The F-35 joint program office, which is developing a plan for future upgrades to the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built Lightning II, intends to present its proposal to senior Defense Department leaders in late October, the program’s leader said Sept. 6.
The “follow-on modernization” proposal, which reflects “a new set of requirements,” will need the approval of Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s new acquisition chief, said Navy Vice Adm. Mat Winter, who became the F-35 program executive officer in late May.
The plan, known as Block 4, will be a mix of hardware and software updates and is expected to cost more than $3.9 billion through 2022, the Government Accountability Office said last month (Defense Daily, Aug. 8). The document was supposed to be sent to Congress in March but has undergone a reassessment due to budget uncertainties and a change in program leadership, according to the GAO.
The program, meanwhile, expects to complete flight testing by year’s end of its latest software upgrade, Block 3F. An initial operational test and evaluation with that software is slated to begin in February, Winter said at a Defense News conference near Washington.
Winter asserted that the F-35 has made great strides over the past 18 months by demonstrating its advanced multi-mission capabilities in training exercises, deployments and other activities.
“Though there are definitely areas that still need to be improved from a capability perspective, and we’re continuing to mature the weapon system, the warfighter is getting what he or she asked for from the requirements to the transition to the operational capability,” he said.
The program has fielded 250 aircraft with the U.S. and foreign militaries, and that number is poised to reach almost 1,000 over the next five years as Lockheed Martin continues to ramp up production in Fort Worth, Texas.
Higher production rates are expected to help drive down per-aircraft costs. The program estimates the cost of the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C variants will be $80 million, $104 million and $98 million, respectively, in Lot 14, down from $94.3 million, $122.4 million and $121.2 million in Lot 10.