Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Gun?

The Marines are planning to have the F-35 go operational in mid 2015 and the Navy is looking at late 2018 or so.  Of course, “operational” means different things to different people.  To you and me, operational means fully combat capable and ready to carry out any mission.  To the F-35 program office and the individual services, operational means able to fly and, perhaps, carry out some functions, though not all – maybe not even close to all.

For example, the F-35’s gun (25mm GAU-22) is not scheduled to become operational until 2017, at the earliest, as reported by Defense News website (1).

"The gun on the F-35 joint strike fighter remains on schedule to go operational in 2017, the Pentagon said Wednesday."

“GAU-22 was planned to go operational with the block 3F software. That software is scheduled to go online in 2017, with low-rate initial production lot 9.”

The key point in this is that the gun’s operation is tied to software and the F-35’s software has been notorious for slipping its schedule.  The odds that the 3F software will be ready as scheduled are very poor.

Reports indicate that the Marines will declare initial operational capability (IOC) with the Block 2B software which reportedly includes 89% of the code needed for full functionality.  While 89% may sound pretty good, recognize that the 89% includes all the basic take-off and flying code.  The question you should be asking is how much of the actual weapons capability is included in that 89%?  Is it 10%?  50%?  Who knows?  We know it doesn’t include a gun.  We know it doesn’t include the full sensor fusion that is supposed to be the “magic” of the F-35.  What else is not included?  I strongly suspect that it’s most of the weapons and combat capability.

Various GAO and DOT&E reports suggest software delays of a year or more are coming, as regards IOC.

So, will the F-35 be operational for the Marines in 2015?  Well, as an infamous person once said, “It depends what the definition of is, is.”  Operational depends on what your definition of operational is. 

(1) "F-35 Program Office: Gun Remains On Schedule", Aaron Mehta, 7-Jan-2015


  1. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell it’s a fudge isn’t it.
    I’m not sure any of us really think IOC is about having all the bells and whistles. Most aircraft come into IOC with a limited set of capabilities compared to what they exit service with.
    But yer a Gun is fairly important, particularly for CAS.
    Whether the gun will basically (i.e. fire along bore sight when told to do so) work at IOC I’m unsure, the 3F software is apparently about software control of the gun to maximise effect \ targeting. And is a lot more complex then press trigger = fire.
    In USMC defence, I think the focus is on the comparative to Harrier. F35-B even with limited load out still represents a step change in capability for some roles compared to Harrier.
    But yer … even as an F35 fan-boi. Let’s not kid ourselves it’s about a political win for the international defence partnership and governments, LM, RR, BAE, NATO and ALL the other interested parties.

  2. Well as your previous post suggests, we need to have our enemies schedule their conflicts around our acquisition schedules.

    Not good when you are the service that is first to fight!

  3. Nearly 20 years.... Good Lord. I read this about the Eagle:
    "Full-scale work related to the development of the air superiority fighter aircraft F-15 was started on 01 January 1970...In 1976 US Air Forces in Europe [USAFE] began converting to the F-15"
    - Global Security

    Six years. And the Eagle has served us well for over 30.

    I also read this:

    "“We—the U.S. [Department of Defense]—haven’t been pursuing appropriate methods to counter EA [electronic attack] for years,” a senior Air Force official with extensive experience on the F-22 told The Daily Beast. “So, while we are stealthy, we will have a hard time working our way through the EA to target [an enemy aircraft such as a Russian-built Sukhoi] Su-35s and our missiles will have a hard time killing them.”

    The problem is that many potential adversaries, such as the Chinese and the Russians, have developed advanced digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers. These jammers, which effectively memorize an incoming radar signal and repeat it back to the sender, seriously hamper the performance of friendly radars."

    - Daily Beast.

    So... as far as I can tell, we have:

    * an F/A being forced into the air superiority role
    * a price which is eating the budget
    * speed and mobility on par with our current 4th gen fighters (F-16/18)
    * and missiles that might not work well in BVR at all. Which is, from what I've read about the lightning supporters, its optimum place to engage enemies. 'We'll see them first and shoot them...' won't work when shooting makes us non stealthy and our missiles aren't nearly as effective as we think.

    Finally, I still think our stealth advantage is illusory and at the very least short lived, as our airframe tech will be 20 years old at IOC, and in the meantime radar technology and computer processing power has been improving.

    I'm starting to hate this jet.

    I'm really starting to think the Russian model of the SU-35 was a more intelligent approach. Sure, its not stealthy, but the thing looks like it can flat out fly.

    1. Daily Beast wrote a rebuttal article. The 3F software is scheduled to be released in 2017, but only to the testers. It is still on schedule to be released to the fleet in 2019.

  4. How difficult can the software for a cannon be? We have had radar-ranging gunsights since the F-86 Saber in Korea. When we discovered the F-4 needed a gun, the B/C's started carrying gun pods and I have read nothing about needing millions of lines of code to shoot it. Or any of the I don't know 50 years worth of Migs.
    Yes, I know there is a certain amount of aerodynamic instability in some modern warplanes that requires special software--but that is for standard flying. You could put in a simple radar ranging gunsight with a very small antenna that could be used for basic use until the software enable it to appearently shoot like the movie Wanted (or should for 150mil.)
    Worse still for the gun on the F35B is that it isn't permanently installed, so on many missions it would be without a gun anyway.
    The whole BVR and stealth qualities are over hyped anyway. The ROE in many cases will prevent us from using the AMRAAM at full range anyway. Take the present tension in the South China Sea or Syria. Does anyone think we would engage an aircraft without visual confirmation? BVR is offensive in nature.
    Of course since it is presently the F35B is only rated at 5.5g and mach 1.2, an Iranian F-4 could probably take it in a dogfight anyway. But hey in 3 years it will (supposedly) be able to do 7gs and Mach 1.6...which is less than a Mig-29......appearently air-superiority means never having to dogfight.

    1. How much combat experience has the US airforce accumulated that shows that BVR is a valid air combat doctrine?

  5. I live in Phoenix,AZ and we have gotten a few F35s now at Luke AFB. I have been told they fly out every morning but with still testing going on, software not finished and as far as I know still flight restrictions because the PW F135 problems, what exactly are these pilots doing? Flying circuits? They can't practice anything else......

    As far as I understand about the gun, it might be because it's not considered a high priority item plus even though as some people have mentioned it's just "push the red button", there's quite a lot going on before the computer agrees to fire. You have to have the helmet working (remember it still has jitters and no HUD so that has to work), radar needs to work, software needs to be stable, ballistics and computer has to make sure it has a high probability of hitting because you have so few rounds, you have to make them count......

    1. NICO, that is a great point about the number of rounds carried!


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