F-35 Will Not Reach Full Close-Air-Support Potential Until 2022

F-35 pilots will have to wait until 2022 to fire the U.S. military's top close-air-support bomb after the Small Diameter Bomb II enters service in 2017.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pilots will have to wait until 2022 to fire the U.S. military’s top close-air-support bomb after the Small Diameter Bomb II enters service in 2017, JSF officials explained.

The Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) is an upgrade from previous precision-guided air-dropped weapons because of its ability to track and hit moving targets from up to 40 miles. However, the F-35 will not have the software package required to operate the bomb loaded onto the fifth generation fighter until 2022, officials said.

The delay in getting the SDBII onto the F-35 will reduce the aircraft’s ability to provide close-air support to ground troops. It plays a role in the debate over the aircraft’s ability to adequately fulfill the mission of the A-10 Warthog if Air Force officials are allowed by Congress to retire the close-air-support aircraft.

Air Force leaders renewed their intent to retire the A-10 by 2019 in February with its budget proposal. Officials said the Air Force needs to transfer resources being used to support the A-10 over to the development of the Joint Strike Fighter. Air Force leaders have said the F-35 will be one of many aircraft that will backfill the A-10.

The JSF office has already discovered that the SDB II does not fit onto the F-35B — the Marine Corps variant — without modifications to the aircraft’s weapons bay. The Pentagon is not in a rush to make those changes before the F-35B reaches initial operating capability this year because the weapon won’t work until the right software package is installed.

“When we get to the Block 4’s of the F-35s those are going to be great CAS (close air support) platforms — when we get there.  So we’ve got to continue to move down that with respect to the systems,” Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander of Air Combat Command, told reporters March 6.

GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets.

A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.

“Really, in the close-in CAS fight, and the most challenging being danger close where you have adversaries and friendlies in very close proximity — we have to be able to support the ground component at that point.  We need the ability to deliver weapons rapidly.  We need the high magazine, we need precision and we need to be able to control the yield,” Carlisle said.

The SDB II recently completed successful live-fire testing and is slated to enter full-rate production later this year. Ultimately, the Air Force plans to acquire 12,000 SDB II weapons — which will enter service by 2017, service officials said.

Most of the testing of the SBD II thus far has been on an Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter jet, however the weapon has been fitted and tested on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Engineers are also working on plans to integrate the bomb onto the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-16 as well, Raytheon officials said.

The Air Force has done some electronics testing with the SDB II and the F-35A and done a successful “fit” test to ensure the weapon can be carried in the internal weapons bay by the aircraft, JSF officials said. However, the weapon will need the JSF program’s 4a software drop before it can be operational on the F-35A – and that is not slated to happen until 2022.

The JSF program developmental strategy is, in part, grounded upon a series of incremental software drops,” each one adding new capability to the platform. In total there are more than 10 billion individual lines of code for the system, broken down into increments and “Blocks,” F-35 program office officials explained.

The Marine Corps short-take-off –and-landing variant of the JSF, the F-35B, is slated to reach operational status later this year with software block 2B. Block 2B provides basic close air support such as the ability to  fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF officials said.

The Air Force plans to reach operational status with its F-35A in 2016 using the next iteration of the software, called 3i.  Described as a technical refresh of Block 2B, 3i will also enable the aircraft to drop JDAMs, GBU 12s and AMRAAMs.

JSF officials point out that the F-35A will have substantial close-air support capabilities when it reaches full operational capability in 2018. This includes the ability to fire an internal gun and drop a range of munitions including AIM-9X weapons, AMRAAMs, GBU 12s, GBU 31s and the Small Diameter Bomb I.

The SDB II will be integrated with what’s called JSF software Block 4a – a next-generation iteration of the software for the aircraft which service engineers are already working on.

Block 4 will be broken down into two separate increments; Block 4a is slated to be ready by 2021 or 2022 and Block 4B is planned for 2023. The first portion of Block 4 software funding, roughly $12 million, arrived in the 2014 budget, Air Force officials said.

