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Majumdar writes: "America's $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is slated to join fighter squadrons next year - but missing software will render its 25mm cannon useless."

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (photo: intelligent-aerospace.com)
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (photo: intelligent-aerospace.com)


$1.5 Trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Can't Fire Its Own Gun Until 2019

By Dave Majumdar, The Daily Beast

02 January 15

 

America’s $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is slated to join fighter squadrons next year—but missing software will render its 25mm cannon useless.

he Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.

Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.

The JSF won’t be completely unarmed. It will still carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of bombs. Initially, it will be able to carry 1,000-pound satellite-guided bombs or 500-pound laser-guided weapons. But those weapons are of limited utility, especially during close-in fights.

“There will be no gun until [the Joint Strike Fighter’s Block] 3F [software], there is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years,” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “Block 3F is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?”

The tri-service F-35 is crucial to the Pentagon’s plans to modernize America’s tactical fighter fleet. The Defense Department hopes to buy 2,443 of the new stealth jets in three versions—one for the Air Force, one for the Navy, and one for the Marines. Versions of the jet will replace everything from the air arm’s A-10 Warthog ground attack plane and Lockheed F-16 multirole fighter, to the Navy’s Boeing F/A-18 Hornet carrier-based fighter, to the Marines’ Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet. But the F-35 has been plagued with massive delays and cost overruns—mostly due to design defects and software issues. There have also been problems with the jet’s engine. An F-35 was destroyed on takeoff earlier in the year when a design flaw in its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine sparked a fire.

Another Air Force official familiar with the F-35 confirmed that the jet won’t have the software to fire its gun until the Block 3F software is released to frontline squadrons sometime in 2019. Neither Lockheed nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to inquiries about the status of the jet’s gun.

Right now, the F-35’s software doesn’t support the use of the aircraft’s GAU-22/A four-barreled rotary cannon. The weapon was developed from the U.S. Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet’s GAU-12/U cannon, but it has one fewer barrel and weighs less.

It’s also supposed to be more accurate—when it can be fired, that is. The gun can shoot 3,300 rounds per minute, though the Air Force’s F-35A version can carry just 180 rounds for the gun.

The Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 have differing configurations and rely on an external gun pod. The software won’t be ready for those jets for years, either. And while that gun-pod version for the Navy and Marines carries slightly more ammo, with 220 rounds, some in the military are complaining that it’s not enough. “So, about good for one tactical burst,” the first Air Force official said. “Hope you don’t miss.”

The lack of a cannon is a particular problem, as the F-35 is being counted on to help out infantrymen under fire. (This is known as close air support, or CAS, in military jargon.) The F-35 will lack the ability to mark a target or attack enemy forces in “danger close” situations, said one highly experienced Air Force fighter pilot.

“Lack of forward firing ordnance in a CAS supporting aircraft is a major handicap,” he added. “CAS fights are more fluid than air interdiction, friendlies and targets move... Oftentimes quickly. The ability to mark the target with rockets and attack the same target 10 seconds later is crucial.”

Typically, aircraft will work in pairs where the flight lead will make an initial pass to mark a target with rockets. A second aircraft will then attack with its guns. Incidentally, the F-35 won’t be armed with rockets, either, sources told The Daily Beast.

The reason pilots would choose to use guns over a bomb or a missile is simple. Basically, a pilot might not want to drop a bomb near ground troops in situations where the enemy has gotten in very close to those friendly forces. Even a relatively small 250-pound bomb could kill or injure friendly troops who are within 650 feet of the explosion.

By contrast, a gun will allow a pilot to attack hostile forces that are less than 300 feet from friendly ground forces.

Proponents of the F-35 within the Air Force leadership argue that the jet’s sensors and ability to display information intuitively will allow the stealthy new fighter to do the close air-support mission from high altitudes using satellite-guided weapons. But there are situations where that won’t work.

“GPS-guided munitions with long times of fall are useless when the ground commander doesn’t know exactly where the fire is coming from, or is withdrawing and the enemy is pursuing,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “GPS munitions are equally useless when dropped from an aircraft when the pilot has near zero ability to track the battle with his own eyes.”

The lack of a gun is not likely to be a major problem for close-in air-to-air dogfights against other jets. Part of the problem is that the F-35—which is less maneuverable than contemporary enemy fighters like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker—is not likely to survive such a close-in skirmish. “The jet can’t really turn anyway, so that is a bit of a moot point,” said one Air Force fighter pilot.

“The JSF is so heavy, it won’t accelerate fast enough to get back up to fighting speed,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “Bottom line is that it will only be a BVR [beyond visual range] airplane.”

