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USAF and Navy F-35s Could Deploy Before IOC Dates

by John Reed on May 25, 2011

So there’s been much fretting lately (well for years, actually) about the prospect of increased cost growth and schedule delays for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program despite the definite up-tick in its flight testing. The plane’s initial operating capability dates which basically dictate when the jet will be able to perform basic combat missions have been pushed more than two years to beyond 2016 for the Navy and Air Force. This delay causes a host of headaches that we won’t get into here, but lets just say a lot of people were planning on having the F-35 replace their aging jets before 2016, now they’ve got to figure out how to keep those planes flying; in some cases, past their service lives, an ever more expensive task.

One of the key features for the Navy and Air Force in determining the jet’s ability to execute missions is the integration of the Block 3 operating software which contains thousands of lines of code for mostly classified combat capabilities. Now, Air Force and Navy officials are saying that they may deploy the jets in combat before that software is installed.

From Defense News:

“If the combatant commander said, ‘bring me this capability,’ then we clearly would provide it,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the service’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements.

The Navy’s director of warfare integration, Rear Adm. David Philman, who was also testifying, concurred.

“I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t be able to be told to go into theater, assuming all the safety considerations have been taken care of,” he said.

Both the Navy and the Air Force would have some number of the aircraft prior to any IOC date, but the specifics of how many planes would be available is not yet known.

“We will have a number, probably on the order of a 100, airplanes delivered to operational units before we declare Initial Operational Capability,” Carlisle said. “Clearly, although we may not declare IOC, we’ll be training, we’ll be doing the tactics, training and procedures with the Block 2.”

Keep in mind, the Marines planned on declaring IOC with their F-35Bs (and now Cs, too) with Block 2 software since the jet will still be a very potent fighter compared to many existing planes. The Corps’ IOC date has been bumped two to three years to 2014 or 2015.

This means the planes won’t formally have all their combat capability but they’ll still be flying missions around the world and potentially seeing combat. This means the pilots and ground crews will be gaining valuable experience operating the jets and Lockheed’s customers can start retiring their older fighters. As one of the last paragraph in the Defense News story says, maintaining the IOC dates based on the Block 3 software’s readiness may simply be a tactic to keep Lockheed hustling, not necessarily a reflection of the jet’s ability to perform in combat.

Insisting on the Block 3 configuration allows the Pentagon to keep the pressure on Lockheed Martin, the contractor that builds the F-35.

“I’ll be perfectly frank: In a lot of cases, if you delay an IOC, you can maintain pressure on a contractor,” Carlisle said.

Still, I’d like to know more about the safety considerations the Rear Adm. Philman was talking about. Was he talking about basic maintenance and flight procedures or was he talking about enemy threats to the stealthy jet?

 

 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

mike j May 25, 2011 at 11:40 am

Combat would be one hell of a place to discover your software has a glitch.

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Atomic Walrus May 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I'm guessing that's why they impose delays in releases of software blocks. Block 2 doesn't have all the features of Block 3, but all of the Block 2 features will have been verified & validated prior to release.

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brian May 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Look, you don't put off a computer purchase just because a new version of office is coming out next year. You base your buying decisions on what the computer and its software capabilities have today and what it means to today's needs. You can always go out and update the software later. Seriously this is a good thing that they are doing. They are finally making rational choices in the planes development.

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xxx May 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm

that is a cool photo, are those twin 2000 lbs jdams?

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STemplar May 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Look like it.

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EJ257 May 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

It was the F-22 deploying to Japan. They had to postpone until the glitch was fixed.

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superraptor May 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

the F-35 will not have a chance against the J-20 or Pak T-50 as they will be able to carry 8 to 10 AAMs internally with a longer range than the AIM120 D as the weapon bays are larger. There is presently no funding to increase the internal AAM load of the F-35 to 6 missiles. A new larger than the F-22 platform is needed in order for the US to have some shot at air superiority in 2020 and beyond. What a strategic blunder to put all bets on the F-35. I hope a President Romney totally replaces the USAF leadership, but we will see.

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Gregory Savage May 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm

LMAO @ president Romney. Please I hope we both remember this so I can rub it in your face. You do know most of his policies are the same or very similar to Obama's correct.

Back on topic, do you have a crystal ball into what the Russian or the Chinese capabilities are? Yes there missiles could key word here is could, because we don't know have longer range, but will they have the active guidance and all of the performance of an 120d? Lots of things look good on paper but turn out to not be as good as we thought. A good starting point for the chinese would be to make their OWN engine. Russia needs to get some order, first They talk a big game, but don't back it up.

I love the raptor, but there are obviously problems which I honestly have no clue about. The f-35 doesn't seem as bad as some of you are making it. I never heard anyone complain about f-16 performance before, and you get greater performance then that with the f-35. Not every plane needs the raptors performance.

One other thing to note is our advisaries combat aircraft inventories. So far Russia bought something like 50 su-35s and those orders won't be filled until 2015. How many f-35s will be built by that time. We already have almost 3 times the number of raptors. Most of China's airforce is antiquated and not up to par.

I'm no military expert, but you can't go spending the bank you don't have for a boogieman. We already sunk the money in developing this, so midas well see the fruits of our labor. The infrared system alone looks eons ahead of everything else.