Block 4 will also increase the weapons envelope for the U.S. variant of the fighter jet. A big part of the developmental calculus for Block 4 is to work on the kinds of enemy air defense systems and weaponry the aircraft may face from the 2020’s through the 2040’s and beyond, service officials explained.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • deerbandit

    Here it is in black and white. Lets retire the venerable A-10 4 years before the junk strike fighter even has the capability for CAS. I bet no one in charge has a son or daughter that would be directly affected by this. There go those big thinkers again. Wake up!!!!!!

    • Curt

      Only the F-35 can be used for CAS. There aren't any F-16s or F-35Es that could be used instead. Only the F-35 and SDBII could possibly be used for CAS. F-16s carrying Mavericks and LjDAMs can't do it. F-15Es with SDBII are not good enough. It is only the JSF with SDBII that has any hope of doing CAS. The USAF couldn't use It's first F-35s for deep strike missions while using the F-15Es and F-16s that they replace for CAS. Only F-35s! There is no hope.

      • oblatt22

        You're much better off using the F-15E for deep strike missions. The F-35 much good at anything.

    • ReasonMatters

      Here it is in even more black and white: the SDBII is NOT a critical weapon for the F-35 to perform CAS. Over the last 15 years other platforms have been performing CAS without the SDBII (and without the SDB for a majority of it). Why is this weapon suddenly touted as a CAS requirement? Answer: because it will not be integrated on the F-35 until 2022. There are a lot of weapons that will not be integrated on the F-35 when it becomes IOC or FOC. This is standard for ANY new (or current weapons system). The F-22 has not been able to use the AIM-9X (a monumental improvement over the AIM-9M) since the -9X came online ten years ago.

      How good do you think mm-wave radar, uncooled IR seeker, or semi-active laser seekers are against enemy infantry opposing our forces in a troops-in-contact scenario? Not much better than a laser JDAM or SDBI (GPS). Those are good seekers to allow the weapon to find and track a target after the bomb has flown 40NM to the target. You don't do CAS from 40NM, so this is a moot point. This is not weapon designed primarily for, nor necessary for CAS. The very premise of the article is flawed. There are issues with the F-35. It will lag current platforms when it arrives in the performance of CAS. It will always lag the A-10 in some ways for CAS. The A-10 will always lag the B-52, MQ-9, F-16, etc. in some ways for CAS, however all of those platforms perform the mission admirably.

      There are aspects of the F-35 program and process that are flawed. Some have been costly, others will continue to be costly. The F-35 has made compromises in some areas to satisfy requirements deemed more important. This is not the result of government "criminality" or the vagaries of the military-industrial-complex. This is as a result of the F-35 being a development project, just like the A-10, the space shuttle, or your iPhone were. There flawed aspects should be learned from, where they can be, and applied to future projects, but should not imply the futility of the system or the criminal liability of those who manage the project.

      • blight_a

        Block 2B (or whichever block -B is going IOC with) will at least have JDAMs. Probably a little too powerful for danger close, but it can deliver bombs against ground targets, and do so on cues from ground troops.

      • Curt

        To be fair the SDBII, along with the JGAM, will eventually replace the older Maverick missile which has been the primary vehicle killing missile in the USAF inventory. However, even without the A-10s, there are still plenty of Mavericks around and F-16s to carry them until the SDBII enters service to handle that role. For that matter, SDBII is not in service yet and won't be until 2017 at the earliest nor will it reach full rate production until well into the 2020s.

  • Harold Mendelson

    The Air Force brass that want to retire the A-10 claiming that the resources the A-10 is currently using is delaying deployment of the F-35 is suspect. With the F-35 not being fully CAS ready until 2022 at the eearliest, retiring the A-10 will leave ground troops without the level of CAS the A-10 provides. The cost of each hour of flight time for the F-35 is projected to be at least $10,000 versus th A-10s hourly cost of $3,000. Even when the F-35 becomes fully CAS operational in 2022, it still won’t be able to provide the level of CAS the A-10 provides.
    while I support the F-35 program, cost overruns and software upgrade delays have put the program behind schedule. Add to that the realization that current bombs don’t fit in the internal bomb bay makes one wonder what are the F-35 program heads doing. When they finally decided to add a gun, they chose a 25mm canon with less than 200 rounds on board capacity. Why do these problems surface so late in the program? Why does it take so long to resolve issues when they surface?

