Pentagon Disputes Claims That The F-35’s Gun, Sensors Won’t Be Ready For Deployment

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin are disputing reports made over the holidays that the F-35’s main gun and elements of its sensor system won’t be ready by the time the fifth-generation fighter goes into active service.

According to a Dec. 31 Daily Beast report, the Joint Strike Fighter’s 25 mm GAU-22 cannon, developed by General Dynamics, won’t get the “Block 3F” software it needs to function into the hands of “frontline squadrons” flying “operational missions” until 2019 — three to four years after the jet is scheduled to become operational.

The Daily Best reported earlier in December that the $400-billion jet’s nose-mounted Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) won’t have the capability to transmit live video to ground troops, capture HD video or use infrared targeting for air support missions, all of which are capabilities older fleets have been retrofitted with in the last two decades of F-35 development.

According to the report, that puts the sensors on the Pentagon’s most advanced and expensive weapon in history a decade behind older aircraft ahead of its first year of service.

“Contrary to the media reporting out there, there’s no gun system software glitches or timeline delays,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Mike Rein told Roll Call Tuesday. “The requirement for the gun was established in 2005. It’s always been in the block 3F weapons to be delivered in 2017, not 2019.”

Pentagon Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova repeated Lockheed’s assertions in a Jan. 7 letter, in which he called reports about the delays “baseless.”

“I’d like to help clear the air on some nameless/sourceless/baseless reporting you may have seen over the holidays that focused on two issues—the F-35 gun and EOTS,” DellaVedova wrote Wednesday according to The Daily Beast.

In his statement, DellaVedova goes on to say the gun system “will be delivered” by 2017, and that “potential upgrades” for the F-35’s EOTS system “will be implemented by the Services and International Partners for inclusion in future Block upgrades.”

However as the report points out, the Pentagon stops short of denying the delays. DellaVedova’s statement implies the gun software will only be delivered to test pilots by 2017 — not fighter pilots. After that, the system must pass operations testing before the fighter can be cleared for full production. Such testing is reportedly scheduled to run into 2019.

The statement by Lockheed’s spokesman also implied that so far, the gun will only be making it into the hands of test pilots.

“In 2008, the gun completed all of its ground qualification testing. This year we’re going to do comprehensive flight test out of Edwards, include ground fire tests, muzzle calibration, flight test integration and in-flight operational tests,” Rein said.

In regard to the sensors, DellaVedova’s statement essentially admits the F-35’s EOTS system lacks capabilities shared by older aircraft with recent upgrades, and instead states that the F-35 could receive those “potential” upgrades sometime later.

“There are a range of potential upgrades and enhancements for EOTS that will be implemented by the Services and International Partners for inclusion in future Block upgrades,” DellaVedova wrote. “Some of the additional capabilities for consideration include items such as Higher Definition Video, longer range target detection and identification, Video Data Link, and Infrared (IR) Marker and Pointer.”

Lockheed again doubled the Pentagon claims in stating that the F-35’s “baseline requirements define the starting place for capabilities that will be evolved and upgraded over the life of the program.”

“There are a range of potential upgrades and enhancements for EOTS that will be implemented by the services and international partners for inclusion in future Block upgrades,” Rein said.

Despite the reported setbacks, DellaVedova said the Navy “will attain IOC [initial operational capability] in 2018 with 3F software.”

“This will provide all warfighters with multi-ship destruction of enemy air defense capability, advance air-to-ground and air-to-air capability and have full complement of internal and external ordnance — including use of the GAU-22 25mm gun.”

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