The F-35 is expected to complete initial operational test and evaluation late this year, certifying the Block 3F version is fully combat-ready. By that time, work will be well underway for dozens of planned upgrades, collectively known as Block 4.
Block 4 comprises some 53 improvements to counter both air- and ground-based threats emerging from China and Russia. None of these upgrades will change the aircraft’s outer appearance, or “mold line.” Instead, they are primarily new or enhanced features executed in software, which will be rolled out in stages, with updates every April and October starting in 2019 and continuing through at least 2024.
“Instead of doing two-year deliveries … we decided to go to a more continuous capability framework,” said Vice Adm. Mathias W. Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer, in a December interview.
Now that Block 3F has been “verified and validated,” the Lightning II is a “mature” system, Winter said, and ready to accept “modernization, enhancement, and improvements.” Exactly how many early production F-35s will be upgraded to the 3F configuration may be revealed in the 2020 budget submission to Congress.
Most existing F-35s are getting the Technology Refresh 3 package. Known as TR3, Winter said it includes “updated cockpit displays, updated memory system capacity, and updated core processing and computer power.”
Together, these “ensure that we have growth [capacity] well into the 2030 time-frame.”
In fact, TR3 makes the Block 4 improvements possible, Winter said. (end of excerpt)
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