That means the F-35 will be almost entirely reliant on long-range air-to-air missiles. It doesn’t carry any short-range, dogfighting missiles like the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder when it’s in a stealthy configuration. One pilot familiar with the F-35 added that “they will not have a large enough air-to-air [missile] load to be on the leading edge” of an air battle in any case.

Another senior Air Force official with stealth fighter experience agreed. “From an air-to-air standpoint, an argument could be made that the F-35A not having a functional gun—or any gun, for that matter—will have little to no impact. Heck, it only has 180 rounds anyway,” he said. “I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun. Personally, I just don’t see it ever happening and think they should have saved the weight [by getting rid of the gun altogether].”

However, the Air Force official said that very fact the F-35 will not have a functional gun when it becomes operational is symptomatic of a deeply troubled program. “To me, the more disturbing aspect of this delay is that it represents yet another clear indication that the program is in serious trouble,” the official said. F-35 maker “Lockheed Martin is clearly in a situation where they are scrambling to keep their collective noses above the waterline, and they are looking to push non-critical systems to the right in a moment of desperation.”


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+21 # elizabethblock 2015-01-02 10:46
This is the plane Canada is planning to buy. I don't know whether that's a bad thing (a waste of money) or a good thing (a war plane that can't shoot)!
 
 
+16 # tedrey 2015-01-02 11:23
These articles are always so incomprehensibl e about costs. $400,000,000 is "the cost of the F-35". Then the Defense Department wants to buy 2443 of them; is that an ad-on? How much for each at that point? And where does the $1.500,000,000, 000 of the headline come in?
That's a couple of billion dollars for each congressman, which might help explain this less than useless boondoggle.
 
 
+1 # Interested Observer 2015-01-04 10:35
It is sensationalism to be sure. It is my understanding these big numbers represent full cost over the entire planned lifetime of the system for as many units as currently planned. It's still pretty big for a single obsolete on delivery malfunctioning product. By the way, this site's hero Bernie Sanders stands behind this program without reservations.
 
 
+13 # arquebus 2015-01-02 12:13
Even if the weapon systems work, they seem to rely on satellite links. Wouldn't that render them pretty tame if the opposition took out the satellites?
 
 
+41 # polfrosch 2015-01-02 12:49
1. In the early Vietnam war US-fighter jets had no guns and relied on missiles only, which was considered a major reason for the worst ever kill ratio for US air power.
USAF plans a rerun of a military desaster?

2. The obsolete gun armed MiG-17 was the superior plane in a certain altitude band - in which most of the dogfights took place. Kill ratio again... And the Sukhoi 30 is not obsolete but a formidable fighter.
The USAF plans a rerun of a military disaster?

3. Wouldn´t it make more sense to just give 1.4 trillion USD to your military-indust rial complex for nothing? The MIC bosses are part of the deep state ruling supreme anyhow. This way the USAF would at least avoid receiving planes which are disasters with wings.

4. The USA invents the reasons and enemies for the wars it wants to fight to keep the money circulating in the MIC anyhow.

I am shure it will be possible to find or create the best enemy money can buy for the equipment the USA owns to fight the war it wants to - with the right mix of success and failure to secure new programs to solve the "X" gap or problem.

5. It seems the most bang for the buck offers ISIS. They are close to invincible - we are told. As were 19 arab guerillas and a camel in a cave in Afghanistan before. Shiver!

So why not learn from these invincible masters of warfare?

6. Go on. Don´t wake up. Drink soma! Listen to the Ministry of Truth. Watch Fox News. Eat soylent green!
 
 
+9 # DPM 2015-01-02 18:41
Thanks "Polfrosch". Where money is concerned our military people seem absolutely stupid. We already know our politicians are. The F-4 "Phantom" was built without a gun and had to be retrofitted. But, at least, it carried a "potful" of ordinance. The F-35 doesn't even do that. But, number 6 on your list says some of it. There needs to be a number 7. Pay attention, America!!!
 
 
+15 # Robbee 2015-01-02 13:13
what 1.5 trillion buys us, clearly, is a tiny little bomber that delivers very few bombs. of course without guns it can't protect itself, it needs f-17 fighters to protect it, so when some general realizes existing bombers can carry more bombs, this do do bird never flies

note that some general has already realized it will never fly, which explains the incredibly slow lead on software (it took obama's admin a few months to fix software and sign up 7 million customers, 4 years! really? you mean they haven't been working on software for the past 4 years? really?) here's the story:

The lack of a gun is . . . likely to be a major problem for close-in air-to-air dogfights against other jets. Part of the problem is that the F-35—which is less maneuverable than contemporary enemy fighters like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker—is not likely to survive such a close-in skirmish. “The jet can’t really turn anyway, so that is a bit of a moot point,” said one Air Force fighter pilot.

