The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will not receive the software package required to operate the Pentagon’s top close-air support bomb until 2022, according to military.com.
The article also stated that the JSF office already had discovered earlier that the precision-guided air-dropped Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) does not fit onto Joint Strike Fighter Marine Corps variant without modifications to the aircraft’s weapons bay.
Yet the Department of Defense will wait until the F-35 B (the Marine Corps variant of the F-35) reaches initial operability before modifying the F-35’s armament bay, since the weapon will be useless without the right software package.
The various systems of the plane require more than 10 billion individual lines of code, all of which are broken down by the developers into individual blocks numbered 1 to 4, then further subdivided into letters. Block 4 A will be ready by approximately 2022, and Block 4 B is slated to be completed by 2023.
Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander of Air Combat Command, noted cautiously: “When we get to the Block 4s of the F-35s those are going to be great CAS (close air support) platforms — when we get there. So we’ve got to continue to move down that with respect to the systems.”
He also reiterated the special capabilities of the new bomb, which includes a guidance system capable of directing the weapon using millimeter wave radar, among other cutting-edge technologies.
“Really, in the close-in CAS fight, and the most challenging being danger close where you have adversaries and friendlies in very close proximity — we have to be able to support the ground component at that point. We need the ability to deliver weapons rapidly. We need the high magazine, we need precision and we need to be able to control the yield,” the general notes.
The article quotes JSF officials who emphasize that that the F-35 will have close-air support capabilities by the time it reaches full operational capability in 2018 including, “the ability to fire an internal gun and drop a range of munitions including AIM-9X weapons, AMRAAMs, GBU 12s, GBU 31s and the Small Diameter Bomb I.”
The Small Diameter Bomb II can fly over 45 miles, “reducing aircrews’ time in harm’s way,” according to Raytheon, the military contractor building the weapon. “The weapon’s small size allows fewer aircraft to take out the same number of targets as previous, larger weapons that required multiple jets,” the company website further notes.
The Pentagon is planning to acquire 12,000 SDB IIs by 2017.