    • Cynical175

      I just read that the cost PER flying hour of the F-35 is only about $300 less than the F-22. YES NO MISTAKE THREE HUNDRED BUCKS less than the F-22.

      About $69.000 per flying hour for the F-35

      • Another Guest

        @ Cynical175,

        Yes, the cost per flight hour for the F-35 certainly has skyrocketed from $35,000 to now $69,000.

        It's a rip off. Take a look at this article, DOT&E Report: The F-35 Is Not Ready for IOC and Won't Be Any Time Soon. http://www.pogo.org/our-work/straus-military-refo

  • R. Amato

    So not one engineer could tell that a critical bomb for the F-35 WOULDN'T FIT IN THE FRIIGIN PLANE!!!!

    • oblatt22

      No they have cad systems that make it impossible to make a such a design by mistake. It was done deliberately and covered up with the full knowledge that it didn't matter because nobody was going to test it for 10 years and when they found the problem Lockheed would be paid to fix it.

      The F-35 isn't a mistake, it is deliberate fraud.

    • Ziv

      The SDBII was designed and built years after the F-35 and in fact the SDBII won't be deployed for 2 years. I think the builders of the SDBII ought to share some of the blame on this one.
      I was going to say "tempest in a teacup" but this is a bit more serious than that. This ought to result in a couple people losing their jobs for not working to get this capability for the F35 sooner. These aircraft are going to be operational from 2015 until 2050 so a window of 5 years with no GBU53 is irritating but not critical.

    • Amicus Curiae

      FYI, the STOVL (B model) bays are smaller than the other deviants. This happened in 2004 when drastic measures were taken to save weight on the STOVL so the vertical landing bring back weight would be useful. At that point, many existing and future internal weapons were left behind because they were too big. That is just another required STOVL compromise to deal with.

      • blight_

        It's a LiftSystem compromise, and it's mostly due to the greater space requirement of the LiftSystem. On paper, the LiftSystem space simply translated into reduced fuel capacity (which is also scary). In practice..

  • BobSacamano

    Just dreamin' here, but why not fit the bomb bay of the F-35B to accommodate the Excalibur artillery round, with all its GPS and detonation features? It wouldn't make much of a standoff weapon but could be certainly used in ground support missions where air superiority is assured. Just dreaming!

    • JJSchwartz

      There lies the problem for the F-35. The only way that it can execute the CAS mission and survive is to use stand off munitions. I do not believe that it can survive in a contested CAS environment. Ironically this is what the AF says about the A-10; that it cannot survive in a modern contested environment. I'd wager that the A-10 would stand a much better chance of survival than the F-35 if stand off munitions only are used.

  • Lance

    We need to keep A-10s. This JSF is weak sauce, a flop. time to scrap it and look fora new fighter.

    • Another Guest

      @ Lance,

      "We need to keep A-10s. This JSF is weak sauce, a flop. time to scrap it and look for a new fighter".

      Take a look at The Comanche and the Albatross: About Our Neck Was Hung.

      Written by Col Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF, he's got a very good point why the F-35 programme needs to be scrapped.
      http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/digital/pdf/ar

  • oblatt22

    Early days, early days.

    10 Billion lines of code… lets say you have 10,000 great programmers working on it full time 7 days a week.

    Then any competent program manager can work out that there will be 89 million bugs in the delivered code.
    And it will take 2.5 million man years to finish. Your 10,000 slaves should be able to finish it in only 249 years.

    So when will the F-35 be finished according to Lockheed's own numbers… around 2249 AD. Having interviewed some F-35 software engineers that's pretty optimistic.

    • Dfens

      Thet'd hire better software guys, but you pay them more to drag out software development than you do if they make good working software on time and on bidget. Which do you want? Shouldn't the profit incentive encourage the behavior you want instead of what you don't want? It's not rocket science.

  • SMSgt Mac

    You geniuses DO realize that the SDB II was started in 2010 as a program concurrent with the F-35 program already underway? And of course, EVERYONE knows the SDB II was delayed about a year getting to this point? Perhaps if it was concluded on time, it could have been incorporated on the JSF in time for Block 3? Who knows? After all, all that’s needed to fit 4 (vs 2) SDB IIS IN THE B model now is a tweak to a hydraulic line and a bracket. It would have helped this retread article a lot if the headline had ended properly with ” as planned”, and a reminder that the A-10 wouldn’t be retired ‘instantly’.

