The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Shows Great Progress As Research and Development Continues

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola flies over the northwest coast of Florida May 15, 2013.
A U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola flies over the northwest coast of Florida May 15, 2013.

In the fiscal year of 2011 the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation (DoDFMR) wrote a document of appropriations for the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation program (RDT&E) in order to secure a budget of $77.2 billion U.S. dollars. The budget would be used to provide necessary research and development into several programs vital to the continued technological advancements and national security that the United States Military is highly respected for. These programs included the in-development Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, a multi-role strategic stealth fighter intended to replace the esteemed Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor currently being used in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The DoDFMR’s documents detailing the need for the budget appropriations provides clear insight into the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation program and explains exactly how they intend to spend the budget in the form of six listed Budget Activities [pages 2-3].

Budget Activity 1, Basic Research. Basic research is systematic study directed toward greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable facts without specific applications towards processes or products in mind. It includes all scientific study and experimentation directed toward increasing fundamental knowledge and understanding in those fields of the physical, engineering, environmental, and life sciences related to long-term national security needs. It is farsighted high payoff research that provides the basis for technological progress. Basic research may lead to: (a) subsequent applied research and advanced technology developments in Defense-related technologies, and (b) new and improved military functional capabilities in areas such as communications, detection, tracking, surveillance, propulsion, mobility, guidance and control, navigation, energy conversion, materials and structures, and personnel support. Program elements in this category involve pre-Milestone A efforts.

There are six other Budget Activities that the Department of Defense detailed, Under Budget Activity 1 the areas in which they want to conduct research are all apart of development of the F-35; communications, detection, tracking, surveillance, propulsion, mobility, guidance and control, navigation, energy conversion, materials and structures, and personnel support. Meaning that the research being conducted on the F-35 is not only for the aircraft itself, but can be later be applied to other technologies in the future. Budget Activity 1 proves to hold great significance in the development of the F-35 as the bold listed desired improvements show up in scattered documentation related to the aircraft’s systems developed in a joint effort between defense contractors and military of multiple governments.

Northrop Gunman developed the Communications, Navigation, and Identification system on board the F-35. According to their datasheet, they have been developing “The Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) system, designed and developed exclusively by Northrop Grumman for the Lockheed Martin F-35, is the most advanced integrated avionics system ever engineered. seamless low-latency transition from one mission phase to the next. The current configuration consists of 10 channels with more than 40 waveforms and 30 conformal antennas, supports multilevel security and is JTRS compatible. Combat-Ready on Command Northrop Grumman’s fully integrated, simultaneous CNI avionics suite includes such advanced capabilities as Ultra High Frequency (UHF)/Very High Frequency (VHF) transmit and receive, Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) transponder, Link 16, Joint Precision and Approach Landing System (JPALS), wireless communications and the cutting-edge Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) for low-observable platforms.” The datasheet also lightly mentions its capabilities in Identification and Surveillance.

Pratt & Whitney designed the F-35’s propulsion system and states on their website here: “The F-35 includes three variants to meet the unique needs of the three branches of the U.S. armed forces as well as the international participants—the Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL), the Carrier Variant (CV) and the Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing” They also built the propulsion system for the F22 Raptor which has a great track record. The propulsion system categorically falls under mobility in Budget Activity 1.

The Air Mobility Command wrote an article “Eglin units save thousands with F-35 innovations” which states:

Technicians also designed and fabricated sets of stiffeners, throttle quadrant covers and a bullet-style axle thread protector, which keep parts in the jet protected during post-flight inspections and maintenance. In total, these parts saved the Air Force nearly $67,000 in manufacturer repairs as they are used throughout the F-35 enterprise.”


“This is brand new stuff, no one’s ever done this before — and you’re helping write the technical data and troubleshooting procedures that hundreds of people down the road are going to be using,” Miller said. “Something I do today — in two months — will end up at Luke (AFB in Arizona), and they’ll be able to read exactly what I came up with (to) make the same job easier.”

which falls under the category of materials, structures, and personnel support listed in Budget Activity 1.

As for the F-35 it is not currently finished yet and won’t be until 2037, the Military is confident in the F-35 program after seeing benefits from their advanced design and simulation tools which managed to give the research team a much better design earlier than they expected. They knew that there would be economic risks and began low-rate production along side development of the F-35 in order to test the aircraft understanding that the need to rework the development of it would be modest. There is concurrency cost; the average time it takes to implement changes into product ranges from 18 – 24 months, meaning that the programs they use in development are also suffering from decomposition. The average amount spent on the F-35 is $11.4 billion per year, it’s expected to be $55.1 billion by the end of its RDT&E cycle. The plane itself was only 30% complete when these issues came up conveniently in time for the discussion of the Military’s budget; it might as well still have been in Alpha seeing as they expected a modest amount of issues during development. The majority of the funds not associated with RDT&E have not been provided yet and it won’t affect the budget at this time. The complete cost of the plane will come in 2037 when the US plans to spend $319 billion on them, nearly 2 decades before this affects the Military in a major financial way.

An AirForce document recently revealed in an article that the F-35 managed to out preform and shoot down 8 the F-15E’s with no losses on their side; despite all the claims in 2015 that the F-35 was inferior, showing that progress has been made on the F-35, Source. The project itself is a long-term investment by the Military and joint companies; as the research goes forward we will continue to see major improvements for the F-35, but as of right now the jet remains decades away from completion.


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