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US F-35 Upgrade Stymied by Software Problems, Prompting Delivery Woes

© AP Photo / Aijaz Rahi U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft F-35 performs aerobatic maneuvers at Aero India 2023, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
 U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft F-35 performs aerobatic maneuvers at Aero India 2023, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.11.2023
Ever since its maiden flight almost 17 years ago, the US F-35 – an aircraft with a staggering per-plane cost of $70-$90 million – has been plagued by a long list of technical bugs affecting both hardware and software. The latest upgrade to the jet is again proving a challenge for defense giant Lockheed Martin.
The Pentagon has reportedly been scrambling to fix embarrassing delivery setbacks of its beleaguered F-35s due to upgrades hindered by software problems.
The US Defense Department is currently being forced to consider uploading "interim versions" of the Tech Refresh 3 (TR-3) software into the latest F-35s, reported a military outlet. The debut flight of an upgraded F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is said to have been carried out last week with an incomplete version of the software installed. The flight took place at the manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility.

Technology Refresh 3 represents a batch of hardware and software upgrades to the F-35s. Specifically, it offers everything from improved processing power and computer memory to better displays.

In the wake of the TR-3 upgrades, more extensive modernization is planned, designated as Block 4. Details about that suite of new capabilities are, of course classified. According to media reports, it will allow the fighter to carry a bigger load of long-range precision weapons, while also boosting its electronic warfare capabilities. Since the Joint Program Office launched the ambitious round of upgrades to the fighter jet, Block 4 has been cropping up in government reports, military and technical essays. In the media, it has been dubbed as a secret plan for making F-35 fighter "even more lethal." However, hidden behind the eye-catching headlines is the fact that developmental woes have riddled the program.
The delivery schedule has been pushed further and further back. Originally, Lockheed bragged that delivery of the first F-35s loaded with the TR-3 update could happen by the end of the calendar year. Now, reality has forced it to revise that estimate to somewhere between April and June 2024, as per a media statement by the company.
The first jets with the TR-3 hardware rolled off the production line in late July, but the software have woes meant the fighters could not carry out check or "acceptance" flights. Accordingly, the Pentagon halted deliveries.
The JPO and Lockheed Martin are working with the US services and international customers on potential options to deliver operationally acceptable aircraft that would most likely require future software drops for a subset of capabilities to meet all requirements,” a JPO statement was cited as saying. It acknowledged that a decision on delivery of F-35s with an "interim" form of TR-3 software is yet to be made by all sides involved, including international customers.
F-35 aircraft fly over the U.K.'s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, June 20, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2023
F-35: Closer Look at Colossally Costly Jet That Just Can’t Seem to Stay Airborne
The F-35 fighter, which is operated in different variants by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, is equipped with anti-detection stealth technology. The F-35s are used by NATO member-states, as well as Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, with other countries also signing deals to buy the jets. However, from the start of the F-35 program, it has been beset by a variety of major setbacks, resulting in costly fixes. The F-35 boasts the unenviable reputation of being not only costly (an estimated $70-$90 million per-plane) but also bug- and crash-prone.
A September report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that almost half the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that are supposed to be operational are not capable of flying, and it will cost $1.3 trillion to keep them operational.

"The F-35 fleet mission capable rate - the percentage of time the aircraft can perform one of its tasked missions - was about 55% in March 2023, far below program goals," the report said, adding that this level of operational readiness was "unacceptably low."

An F-35A releases ordnance during a dual capable aircraft (DCA) test flight in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, California, on October 22, 2019. - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.09.2023
Almost Half of US' F-35 Fleet Not Capable of Flying at Any Time - Watchdog
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