Programme office warns that nations will have to pay for qualifying alternatives

Some international partners in the US-led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme have expressed concerns about using depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in the aircraft's 25mm gun. The four-barrel Gatling gun in the Lockheed Martin F-35 is based on the General Dynamics GAU-12 in the Boeing AV-8B, which uses armour-piercing DU ammunition.

"At this point there is no non-depleted-uranium round available," says Jon Schreiber, director of international programmes in the JSF programme office. Several partners, including Australia, Denmark and Norway, have expressed interest in a non-DU round, he says, but they would have to pay for development and testing.

Development of alternative, non-DU ammunition is not part of the JSF system development and demonstration programme, says Schreiber. "They would have to develop a round, then we [the USA] would put it into the Foreign Comparative Test [FCT] programme," says Schreiber. FCT is the US Department of Defense's vehicle for evaluating and qualifying foreign-developed armament and equipment.

Flight International understands several of the JSF nations have organised a partner-only selection process for development of a conventional round, with Austalia's ADI, Oerlikon and Norway's Raufoss the contenders. Each was expected to demonstrate its proposed round, with a downselect before year-end, but the USA has warned that qualifying the new round will cost up to $30 million, which the partners will have to pay.

A by-product of the enrichment of uranium for use as nuclear fuel, depleted uranium is used in armour-piercing ammunition because it is extremely dense and pyrophoric - disintegrating and burning after penetrating the armour. But as low-level nuclear waste, the material's use in ammunition is internationally controversial, although there is no treaty banning the use of DU projectiles.

Schreiber says the programme office does not expect the ammunition issue to stop any of the eight partners signing the memorandum of understanding on participation in the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase.

Source: Flight International