Lockheed proposes F-35′ing the F-22

Photo by Lockheed Martin

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 The USAF has recently withdrawn MADL from the Increment 3.2 upgrade programme for F-22, delaying the start of integration until fiscal year 2014, Babione says.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.

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15 Responses to Lockheed proposes F-35′ing the F-22

  1. John S. 29 October, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    I’m all for anything that puts a Helmet Mounted Cueing System into the F-22.

    What good is extreme agility and AIM-9X missiles in a close-in dogfight if you have no way to exploit the 9X’s HOBS seeker head?

  2. jetcal1 29 October, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    I wonder? Will the F-22 be resurrected after 2012 ala’ B-1? It apppears the campaign contributions have been going to the wrong congressmen.

  3. BDF 29 October, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Wow some common sense finally prevails! I really hope this does come to fruition as this would keep the F-22’s avionic architecture current and allow the F-22 program to piggy-back off the much larger F-35 program for spiral upgrades. I’m not as worried about not being able to take on the EOTS as for the F-22 mission it isn’t nearly as useful and as an IRST it’s a mid-wave system and I’d rather see a two color sensor that combines mid and long wave. DAS is another story but still more relevant for the F-35’s mission. LM has said it’s exploring turning the F-22’s AAR-56 MLD into a DAS capability. Combine that with the currently unfunded APG-77 cheek arrays and you have all the off-bore sight capability you need.

    As for program becoming another B-1, we can only hope!

  4. RunningBear 29 October, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    The F-22 will be around long after this Democrat administation. Now that Block 1.0 is moving into the F-35 flight line, the conversion of the last 20 F-22s to the F-35 mission system is a no brainer. The piggy-back and leap frog development of joint systems will be the best cost efficiency and joint tactical missions applications that can be proposed. I predict that this success will even evolve into a retrofit for the later “teen” blocks.

  5. Dave 29 October, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    I’m sure Lockheed can make it happen but it’s going to be expensive. The thing is the USAF is unwilling to spend the money to retrofit the bus architecture from the Block 35 (Lot 6, 7, 8, 9) Raptors into the Block 30 and older planes because it would be “prohibitively expensive”, what makes Lockheed Martin think they’ll shell out for this project? Right now, according to the F-22 SPO folks, they have a “technical solution” to add Increment 3.2 along with a new Enhanced Stores Management System and new processors for the CIP to the Block 30 jets using the existing bus architecture in those planes, however there isn’t a funded program to retrofit those 63 older Raptors with Increment 3.2. The question I have is: Where is the money going to come from? Taken together with a potential new bomber program, the lack of funding is a real problem here.

  6. ELP 29 October, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Better to go with the original plan of the F-22.

    The F-22 already has growth room from the original design to have right and left check AESA arrays put in. Do it.


    And the F-22 was also supposed to have EOTS. Where do you think the F-35 EOTS idea came from?


    Better to go for the original plan with the F-22 and F-35, a cooperative approach to airpower.


  7. SMSgt Mac 30 October, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Who could have seen this coming?
    Oh yeah!… I did.
    I think the last time I may have mentioned it was Three and a half years ago: formerspook.blogspot.com/2007/07/funding-game.html

    (Anyone know the tag for ‘gloating’ online?)

  8. Dude 30 October, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    Since when do F16 & F15 need to share major subsystems? Unnecessary, IMHO. Standardize key interfaces and specs would suffice.

  9. Nied 1 November, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    While this sounds like a worthwhile thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if this “significant initial investment” amounted to a few squadrons worth of F-35s in terms of costs.

  10. Weaponhead 2 November, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    What, add more cost and schedule over-runs?

  11. Amicus Curiae 2 November, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    For goodness sake don’t change the F-22 architecture. It is working. Dramatic and useful Improvements can be made in F-22 capability without the linkage described here. The F-35 way of doing things is not proven. JSF superiority groupthink is an infection. Enough already!

  12. Atomic Walrus 2 November, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    Amicus Curiae,

    I think you’ve missed the point of this article. It’s not a question of whether the F-22 architecture is already working, it’s a question of keeping it working in the future. The F-22′s biggest vulnerability is its small numbers, and its worst enemy will be the continuation engineering for a numerically-small force. Building commonality with F-35 will improve the ability to support the F-22 fleet in future rather than leaving it an orphaned platform crippled by budget cuts. It’s also rather strange to criticize the F-35 development process, given that it’s the same type of process that led to the F-22.

  13. Amicus Curiae 3 November, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    I wanted to avoid the obvious pun, but since no one else wants to do it, here goes. Here’s the real meaning of this proposal: “Lockheed proposes F’ing the F-22…again”

  14. Tony Phinisee 11 November, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

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