F-35 Gains More Market; Rivals Push Upgrades

By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Another FACO facility will be built by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, according to an agreement signed last summer.

The F-35 took a major step in overcoming a thorny technical shortfall in October when the U.S. Joint Program Office ended its contract with BAE Systems to provide an alternative to the primary helmet-mounted display being built by Vision Systems International (VSI) (a joint venture between Elbit Systems and Rockwell Collins). The Pentagon started the alternative design, which would have employed a less sophisticated helmetmounted display, in 2011 due to persistent problems with jitter and the night-vision capability in high-stress conditions.

The fixes to VSI's original helmet will be incorporated into the so-called Gen-3 helmet and tested in the coming months. The Gen-3 helmet will be incorporated into the production system with low-rate, initial-production Lot 7 aircraft being delivered in 2016.

F-35 weapons testing is also moving forward: The three weapons required for the U.S. Marine Corps initial operational capability (IOC) decision have been dropped. They are the 500-lb. laser-guided bomb, 1,000-lb. Joint Direct Attack Munition and the AIM-120. F-35 program officials will continue to expand weapons testing, including guided test flights and more stressing conditions. They are hoping to wrap up testing for this trio of weapons in March 2015, to meet a possible IOC declaration in the summer of 2015.

For the most part, looking ahead to 2014, the fast-jet trainer market remains in largely the same shape as in recent years. This is primarily due to the U.S. Air Force's decision to delay buys of a T-38 replacement until 2015 or beyond; the slip was prompted by funding cuts imposed on the Pentagon. The service says it will buy 350 or more of the aircraft, and it hopes to keep costs down, possibly by purchasing an off-the-shelf option. As the lead-in trainer for the F-22 and F-35, the Air Force is looking for an integrated training system incorporating the cutting edge in ground-based simulation as well as airborne elements. Budget pressure in Washington is forcing the service to look for a low-cost option.

This could come from Boeing and Saab, which announced in late 2013 that they are teaming to design and build a brand-new aircraft for the forthcoming requirement. Though the design will not be a Gripen, team officials say it will draw on lessons from that aircraft in addition to Boeing's extensive fighter work.

The pair will take on a well-established field of competitors for the T-X program, including Northrop Grumman/BAE, offering the Hawk; General Dynamics/Alenia Aermacchi, offering the M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin, proposing the T-50.

Iraq announced in December that it will buy 24 F-50s, fighter versions of the T-50, in a deal valued at $1.1 billion. The Philippines is expected to order the type as well.

Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST to see a video review of combat aircraft developments in 2013, or go to AviationWeek.com/aerospace2014

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