Lockheed Martin eyes common architecture for F-35, F-22

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Lockheed Martin is looking at revamping several of the F-22's most critical systems with hardware from the F-35.

The initiative would create a common architecture that links upgrades of the radar, electronic warfare suite and communications, navigation and identification (CNI) system to both aircraft.

The concept requires "significant initial investment", but "could yield some cost savings in the long term", the manufacturer says.

Lockheed developed the F-22 about a decade ahead of the F-35. Both aircraft share the company's "fifth-generation fighter" slogan, but major subsystems are based on different 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.

"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."

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 The USAF has recently withdrawn MADL from the Increment 3.2 upgrade programme for F-22, delaying the start of integration until fiscal year 2014, Babione says.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

Lockheed also is looking for other ways to find "synergies" within the F-22 upgrade programme, which now divides the 150 combat-coded fighters into two categories.

About 63 F-22s are receiving the primarily air-to-ground Increment 3.1 upgrade. This adds the ability to create synthetic maps of the terrain using the Northrop Grumman APG-77 active electronically scanned array radar, plus the ability to drop Boeing's GBU-39 small diameter bomb.

Another 87 F-22s will receive the Increment 3.2 upgrade. This adds Raytheon's AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder and AIM-120D AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. By using software, Lockheed also can add the weapons to the 63 Increment 3.1 aircraft.

Meanwhile, Lockheed is investigating options to extend the service life of each F-22 beyond 8,000 flight hours. USAF officials have asked the company to come up with prices for required structural upgrades.

The two options under review are to add 2,000h or 4,000h to the airframe's service life, Babione says. Lockheed plans to submit its results by end-year.