“The JSF is so heavy, it won’t accelerate fast enough to get back up to fighting speed,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “Bottom line is that it will only be a BVR [beyond visual range] airplane.”

A senior Air Force official with stealth fighter “I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun."

-- after iraq and afghan, the 3rd trillion trophy of bush's rotten MIC
 
 
+10 # Malcolm 2015-01-02 13:55
The controversy over this pork barrel POS has been going on for a very long time. The F-35 is the quintessential example of government being bought and paid for by the military industrial complex. I wonder which-if ANY-of our so-called "Representative s" have not accepted blood money from these evil people?

Alas, one of my favorites is not among them, by a long shot. That would be Senator Bernie Sanders.

This, from a Reader Suppoerted News article written by Carl Gibson, June 3, 2014, sums it up nicely, if unpleasantly:

"So, while Bernie Sanders is saying we should cut military spending to fund free college for everyone, his defense of the F-35 means that despite everything else, Sanders is still just a politician. Sooner or later, the F-35 will eventually be replaced by something even more expensive, while the F-35 joins the thousands of other unused fighter jets in the boneyard. But rather than lying to people and saying the program is already a done deal and that there’s nothing he can do, Sanders could stand by his principles and introduce an amendment in the next National Defense Authorization Act to strip the F-35 program of its funding. That remaining $700 billion could make college tuition-free for everyone for at least a decade."
 
 
0 # Walter J Smith 2015-01-02 15:33
Can't fire its guns? No problem, it can do moral boosting fly-bys for Bernie Sanders campaign events.
 
 
+5 # reiverpacific 2015-01-03 10:47
Quoting Walter J Smith:
Can't fire its guns? No problem, it can do moral boosting fly-bys for Bernie Sanders campaign events.


Sell it to the NRA: -by Gawd, THEY'LL find a way to make it shoot to KILL!
 
 
+2 # aussiemic 2015-01-04 03:02
Not even collectors will pay that much for a piece of crap like this. Sure nut enthusiasts pay $4K for a pistol, but it's a pistol that can SHOOT.
 
 
+10 # Kootenay Coyote 2015-01-02 15:47
How Not to Build an Aeroplane.
 
 
+10 # wrknight 2015-01-02 15:56
What a piece of shit and a royal screwing of American taxpayers.
 
 
+8 # itchyvet 2015-01-03 00:39
And Australian taxpayers.
 
 
+3 # Jim Rocket 2015-01-05 12:14
And Canadian and British taxpayers.
 
 
+6 # wrknight 2015-01-02 16:05
“I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun. Personally, I just don’t see it ever happening and think they should have saved the weight [by getting rid of the gun altogether].”

Frankly, I don't imagine this piece of flying junk ever being useful in any scenario. Like the B-1 bomber, it will fill future junk yards with scrap metal at a cost of more than a trillion dollars.
 
 
+15 # Jack Radey 2015-01-02 18:08
Lets see, they designed a plane to do close support, air superiority, fleet defense and escort of naval air strikes, and conduct same, oh, and have VSTOL capability. A plane that can do everything, or rather, a plane that can do nothing particularly well. Remember the F-111? But this turkey is exceptional-the y bought it first and designed it later. What could possibly go wrong? Why not buy a relatively cheap aircraft that does one or two things well? Because then you can't charge a gazillion dollars for it, capice?

Bottom line? We'd be better off without a new fighter. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE THREATENS US, THIS GILDED PIECE OF CRAP IS MEANT FOR THREATENING OTHER PEOPLE. That is a job better left undone. Since 1945 what has it done for us?
 
 
+2 # aussiemic 2015-01-04 03:05
Even assuming that the USA needs fighters to protect us (you know, like they did on 9/11) this piece of crap isn't worth it. And they've know it wasn't worth it for years. But that doesn't matter because what you want doesn't matter. It's all to do with who the generals work for when they "retire".
 
 
+1 # Flaky 2015-01-03 10:18
I reckon the F-35 is a false flag. "Oh no, we spent *ahem* billions on this piece of shit and it don't work good".

Where'd the money really go?

p.s. the government doesn't know
 
 
0 # ijv 2015-01-03 14:07
Billions? That's small potatoes today. The bill for this one little gem alone is already in the trillions of dollars and it doesn't work worth a darn.
 
