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F-35 programme office defends gun and sensor

Two critical close air support systems – a 25mm cannon and an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) – will be available on the Lockheed Martin F-35 by 2017 and will meet expectations, say programme officials on 7 January.

The F-35 joint programme office (JPO) defended both systems against what it calls “nameless/sourceless/baseless reporting” in recent weeks, but acknowledged one new development problem for the gun and some operational limitations for the Lockheed-built EOTS sensor.

Contrary to a report that the General Dynamics GAU-22 gun is unable to be fired until 2019, the JPO says it will be delivered when the Block 3F software becomes operational. That delivery date is now scheduled in Fiscal 2017 with aircraft built in the ninth lot of low-rate initial production (LRIP-9).

The JPO says that operators accepted that timeline for the cannon system in 2005. However, in 2005, the Block 3F software was supposed to be first installed on LRIP-5 aircraft delivered in 2013. Software development was subsequently delayed by four years.

Meanwhile, the JPO confirms that laboratory tests last month identified a “minor low-level issue” with the software controlling the gun system. It is scheduled to be fixed this spring with no impact on the fielding schedule two years later, the JPO says.

The JPO also defended the F-35's primary sensor for close air support operations – the EOTS. The electro-optical and infrared camera will be able to transmit still images to joint terminal attack controllers on the ground using the aircraft’s Link-16 transmitter. An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that the JPO message corrected a statement in article by the online Daily Beast, but that article did not address still imagery.

At the same time, the JPO concedes that the EOTS will lack several features commonly found on the latest generation of targeting pods carried by fighters the F-35 is replacing. These features include higher definition video, longer range target detection and identification, video data link and an infrared marker and pointer. Customers can add those features in later block upgrades, however, the JPO says.

“As with all development programmes, the F-35 baseline requirements define the starting place for capabilities that will be evolved and upgraded over the life of the programme,” the JPO says.

[Updated to correct reporting on EOTS sensor.]

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