F-35 on schedule, Pentagon says

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A software problem associated with the gun on the F-35 won’t delay the stealth jet’s operational timeline or its arrival at Hill Air Force Base, Pentagon officials say.

On Dec. 31, the American news website Daily Beast reported that due to a software production delay, the General Dynamics-built gun on the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter would not be able to fire during missions until 2019 — four years after the jet is scheduled to become operational.

The article quoted an unnamed Air Force official associated with the F-35 program who said that the software that controls the jet’s four-barrel, 25 mm Gatling-type rotary gun called the GAU-22, would not be available until 2019. The Daily Beast story posited that until the gun issue is resolved, the F-35 would not be able to provide close air support for troops on the ground.

But Pentagon F-35 spokesman Joe DellaVedova said that the story was misreported and, while recent tests did uncover a small issue in the gun’s software system, it would cause no delays and have no impact to the program or its timeline. 

DellaVedova said the software in question, known as “3F software,” has long been scheduled to come on board in 2017 and that date has not changed.

“In December 2014, during computer lab tests of 3F software, we identified a minor low-level issue with aircraft software that impacted the interface with the gun,” DellaVadova said in a statement. “This discovery was part of normal software development and testing and a plan is in place to resolve this issue by spring 2015. There is no anticipated impact to scheduled gun testing or fielding.”

In a separate telephone conversation, DellaVedova said the finding was nothing out of the ordinary, especially since the jet is being developed under a defense method called “concurrence,” which means the jet is actively built during the same time testing is ongoing.

Comprehensive flight tests on the gun for the Air Force’s F-35A variant are scheduled to begin mid-2015 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and will include ground fire tests, muzzle calibration, flight test integration and in-flight operational tests. DellaVedova said the F-35 program remains in its developmental phase and software and other capabilities are only delivered after they are inspected and cleared through flight testing.

Hill will be home to the first three operational F-35 squadrons and will begin receiving what will ultimately be a total of 72 jets in October.

Construction work that will ultimately exceed the $100 million mark is currently ongoing at Hill, ranging from completely new hangars, renovation and expansion of buildings to new flight simulators, and earth-covered bunkers for aircraft munitions.

When the jet arrives, Hill will get an initial group of pilots from F-35 test and training units at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Luke AFB, Arizona; and Nellis AFB, Nevada; while also gaining F-35-qualified pilots from other fighter wings, and retraining some F-16 pilots currently in-house.

Hill will likely receive 83 F-35-qualified maintainers by December 2015 and transition more than 100 legacy fighter technicians to F-35 work within the first year of operations. The base will gain roughly 475 new employees, both active-duty and civilian, during the transition to the F-35.

DellaVedova acknowledged there is a lapse between the time the F-35s begin arriving at Hill and when the software issue is expected to be resolved the following spring, but said the gun wouldn’t have been operational until 2017, software issue or not.

“The bottom line is there is zero impact (at Hill),” he said. “The F-35 25mm gun system was established in 2005 as a Block 3F weapon for all F-35 variants and its capability will be delivered in 3F software in 2017.”

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