March 01, 2019

Keeping the F-35 Ahead of the Bad Guys

BY JOHN A. TIRPAK

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.