    • William_C1

      Clearly Lockheed should have just gone into the future ensure a weapon not yet designed fit the bay of the F-35B correctly.

    • oblatt22

      One year delay – they must be amateurs, Lockheed hasn't met a single deadline by a year and will take another 10 to the SDBII working. That the sort of money making mis-planning that drives Lockheed's bottom line.

      The SDBII was designed to meet the F-35B spec for the bomb bay. Unfortunately the F-35 failed to meet its own spec. Because according to the shills they "nobody at lockheed new they had one" LOL

      • William_C1

        "Failed to meet the spec for the bomb bay"
        "10 billions lines of code"
        "10 years to get SDB II working"
        "1 + 2 = 5"

        Any other "facts" for us?

      • oblatt22

        I don't think bill bothers to read the articles, he just sprouts Lockheed talking points and when there are none hes all at sea.

  • Old 391

    Another question is can the F-35 get down and dirty, stay on the battlefield protecting the troops, destroy tanks and other targets (before the gun runs out of its 175 to 200 bullets), take multiple hits to the airframe and get the pilot home safely?

    • oblatt22

      No they deliberately reduced the damage control systems to reduce weight. So its vulnerable to small caliber small arms.

      Then the F-35 IR signature is worse than the A-10. F-35 "stealth" is irrelevant to the vast majority of MANPADs.

      CAS used to be touted as the primary mission of the F-35A – now "the F-35 cant be realistically expected to do it at all".

      • William_C1

        "CAS used to be touted as the primary mission of the F-35A – now "the F-35 cant be realistically expected to do it at all"."

        Do you ever get tired of posting absolute nonsense? Tell me more about the 10 billion lines of code you say the F-35 has. Or about the time you said the F-35C will never take off from a carrier the same day it actually did. Or how it would be cancelled any minute now.

      • oblatt22

        Bill who claimed that Lockheed should receive a bonus for reducing battle damage control.

        Read the article Bill LOL

      • William_C1

        Tell me more about all of the things I've never said.

    • William_C1

      You don't go down into the weeds strafing tanks with a supersonic multi-role fighter anymore than you would intercept enemy fighters in an A-10.

      • Old 391

        Korea 1983 a North Korean MIG surrendered to 2 A-10 as he was trying to defect to the South, some people in the ROKAF and the USAF caught hell about that incident

      • William_C1

        I'd love to hear more about this incident. I've heard about Iraqi ground troops surrendering to just about any aircraft you could imagine but never this defecting MiG pilot running into some A-10s in South Korea. Considering the relationship between the Koreas I'm surprised any unknown North Korean aircraft can fly across the DMZ without a few SAMs coming up to greet it.

      • Old 391

        Google MIG 19 defects February 1983, they will not say he surrendered to the A-10 but he did

    • DBM

      I'd love to see how much of the skin of the aircraft starts to peel off when it gets hit by anything. OOOOOPPPPS there went my stealth and any semblance of this pig being aerodynamic.

    • Andrew

      Can the A10 penetrate air defense? No F35? Yes
      Is it vulnerable to ever growing sophisticated air to ground missiles? Yes F35? No
      Is having separate platforms more costly? Yes
      Do A10 gun runs send even friendly forces running from high caliber "splatter"? Yes
      F35 smaller "sister" gattling gun has smaller rounds but we are not popping Russian tanks in Europe.
      KEEP THE A10 until the F35 is ready. Hold back upgrading the Abrams if your looking for the money. Air force is more important than ground skirmishes, right now.

  • beelza

    I'm about to ask a question I'm sure has been asked a thousand times before. How the h_ll can this government fail so spectacularly in all phases with this weapons system? Criminally negligent in all areas. Why aren't people being indicted, investigated, dismissed, demoted? Did they just forget how to build aircraft after the F22? Is it sabotage? Does it mean that all the other 'advanced' weapons systems are frauds, illusions and that the F35 has just unmasked the American military biggest secret, biggest lie? I begin to wonder if that Su-24 did render the USS Cook incapacitated. Thanks in advance for any responses.

