A British sailor prepares to mount bombs on a F-35 fighter for exercises off the United Kingdom's HMS Queen Elizabeth. Photo courtesy of the British Royal Navy
Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has awarded Lockheed Martin $130.4 million for the second phase of the F-35 Lightning II Block 4 pre-modernization program.
The pre-modernization funding, announced Friday by the Department of Defense, will go toward design work, determining requirements and reviews of how well updates and weapons technology are being integrated by participants and partners in the future F-35 Block 4 incremental software modernization program.
The award combines purchases by the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, with foreign partner nations, which account for $84.4 million, or 65 percent, of the new contract.
The Block 4 is part of a series of gradual updates to the highly sophisticated software integral to the operational capabilities of the F-35, including weapons and maintenance software like the aircraft's Autonomic Logistics Information System.
ALIS is the F-35's internal diagnostic system meant to provide crews with maintenance requirements and automatically transfer work and parts requirements to a central database in order to ease logistics.
The program is slated to start in 2019 following the full installation of Block 3F software upgrades. It is meant to allow for simultaneous development and testing for new updates that can be issued piecemeal as they become available.
Vice Admiral Mat Winter, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, said in September in an address at the Defense News Conference that the idea is to make downloading incremental improvements similar to how smartphones update apps and their own operating software.
According to Winter, the current Block 3F suite still suffers from a number of software and firmware deficiencies, consisting mostly of minor bugs which still need to be corrected.
"We are going to continue to chip away where we have time and it makes sense," while combining the effort with the planned Block 4 requirements under development, Winter said.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is a 5th generation multi-role stealth platform will replace most of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter fleets. It will also be exported to approved allies across the world, with many participants already having received its first purchases of the fighter for testing.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history, with an estimated cost of $1.4 trillion over the anticipated life of the plane. It has faced significant controversy over cost overruns, testing problems, and delays in development, though Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been making moves to bring costs down, apparently already doing so with the future cost per aircraft.
The F-35 is expected to enter full service over the next several years with the U.S. and allied nations, with some squadrons already partly operational and forward deployed.