 
+4 # ijv 2015-01-03 14:20
Just to put things into perspective, the taxpayer money spent on this one contract (and the military establishment has hundreds of thousands of ongoing contracts) would have been enough to buy every homeless person in the US a $500,000 home and still have plenty of funds left over. Not that that would be such a good idea but it's something to think about when someone starts complaining that this country can't afford to take care of the basic needs of its citizens so that they can have the luxury of being healthy and productive.
 
 
0 # eric the red 2015-01-03 14:34
"The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational."

How is a "fighter" that can't fire its own gun, turn, accelerate, etc., "operational"? Does the Department of War have any useful criteria at all? Or is it enough that the plane can get into the air?

The DoW leads the world in bafflegab.
 
 
0 # runningtab 2015-01-03 18:38
Staggering waste. So implausible it makes me wonder if we'e lowballing the plane's capabilities to invite an as-yet unidentified foe to bring it on while we're admitting we're outgunned. Then ... POW, we tear off the weanie costume and reveal a super-plane underneath! Ha ha, fooled ya, Boris! Down you go!

And sorry to hear Bernie has a dog in this dogfight ... what is it? A parts plant in VT?
 
 
+3 # geraldom 2015-01-04 00:09
I used to work at Lockheed Martin as a contract engineer in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on the F22 program in the late 1990s. I was doing software testing on the F22 hydraulic system controls and I can tell you why there was a major cost overrun on the F35 (JSF) program as is always the case on any aerospace weapons program developed by large corporations like Lockheed and Boeing.

There were a whole lot of contract engineers working on the F22 program at the time, and the minimum hourly rate was $50 per hour and we had a lot of paid overtime to boot and that was in the late 1990s.

Most engineers working on these aerospace weapons systems do not submit an honest timecard at the end of the week. The company was lucky if the engineers actually worked 50% of the time that they claimed they worked on their timecards. It really was a very big social club with engineers making a lot of money working perhaps only half the time that they were there and BSing and doing nonwork related things the rest of the time, and management knew exactly what was going on and didn't give a rat's ass about it, and neither did the U.S. Air Force which had their own office close by where the engineers were situated

(Continued)
 
 
+3 # geraldom 2015-01-04 00:09
(Continued)

I'm sure that the hourly rate today for contractors is a lot higher than it was when I was working at Lockheed. This open dishonesty that was taking place was the primary reason why there were tremendous cost overruns and why schedules were rarely met on the F22 program and why this also most probably occurred on the F35 program. And, as a result of the very bad work ethos that existed, it also tended to create the technical problems that you face at the very end of a program like this, especially when it comes to software development.

To add insult to injury, as a rule in most aerospace development programs, program managers tend to find that software testing of the onboard systems to be more of an impediment than an asset. As a result, whenever schedules and due dates become relatively short, as they always seem to be in these kinds of programs, and some component of the design process has to be compromised and diluted, it is always the software testing phase. There are actual written standards that have to be followed in all the phases of development, including that of software testing, but management is willing to violate those standards when it comes to software testing in order to make schedule.
 
 
+2 # aussiemic 2015-01-04 03:01
"Another senior Air Force official with stealth fighter experience agreed. “From an air-to-air standpoint, an argument could be made that the F-35A not having a functional gun—or any gun, for that matter—will have little to no impact. Heck, it only has 180 rounds anyway,” "

So let me get this straight, 180 rounds of 20mm ammunition on a plane that replaces the A 10 which carries 1,147 rounds of 30 mm ammunition. Well that's a bargain considering that it only costs about 10 times as much.

The bomb load isn't that different but still, 10 times for the same bomb load and, for CAS purposes, a few bursts of a gun.
 
 
0 # Robbee 2015-01-04 15:00
pursuing running tab's theory of hidden capacities: "Staggering waste. So implausible it makes me wonder if we'e lowballing the plane's capabilities to invite an as-yet unidentified foe to bring it on while we're admitting we're outgunned. Then ... POW, we tear off the weanie costume and reveal a super-plane underneath! Ha ha, fooled ya, Boris! Down you go!

whatever this flying bowling ball does, or fails to do, its technology is a decade more advanced than our last stealth fighter jet. when the chinese hack our technology and build it, just to compete we have to build it too. or we could just speed up the process by leaking it to the chinese. the medium is the message
 
 
0 # fredboy 2015-01-04 16:56
Somebody tell Bernie Sanders. He's staked his entire political career on this rat's nest...
 

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