the B-2, the F-15E is the Air Force’s only nuclear capable aircraft. The B-1B had that mission capability removed as part of strategic weapons treaties with Russia.
And where during the Cold War, a fighter bomber wing tasked with the nuclear strike mission might fly 60% of its sorties training for that, and 40% for the conventional mission, it’s hard to find any fighter bomber training for the nuclear mission today.
As the article notes, the Navy isn’t pushing hard to regain the tactical nuclear mission it gave up in 1992.
On the other hand, some baseline technical capability to rebuild the mission should probably be considered. Of course, it requires more than simply modifying the aircraft. Magazines aboard ship, storage ashore, and training for ship and squadron ordnance personnel and aircrews would have to be revisited.