    • JohnnyRanger

      Follow the money…

    • Joe

      This might sound confusing, but stick with it for a second. The problem goes back to the $600 toilette seat. The outrage didn't result in a few people getting fired and everyone else going back to business as usual. Instead, we had to make sure we had a "process" to ensure such things never happen. Since those days back in the 80's we have piled on so much "process" that even if the toilette seat costs $30 we have $1000 worth of process to make sure things are right. Also, there is so much process that nobody has any individual accountability. Everything is designed by, agreed to by, reviewed by, approved by, so many acquisition boards and review committees that there is nobody to point at and say "you screwed this up, you're fired".

    • blt415

      You are correct. The f-35 is about guaranteed high paying jobs for retiring military brass and congressmen. The aircraft cannot replace the f-22 much less the A-10. The F-35 can't fire its gun more than 10 times with only a few rounds each time. This is foolish because in CAS you must saturate an area with bullets, it's not a sniper rifle when you are using a gatling gun. Yes it can carry precision munitions but only a few and at a tremendous cost. Each time an A-10 empties its magazine, it costs about 1/16 the cost of a precision bomb. I'm just blown away at the negligence of our military leaders. We have to stop this one platform for all missions. Each aircraft has a roll to play but a B-1, F-22, F-15, F-16, F35, Apache, etc, cannot replace the A-10. Everyone supporting the A-10 will stop yelling as soon as the air force develops a suitable replacement. What would that look like? It would look like a modern A-10, an aircraft with a big gun, a lot of weapons hard points, heavily armored, great visibility, modern cockpit, f-35 sensor suite, F-35 helmet, and modern engines. I know it wont happen and in the next war, our soldiers will suffer. I pilots and Generals will exclaim how inadequate the f-35 gun is and our enemies will take advantage of our foolishness.

  • hopefully opponents will design their aircraft to not take advantage of the Jedi Star Fighters (JSF) faults. Air Force is now looking at a cheap CAS aircraft to replace A10 and augment the F35, another contract for Lockheed to bid.

  • Joe

    As much fun as it is to pile on the F-35 problems, this is quite irrelevant. SDBII is a poor CAS weapon by most measures. Long TOF, long engagement ranges. Not sure what the min range is, but when there is a call for fire you don't want to have to wait 10 minutes from pickle to see if you hit the target (based on an educated guess of around 200kt glide speed). You can walk out of the SDBII frag pattern in 10 minutes and last time I checked a lot of CAS targets are people.

    Somehow I would guess there is no plan to put APKWS on F-35. That gets you low collateral damage ordnance on target right now.

    • SMSgt Mac

      You can walk out of the frag pattern faster than that….but you'd have to know it is coming first. CONOPS for a low, slow A-10 with very little comm and SA compared to the F-35 requires a lot of telegraphing the punches. When full-up, the F-35 driver will have a nice chat with the Customer discussing what needs to be whacked on the inbound. That.scenario would only require an SDBI. With the SDBII, the nice men on the ground (or just about anyone else) can put the gates around the moving bad guys so the SDBII will follow them all the way home. If one simply MUST fire a 25mm cannon to satisfy the primal urges, one may do it from about twice the slant range of the A-10 at a steeper angle and much higher altitude to place approximately twice as many rounds per sq ft inside the '80% mils' radius. It won't lay down the same number of runs as an A-10, but since they will be better runs, and as a secondary method, it doesn't really need to does it?
      Now, the USMC originally had Hydra rocket launchers in the baseline external stores to complete SDD, but with about 220-30 possible weapons loadouts to cover as 'required' between all the variants, those have slipped way down off the list at least through Block 4. . I anticipate the APKWS will raise the priority on the 2.75 rocket loadout considerably.

      • William_C1

        I've got to wonder is why they didn't design a larger 25mm gun pod with a higher ammunition capacity. It seems to me that the gun pod is only going to be carried in an environment where the anti-air threat is low enough for the F-35 to be carrying external stores so why bother making it so compact with LO features?

