So far, the F-22 and F-35 have been developed along parallel paths. Except for one of the F-35′s engines, the direct links between Lockheed’s two “fifth-generation fighters” are surprisingly thin. It seems both Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force like it that way. If an official — or even unofficial — photo exists showing both aircraft together in flight, I’ve never seen it.
The disconnect extends deep beneath the titanium and steel skin. Major subsystems for both aircraft are based on different computing architectures. So improving hardware or software on the F-35 yields no benefit for the F-22, and vice versa.
No decisions have been made, but Lockheed officials at the F-22 factory are asking if that should change, only 16 months before the production line is shut.
The concept involves installing the F-35 computing architecture and certain hardware in the F-22. Even Lockheed acknowledges the idea would require “significant initial investment”, but could yield “some cost savings” in the long-term. Discussions with the US Air Force are underway.
“Say, if we want to add something to [the F-22] CNI suite, F-35 could take that wholesale with minimal modifications,” says Jeff Babione, vice-president and deputy general manager of the F-22 programme. “So you’ll see this bouncing back and forth where F-22 develops something for F-35, and F-35 develops something for F-22.”
Although less powerful and slower than the F-22, the F-35 has more sensors. Installing the electro-optical targeting system, infrared search and track and distributed aperture system “as is” on the F-22 is impossible, the company says, but the proposed “common architecture and common modules provides the opportunity for synergy … at a potentially lower cost across both platforms”.
Another potential example is the integration of the multifunction airborne data link (MADL), a narrowband channel designed to pass data between stealth aircraft such as the F-35, F-22 and the Northrop Grumman B-2A bomber.
The US Congress has criticised the US Air Force over the high cost of integrating MADL on the F-22, even after making a similar heavy investment for the F-35. The USAF has recently withdrawn MADL from the Increment 3.2 upgrade programme for F-22, delaying the start of integration until fiscal year 2014, Babione says.
But adopting a common architecture with the F-35 could “dramatically reduce” MADL implementation costs on the F-22, Babione says.