LA(PHOT) KEITH MORGAN / CROWN COPYRIGHT
INNOVATION FUTURE EQUIPMENT
An RAF F-35B demonstrates its STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) capability
data to our Typhoons and RC-135W Air Seekers, for instance. We’re still at the start of this journey,” he says. Taylor is also the SRO for the Typhoon, and can see many possibilities for cooperative engagement. Then, of course, there is low observability (LO). The F-35 is designed to penetrate areas that are
THE F35 IS DESIGNED TO PENETRATE AREAS THAT ARE DENIED TO OTHER COMBAT AIRCRAFT denied to other combat aircraft by sophisticated air defence systems. “The US has been doing LO missions for 35 years, and we must now learn how to do them,” notes Taylor. But the UK is not starting from scratch in this field. Earlier in his career, Taylor completed an exchange tour on the US Air Force F-117A, and other RAF pilots have been similarly exposed to the B-2 and F-22 stealth aircraft. The LO learning task includes maintaining the F-35’s ‘stealth’ coatings, although Taylor says that this
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is much easier than on the earlier US stealth aircraft. Training RAF and RN engineers on the new type is well under way. The engineers are being sent on a phased basis to courses at Beaufort and Eglin. The front-line maintenance at Edwards of No 17(R) Squadron’s three F-35Bs is already carried out by UK personnel, although some facilities are shared with the US Air Force. Eglin is also the location for an F-35 software reprogramming laboratory that the UK will share with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). In such a heavily software-driven aircraft – more than nine million lines of code are planned – the management of upgrades is critically important. The first two UK aircraft were delivered with Block 1B software, which integrated initial sensors and communications. BK-3 came with Block 2A software, which added networking capability. BK-1 and BK-2 are currently being upgraded to Block 2B, adding the initial weapons and DAS functionality. The fourth British aircraft has been delivered with the Block 3i standard – a re-hosting of Block 2B on new core processors, which also now provides for the definitive HMDS. From later next year, F-35s will be delivered with Block 3F software that offers full war-fighting capability. However, Taylor notes that negotiations are now under way to define the capabilities of Block 4. After that, he expects software upgrades to the F-35 every two years.
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