Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Lockheed F-35 jet’s crucial software upgrade may take another year

Delivery of the first F-35 with upgraded software that’s crucial for the US fighter jet’s advanced capabilities may be delayed for another year — putting it 16 months later than originally planned, a lawmaker disclosed.

The combat aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp. needs the upgrade before it can carry more precise weapons and gather more information on enemy aircraft and air defenses. The upgrade will increase processing power 37 times and memory 20 times over the F-35’s current capabilities. 

The expected delay until April 2024 was disclosed by Representative Rob Wittman, a Virginia Republican.  

“We’re learned that the late delivery is now impacting existing fighter squadrons” awaiting the upgraded F-35s, Wittman said at a House hearing late Wednesday. “To quote a senior Air Force official I’ve met with on the subject: ‘We’re paying for great capability but we currently only have good capability.”’

The F-35 is essentially a flying computer, with more than 8 million lines of code. The delayed software upgrade is known as TR-3.

Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Schmidt, F-35 program manager, told a House Armed Services subcommittee headed by Wittman that the TR-3 delivery schedule “has been affected by delays associated with hardware and software development as well as testing of the Integrated Core Processor — the brains of TR-3.”

“The key risks ahead of us are centered around maturity and stability of the final integrated software, flight test execution with an aging fleet of test aircraft and infrastructure and delivery of TR-3 hardware to the production line,” Schmidt said. An F-35 equipped with the new software made its first test flight in January.

Lockheed said in a statement Thursday that “we continue to make progress toward delivering TR-3,” and although the Pentagon program office’s “risk analysis model depicts an April 2024 delivery, we remain committed to delivery by the end of 2023.”

Bloomberg News reported in December that cost overruns on TR-3 development rose another $236 million, nearly doubling the size of the original $712 million contract.

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