      • Joe

        You could walk out of the frag pattern on accident. My point is (and I think you agree, although it's kinda hard to tell) that SDBII is not really the ideal CAS weapon, so the fact that it's going to be a little late integrating is about the least of the F-35s problems at this point.

    • balais

      Not only is SDB and APKWS important for low collatoral damage, but also when CAS is required in close proximity to friendly troops. A role currently best filled by the A10s gun, which will be superceded when those new technologies arrive.

  • Vens728

    Why should you use the F35 for CAS when we have better and more specialized A10, Apache, and alike.The F35 is a "quarterback" joint strike fighter/ bomber. They are all essentials. We should minimize giving out handouts by the billions of dollars to countries that are non essentials

  • oblatt22

    "Everyone's talking about how the F-35 is not going to do close air support, well that's all the Marine Corps is buying it for," – USAF chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh 2012

  • Dfens

    You pay Lockheed more to drag out the development of the F-35 and then you bitch when they do. Here's an idea, why don't you figure out which it is that you really want, and put the financial incentives in place to get that? I mean, sure, it seems really obvious to do that, but for the last 30 years we've been paying defense contractors more to drag out programs and jack up prices than we do of they come in on budget and on tijme. Then, given the prifit incentives that exist, we cancel program after program just as they start to actually build weapons thinking that cleaarly the next program will be better, which it never is. The stupidity id dumbfounding.

  • moebius22

    Typical Lockheed.

  • James

    Why not shut down the IRS and a few other government departments and use that money to fund the F-35 & keep the A-10 on line. . . ? ? ?
    Isn't this the same government that killed the space shuttle program so the money could go into a new rocket ship? Of course we pay Russia part of that savings to taxi our astronauts and supplies . . .

    • blight_

      So…without the IRS where will the money come from?

  • DBM

    So the flying Pig won't be usable for at least 7 years and probably 10 so lets cut up all of our combat proven aircraft that actually work. Makes sense only to an obama appointee. This only gets better every day!

    BTW have any of you AF idiots ever heard of the SGT York? It was canceled because someone had the manhood to say that enough money had already been poured into that black hole – its out of here.

  • Johnnycat

    No IRS = federal sales tax

  • rob

    Given the F35 range, how exactly would you describe it's mission capable status?

  • Bob

    LOL Wonder why you never see a professional on such sites. Because of the so-called experts that have no idea of what they're talking about……..

  • Lee

    It sounds like there are quite a few people in the Air Force who could use some lessons in project management and planning. Seven more years to become operational for the F35. Why bother? Bomb won't fit in fuselage? Fire some managers at lockheed. (They aren't managing). So many amateurs in charge. Must be an obama thing.

  • Super Tex

    So what happens to boots on the ground between NOW and 2022 ? Do we wait until AH-64's come zooming in at 150 knots ? Or do our boys only fight near overpasses, so their "CAS" can throw rocks from the overpass ?

    • oblatt22

      As our Lockheed shills will explain, if you are waiting for the F-35 to provide CAS you deserve to be overrun and die.

  • BlackOwl18E

    This is total BS. There is no excuse for a fault like this, but there is no accountability for this program. It's not affordable and it's not sustainable. This will continue until someone finally gets the balls to kill it or another more expensive government incentive arises.

  • oblatt22

    "Below are just a few of the issues identified in a recent report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation:

    The Joint Program Office, led by Lt. Gen. Bogdan, is re-categorizing or failing to count aircraft failures to try to boost maintainability and reliability statistics.

    Testing is continuing to reveal the need for more tests, but the majority of the fixes for capability deficiencies being discovered are being deferred to later blocks rather than being resolved.

    The F-35 has a significant risk of fire due to extensive fuel tank vulnerability, lightning vulnerability, and an OBIGGS system unable to sufficiently reduce fire-sustaining oxygen, despite redesigns.

    Wing drop concerns are still not resolved after six years, and may only be mitigated or solved at the expense of combat maneuverability and stealth.

    The June engine problems are seriously impeding or preventing the completion of key test points, including ensuring that the F-35B delivered to the Marine Corps for IOC meets critical safety requirements—no redesign, schedule, or cost estimate for a long-term fix has been defined yet, thereby further impeding g-testing.