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superraptor May 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

without 6 Internal missiles the F-35 is toast. If you can direct me to any source indicating that there is funding for 6 internal missiles, maybe I will give the F-35 a chance, but it does not seem to exist. The J-20 and Pak T-50 will be bigger, faster with greater range and greater weapons load. The F-35 seems outmatched already if it even will reach operational capability given multiple unresolved technical and price issues. At 200 mill/plane it will be cancelled eventually.

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Kenn May 26, 2011 at 2:51 am

"If you can direct me to any source indicating that there is funding for 6 internal missiles, maybe I will give the F-35 a chance, but it does not seem to exist. The J-20 and Pak T-50 will be bigger, faster with greater range and greater weapons load."

Let me fix that for you:

If you can direct me to any source indicating that there is funding for the J-20 and Pak T-50, READY FOR MASS PRODUCTION, maybe I will give what you say a chance, but since they seem to NOT exist, what you say is toast.

China and Russia DO NOT YET EVEN KNOW THE FULL CAPABILITY OF THE J-20 / T-50, yet you seem to have a crystal ball and know full well they will dominate the skies? What are you? A 5 * Armchair Air Marshall that moonlights as a fortune teller?

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superraptor May 26, 2011 at 9:41 am

Hope is not a strategy. By 2016, China's economy will surpass ours. They will mass produce multiple weapon systems including many J-20s because they have the industrial base and we don't. There is a reason that the F-22 has 8 internal AAMs. For future air-to-air combat the F-35 with 2 to 4 internal AAMs will be outclassed particularly since its opponents will have supercruise capabilty and the F-35 will not. We are in a pickle. It is time to get real and offer alternatives to this impending Tacair disaster.

jessmo May 26, 2011 at 6:46 am

Honestly how many F-18s or F-16s fly into combat with a max fuel load and 6+ AMRAAMS? if you put any more than that you need to give up fuel stations.
Sure in a base defense senario they can carry close to 10, but how far will they go?

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SDP May 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm

F-16′s can carry 6 AIM-120′s, 2-370 gallon fuel tanks, ECM pod, 4 Chaff/Flare modulars and 2-ALE-50′s, so if need be they could. What the Air Force has blown there wad on is wasting money on A/C that cost to much when they could have bought Block 60 F-16′s, moded them for the AF and renamed them Block 70′s. Once you have air superiority you need a work horse. Besides the F-16, more F-15E’s could have been purchased or the F-15 SE with internal stores in place of the conformal fuel tanks.

OMEGATALON May 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm

All variants of the F-35 are ready to production as the only thing stopping Lockheed Martin from going into full production rate is the Obama Administration as they can fix the glitches with fuel mixtures effecting range and other computer software later, as pilots of the US Air Force, Navy and Marines can begin the learning curve now and like with the F-22 Raptor, they can hold off into entering military action until all the glitches are worked out as the price will only continue to climb especially with inflation being what it is.

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anon May 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Overall cost won't change, we're just choosing between receiving a finished product later after various revisions and cost hikes or going through a long beta-testing stage which will incorporate revisions and cost hikes. In the end and on the average the individual programs will be "fixed" at about the same time.

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wpnexp May 26, 2011 at 8:40 am

I think modifying the F-35 to carry 6 internal AAMs would be pretty easy compared to the other aspects of the plane that are coming on line, like the AESA, STOVL capability, the EO-DAS, and the yet unresolved HMD. Indeed, adding things like lasers would provide an unlimited air to air load-out (assuming its not too cloudy, LOL). Not worried about the funding, but the USAF and USN need to decide they want the capability somewhat before they actually need it.

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superraptor May 26, 2011 at 9:43 am

Without funding it will not happen.

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Doogie May 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

The inference may actually mean Red Flag type combat environment and not real-world combat theater missions. This would be the logical progression (i.e., F-22 path to IOC).

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Neal May 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I just read that the F-35 will continue to be built and deployed at the cost of a reduction of military forces. Why? We never use the planes we have now. just another way for the decision makers to get rich.

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WD Campbell May 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Your analysis is flawed.
We didn't need 25 Aircraft Carries in 1939.

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Rich Williams May 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Just another excessively expensive fly-boy toy. How many adversary aircraft have we had to deal with in the last few “wars”? What a colossal waste of our taxpayers money… Get some common sense!

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David North May 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Yeah—my house has never been robbed. What a waste to own a gun. i'm such an idiot.

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thestealthfighterguy October 4, 2012 at 11:26 am

Funny. We didn’t need the A-bomb until Russia and Germany were building one. Russ never fired one all those years. I guess we can throw all of ours away now. Wake up people.

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@Earlydawn May 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

GDP does not equal technology. The Chinese are struggling to build a turbofan engine for the J-20. Do you really think that they're going to be able to build a competitive stealth aircraft? It's more than a low observable design. You need advanced synthetic aperture radars, electronic warfare systems, 360° missile warning alert systems, sensor fusion, secure cross-platform datalinking..

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@Earlydawn May 26, 2011 at 11:02 am

Do you really think that GDP equals technology? China is struggling to build turbofan engines domestically. That's a basic staple of aerospace industry. To achieve a true fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the Chinese are going to need a lot of technologies that they don't have. Synthetic aperture radars with advanced signal processing, 360° missile warning systems, sensor fusion, secure high-speed datalinks..

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