The F-35 remains the most technologically advanced fighter in service today. But as capable as they are, those in charge of its development are already planning for the fighter’s next upgrade. Here’s what we know so far:
A New Brain
Some of the fighter’s onboard systems are decades old. To get them up to date, the US plans to modernize the computational core via the new Technology Refresh 3 hardware and software. This new core offers 25 times more processing power and will eventually be integrated with other improvements to increase its performance.
It is expected that the F-35’s radar processing, distributed aperture system, communications, and more will be affected by this change. Lot 15 F-35s produced today already come equipped with this new technology. Meanwhile, the Lot 16 and 17 versions will get an improved electronic warfare processor and around 20 electronic warfare receivers, respectively.
Seventeen New Weapons
The Continuous Capability Development and Delivery program aims to integrate 17 new kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, which include the Joint Strike Missile, Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM-ER), SDB II, and the highly capable European Meteor AA missile.
Moreover, the F-35’s internal weapon capacity will also see an increase from four to six depending on loadout.
To power the new systems set in place, the F-35 will also be fitted with an Engine Core Upgrade that would increase the engine’s thrust by 10%, fuel efficiency by 5%, and an increase of 7% in operational range.
The upgrade will be available for all variants of the F-35 as soon as it’s ready.
So far, the Block 4 upgrade’s estimated cost comes at around $15 billion over the span of more than a decade.