The F-35 program office dismissed a December 31 article in The Daily Beast, saying it “misreported” when it asserted that the F-35 would not be able to fire its gun until 2019—three to four years after initial deployment—due to a software problem. According to Defense News, the program office says the gun will actually be operational by 2017:
The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.The JSF won’t be completely unarmed. It will still carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of bombs. Initially, it will be able to carry 1,000-pound satellite-guided bombs or 500-pound laser-guided weapons. But those weapons are of limited utility, especially during close-in fights.“There will be no gun until [the Joint Strike Fighter’s Block] 3F [software], there is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years,” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “Block 3F is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?”
Phew.The program office does however have one admission about the approximately $1.5 trillion jet, the most expensive weapons platform the American taxpayer has ever paid for:
While the gun is currently on schedule, that does leave a gap between when the first F-35 squadrons go operational and when the gun can be used. The F-35B jump-jet variant is scheduled to go operational for the Marines in mid-2015, while the F-35A conventional take-off and landing model will go operational for the Air Force in the fall of 2016.The Navy’s carrier variant F-35C is scheduled to go operational in 2018, with a more up-to-date software package.In the meantime, the F-35 will conduct close-air support (CAS) operations with a mix of air-to-ground precision weapons, including the AMRAAM, JDAM and GBU-12. Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, who commands the USAF Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and is developing tactics for the jet, told reporters in a December interview that the plane will rely much more on its precision guided munitions (PGMs) than the gun for close air support.“I think, so far, it looks like the PGMs will be more useful in the CAS role,” Silveria said, before noting “we have not really completed all of the operational testing on the CAS.
The F-35 is supposed to be the do-it-all solution in the skies for every branch of the military, a Swiss army knife whose strategic value lies in that it absolutely ensures American air superiority in any situation for the foreseeable future. This announcement doesn’t make an already delay-plagued program look any better, and highlights again the problems with our outmoded procurement policies. Even if the F-35’s guns are operational by 2017 as the program office says—and history suggests that they may not be—”good enough” isn’t good enough for the intended lynchpin of American airpower.