The Pentagon is upgrading mission systems avionics as part of a tech refresh effort for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that improves memory, weapons delivery, storage, processing speed, display video and aircraft parametric data, industry developers said.
Faster processors improve F-35 delivery of weapons enabled by the latest 3F software drop, such as the AIM-9X air-to-air missile. Also, improved radar warning receiver technology will more quickly identify enemy aircraft and integrate with the aircraft’s mission data files, or threat library.
The new avionics are intended to enhance the F-35’s sensor fusion so that information from disparate sensor systems can be combined on a single screen for pilots to lower the cognitive burden and quicken the decision-making process. New modules for mission systems will integrate into the F-35s Distributed Aperture System sensors and Electro-optical Targeting System.
Earlier this year, F-35 maker Lockheed Martin awarded a contract to Harris Corporation to provide the computing infrastructure for new panoramic cockpit displays, advanced memory systems and navigation technology, Brad Truesdell, senior director of aviation systems at Harris, told Warrior.
The new hardware and software technology, to be operational on the F-35 by 2021, includes seven racks per aircraft consisting of 1,500 module components, including new antennas and weapons release systems.
Some of the components include an Advanced Memory System (AMS) engineered to improve data storage and generate higher resolution imagery to help pilots with navigational and targeting information.
“Instead of having to measure something in megabits or megabytes, we are now talking about terabytes,” Truesdell said.
The upgrades include a portable memory device which can quickly be transferred from a ground station to the F-35 cockpit.
3F Software Operational
The Air Force is now in the process of operationalizing the F-35’s latest “3F” software iteration, a development which integrates additional technology and equips the stealth aircraft with a wider range of weapons such as the Small Diameter Bomb and AIM-9X, service leaders said.
After experiencing some challenges during developmental testing, the 3F software drop is now improved and sharpened up for delivery, senior Air Force officials said.
Many of the JSF’s combat capabilities are woven into the F-35s combat capabilities are woven into developmental software increments or “drops,” each designed to advance the platform’s technical abilities. There are more than 10 million individual lines of code in the JSF system.
Block 3F increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) and AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missile, service officials explained.
4th Software Drop
The 3F software drop is preceded by earlier increments, each one bringing new technical integration to the aircraft.
Block 2B built upon the enhanced simulated weapons, datalink capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop. Block 2B enables the JSF to provide basic close-air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), JDAM or GBU-12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF program officials said.
Following Block 2B, Block 3i increases the combat capability even further, and Block 3F brings a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.
Called 3F, the service is already working on a 4th drop to be ready by 2020 or 2021. Following the drop of 3F, the aircraft will incorporate new software drops in two-year increments in order to stay ahead of the threat.
The first portion of Block 4 software funding, roughly $12 million, arrived in the 2014 budget, Air Force officials said.
Block 4 will include some unique partner weapons including British weapons, Turkish weapons and some of the other European country’s weapons that they want to get on their own plane, service officials explained.
Block 4 will also increase the weapons envelope for the US variant of the fighter jet. A big part of the developmental calculus for Block 4 is to work on the kinds of enemy air defense systems and weaponry the aircraft may face from the 2020’s through the 2040’s and beyond.
In terms of weapons, Block 4 will eventually enable the F-35 to fire cutting edge weapons systems such as the Small Diameter Bomb II and GBU-54 – both air-dropped bombs able to destroy targets on-the-move.
The Small Diameter Bomb II uses a technology called a tri-mode seeker, drawing from infrared, millimeter wave and laser-guidance. The combination of these sensors allows the weapon to track and eliminate moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions.