The upgraded software is needed for the F-35 to release its full arsenal of missiles as well as its internal 25 mm cannon — in other words, to be fully combat capable. While the Block 3F has long been touted as the upgrade necessary for that, Jeff Babione, F-35 executive vice president at Lockheed Martin, switched course recently and hedged this claim.
The ability to deliver precision-guided munitions and all other bombs featured in the weapons suite is already a capability "resident in the software," Babione said, but the software integration with the gun has not been finished. The executive would not disclose to IHS Jane's why the final certification of the Block 3F software had been pushed back two more months.
There's evidence to suggest Lockheed won't even meet the later deadline. In April 2017, the Government Accountability Office reported that postponed Block 3F implementation would probably take at least five months longer than the end of 2017, or roughly May 2018. A five month delay would require about $532 million to finish development, GAO noted.
But on July 25, Babione insisted to reporters that the company was "well-positioned to complete air vehicle full 3F and mission systems software development by the end of 2017."
According to GAO, best practices within government suggest the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin should set a completion date based on historical data. In the April report, GAO recommends using this method to improve projections.
The military has defied this practice and instead made projections based on "anticipated test point achievements." DoD did not concur with GAO's recommendation to base forecasts on historical data moving forward.
Furthermore, GAO said 3F delays would lead to ripple effects throughout the F-35 program.
"These delays could affect the start of the F-35's initial operational test and evaluation, postpone the [US] Navy's initial operational capability, and delay the program's full rate production decision, currently planned for April 2019."
While the Defense Department and Lockheed have angled for Congress to fund Block 4 development to the tune about $650 million in fiscal year 2018, GAO states that "completing Block 3F development is essential for a sound business case and warrants funding priority over Block 4." The Pentagon did not agree with the recommendation.