L3Harris [LHX] has completed the safety of flight certification for the company’s Integrated Core Processor (ICP) for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 fighter, L3Harris CEO Chris Kubasik said on July 29.

ICP, which is to be 25 times more powerful than the F-35’s current processor, is central to the F-35 program’s Technology Refresh 3 (TR3). The latter is the computer backbone for Block 4, which is to have 88 unique features and to integrate 16 new weapons on the F-35. A big challenge, however, for TR3 has been ICP, and the Government Accountability Office has been concerned by the possibility of further delays in processor deliveries and by the poor software quality for Block 4.

Kubasik said on a July 29 earnings call that “the first [ICP] flight systems were delivered to Lockheed Martin last month.”

“So great news, relative to TR-3 and meeting that delivery a little late, but nonetheless, this is progressing,” he said. “So our Lot 15 hardware starts getting delivered later this year, and the goal, the whole focus here is to support Lockheed to enable their 2023 aircraft delivery. So feeling much better about the progress the team has made. I know they worked a lot of long nights and weekends to get here.”

Ten days ago, DoD said that the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin had entered into a “handshake agreement ” for up to 375 F-35s in Lots 15 to 17–an agreement that could lead to a contract worth up to $30 billion (Defense Daily, July 19).

The DoD fiscal 2023 budget request included $7.2 billion for 61 F-35s, including 33 Air Force F-35As, 13 Navy F-35Cs, and 15 Marine Corps F-35Bs. The House Appopriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2023 defense bill funded the request, while the Senate Appropriations Committee’s draft defense bill adds nearly $633 million for three F-35Cs and three F-35Bs.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in May that the Air Force is “very interested and insistent on getting the Block 4 capabilities for F-35, and the contractor has been late in delivering them sofar so we want to see evidence that he’ll be able to accomplish that before we increase the production” (Defense Daily, May 13).

The service’s fiscal 2023 budget curtails the planned buy of F-35As from more than $5 billion sought for 48 planes in fiscal 2022 to about $4.5 billion for 33 F-35As in fiscal 2023.

Ensuring rapid upgrades for F-35 computing power will likely be an important issue going forward, especially as DoD is increasingly reliant on Korea-based Samsung and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC) for making advanced microelectronics. Samsung and TSCMC are the only firms that have built state-of-the-art computer chips below 10 nanometers (nm)–a size that allows more transistors on each chip to augment a system’s artificial intelligence features, RAND said in a report this year.

TSMC may soon open a $12 billion “fab”–computer chip plant–in Phoenix to turn out 5 nm microprocessors. U.S. companies like Intel [INTC] and New York-based Global Foundries Inc. [GFS] make 12 percent of chips globally, down from 37 percent in 1990, according to a 2021 Semiconductor Industry Association report.

DoD’s industrial capabilities report to Congress in January last year said that the F-35 may rely on software for 90 percent of its avionics specification requirements. “This has grown significantly over the last four decades when the F-15A had just 35 percent software reliance in 1975,” the study said.