    Even in its third iteration, the F-35’s helmet continues to show high false-alarm rates and computer stability concerns, seriously reducing pilots’ situational awareness and endangering their lives in combat.

    The number of Block 2B’s already limited combat capabilities being deferred to later blocks means that the Marine Corps’ fiscal year 2015 IOC squadron will be even less combat capable than originally planned.

    ALIS software failures continue to impede operation, mission planning, and maintenance of the F-35, forcing the services to be overly reliant on contractors and “unacceptable workarounds.”

    Deficiencies in Block 2B software, and deferring those capabilities to later blocks, is undermining combat suitability for all three variants of the F-35.

    The program’s attempts to save money now by reducing test points and deferring crucial combat capabilities will result in costly retrofits and fixes later down the line, creating a future unaffordable bow wave that, based on F-22 experience, will add at least an additional $67 billion in acquisition costs.

    Low availability and reliability of the F-35 is driven by inherent design problems that are only becoming more obvious and difficult to fix."

  • oblatt22

    Lockheed knows it has a lemon on its hands, that is why in response to design failures they have repeatedly reduced the testing. If you don't test you don't have any problems.

    Basically its criminal malpractice that in any other industry would have Lockheed executives hauled into court and charged with fraud and conspiracy.

  • Glaaaar!

    APKWS and other (DAGR/TALON etc.) guided rockets are indeed very nice, not least because they give you 1m accuracy with a variable selection of rounds in the pod:

    M151 10lb HE
    M229: 17lb HE
    M282: 17lb DA/HE
    M261: Grenade
    M247: HEAT

    We're still shy a DU or Tungsten penetrator but at 70mm, it should equal or surpass the PGU-14 when it arrives.

    The AGM-114 Hellfire is also a nice round, as is it's British cousin, the Brimstone. Like SDB II the latter comes with a dualmode, MMW+Laser seeker and is fitted to a tri-rail launcher intended for fixed wing use which would greatly improve the weapons loadout as total shot count.

    38 shots @ 2nm for the for LAU-61 with APKWS and up to 12 shots for the Brimstone is not bad.

    The biggest problem with these rounds is that they are forward-firing. Without a true dropfire+powered option you quickly run into an issue where a weapon like the SDB has to deploy wings to maintain controllability and when it does so, it drags up and drops to 4 miles per minute.

    Again, the British may have a solution as their 'SPEAR-3' is basically a GBU-53 shell (SDB-II) with a microturbine on the back end.

    The nice thing about SDB and some variants of Hellfire is that they don't require the shooter to bury his nose into the weeds as APKWS does.

    The 25mm cannon is another story. My guess is that it uses IFFC technology to provide 5-10 round burst on point targets using the weapons system and autopilot linkages to calculate very accurate ballistic lead. This if fine for other aircraft and tanks but it is less suitable for area targets such as personnel. The GAU-8 does better but with an effective engagement range of only 4,200ft, in a MANPADS environment this is not a realistically survivable option, even for the A-10. APKW will take that out another 10-15,000ft or so and that starts to approach being safe as a function of slant range and DAS early warning.

    None of the extant weapons for the F-35 are what I would call technically sophisticated, being centered around freefall weapons with bolt-on kits, their own signatures will be very large and something as simple as an APS could knock them out of the sky on terminal approach. As will sophisticated SSLs.

    While not an immediate CAS problem, it is something which will have to be dealt with for the Interdictors to remain functionally effective.

  • FWGuy

    Another F-35 hit piece by DOD Buzz about a weapon that can't be used until later, as if that really matters. SDB2 is just one weapon and its not the most important bomb in the US Arsenal. The SDB (which is what SDB2) is not the most important bomb in the US Arsenal. The SDB & SDB2 is the most important weapon to medium size drones like the Predator and Reaper and only because its just a cheaper replacement for a Hellfire Missile. Another totally biased and erroneous info article trying to make the F-35 program look bad. To date the only aircraft that has dropped a SDB2 during testing has been the F-15, the most other aircraft do not have the software upgrades (yet) to deploy the bomb and on larger aircraft this very small bomb (SDB) is not used that often anyway compared to the more often used GBUs in the 500, 1000 and 2000 lb class.