Can Fighter Jets Carry Nukes?

F35 Nuclear Bombing Test
F35 Nuclear Bombing Test

On an ever changing world and with the current situation in Ukraine, I was wondering if a fighter jet could carry nuclear weapons (nukes) onboard. Can Fighter Jets Carry Nukes? If so, how many?

Yes, many fighter jets are capable of carrying nukes! And in the future, the F-35 will also be capable of doing so. Nearly all fighter jets can launch nuclear bombs. Currently there is no treaty that blocks the usage of this weapons.

Although most people think of heavy payload bombers such as the B-2 Spirit or B-52 Stratofortress as nuclear bombers, dual-purpose “nuclear fighters” have been part of the Air Force nuclear strategy for decades. The common F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon are capable of delivering nuclear bombs.

The current list of fighter jets that can carry nukes are the next:

  • A-4
  • A-6
  • A-7
  • AV-8B
  • F-4
  • F-15
  • F-16
  • F-18
  • F-111
  • F-117

Can the F-35 carry nukes?

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is currently the most advanced fighter jet there has ever been. The US Air Force is currently on its way to certify it to be able to carry nukes.

The F-35 is a stealth aircraft that can evade detection and engagement by air defense systems. The aircraft has to carry its weapons inside aircraft and not on external pylons such as like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Weapons bay of F-35

For now the F-15s and F-16s will continue to be the nuclear fighter jets for the Air Force, but the U.S. plans to certify the F35 for nuclear duty by 2023. This will make this aircraft one of the deadliest, most advanced aircraft ever.

The US Air Force is testing the F-35 to carry nuclear bombs with inert nuclear weapons. Although these bombs are inert, they can be used to simulate a nuclear drop. This gives the AirForce all the information it requires to evaluate the F-35’s potential as a nuclear strike platform.

All of these tests were conducted using an F35A fighter, which is the most common model of this fighter jet. The Navy’s F-35C can take off and land on aircraft carriers. The Marine Corps uses the F-35B to fly very short runways, landing vertically on decks of ships.

The F-35 will be able to carry two types of nuclear bombs: B-61 and B-83. The B-61 is a tactical nuclear bomb capable to carry up to 400 kilotons of power.

F-35 dropping an inert B-61 bomb

The B-83 is a higher yield bomb than the B-61 and can carry up to 1.2 megatonnes of power

Can the F-16 carry nukes?

Yes, the F-16 can carry nukes. Six underwing Hardpoints are available on the F-16, as well as one underfuselage hardpoint that can be used to transport fuel tanks and weapons. Many weapons are possible to be carried including air-to surface missiles, conventional iron bombs and tactical nuclear weapons. The F-16 is one of the many Dual Capable Aircraft that the USAF has. This means that the aircraft can be modified to do both conventional and nuclear missions.

All dual capable aircraft are intended to drop small nuclear weapons that are tactica and short-ranged. The F-16 fits in this category.

All F-16s, including those from certain foreign countries, are able to carry nukes. They can be used to fight in nuclear war under NATO’s Nuclear Sharing Policy. This policy allows NATO member countries without nuclear weapons to use them with authorization from the US.

F-16 dropping an inert nuclear bomb

The six underwing pylons can carry a wide variety of bombs. If there are other laser-equipped aircraft nearby, the F-16 can deliver laser-guided bombs that can be directed to the target.

Which Fighter Jet Can Carry Most Missiles?

An average fighter jet has around 8 missiles. There are fighter jets which can have more more missiles but there are also others that have fewer. For example, a MiG-29 has six rounds while the MiG-21 only has four.

The F-18 can carry 10 radar-guided missiles and 2 infrared-guided as you can see in the image below. This fighter jet is the one which can carry the most missiles:

F-18 carrying missiles

A fighter with a defensive role will typically carry less missiles, than one that is in an offensive role. An interceptor role will typically require a mix of two long-range missiles and two short-ranged missiles. Each weapon that is loaded is added drag on the fighter performance. Defenders must be agile climbers and fast-moving birds to reach as fast as possible to their targets. In order to maximize their performance, they carry less heavy equipment and don’t usually carry any external fuel.

A strike mission might have fighters that are escorting them, or the battle area may have been cleaned up. These fighter jets can carry more missiles than the defending ones.

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