Pentagon Focused On Weapons, Data Fusion As F-35 Nears Combat Use

By Andrea Shalal-Esa/Reuters
December 05, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet is making good progress as it nears initial combat use by the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2015, but the company must still finalize the software needed to deliver weapons and fuse data from its many sensors, the Pentagon’s F-35 program chief told Reuters.

“Getting to 2015 there’s a whole lot of things that have to be put in place, not the least of which is the software on the program,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Air Force three-star general who took over the helm of the $392 billion F-35 program around one year ago.

Software was the program’s No.1 critical issue, he said, noting that the jet alone had more than 8.5 million lines of code, while its related systems had 11 or 12 million more.

Officials have also launched an “earnest effort” to ensure that planes already built for the Air Force and Marine Corps are modified to adjust for issues found in flight testing so they are ready for initial combat use, Bogdan said.

The Air Force has said it plans to start using its conventional takeoff F-35 jets from mid-2016. The Navy will follow suit in late 2018.

Lockheed is building three models of the radar-evading warplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Norway, Australia, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. Japan and Israel have also ordered F-35 jets.

Bogdan told a defense logistics conference on Wednesday that the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program - which is years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost estimates - had a “tragic past,” but was now making good progress.

Bogdan said it was time to take “that baggage from the past and put it aside and judge the program where it is today.”

He said Lockheed is on track to deliver 36 jets this year, and the cost of the plane was coming down year after year. Flight testing was about 60 days behind schedule after two separate groundings early this year, but the delay could be absorbed by the margin built into the development program.

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