F-35B Needs Workaround to Fuse Sensor Data, General Says


F-35 training

The U.S. Marine Corps' next-generation fighter jet will initially rely on a workaround to merge targeting data from multiple aircraft, a general said.

Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the service's deputy commandant for aviation, on Monday discussed the issue during a conference call with reporters. He oversaw the recent operational readiness inspection of 10 F-35B jump-jet versions of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built plane. 

"Right now, inside the 2B software, we have some latency issues with trying to tie all four airplanes together," he said, referring to the block of computer code that runs the aircraft and was used to merge sensor information.

"There's no latency at all with the first two airplanes; there's no latency problems with ships three and four," he said. "It's when I try and tie all four together that sometimes a target is kind of slightly misplaced on the ground, or it's not but I'm not confident in 100 percent of the cases exactly where it's supposed to be."

As a temporary workaround, Lockheed engineers devised a software patch that will share sensor data from two aircraft with another pair of aircraft by using a Link 16 tactical data connection, Davis said.

"What they've done is they've gone to two-plus-two with a Link 16 tie-in, so they're able to share targeting information with all four airplanes," he said. "But they're doing sensor fusion as two-two ships vice a four-ship."

Davis said the workaround performed well during the recent operational readiness inspection. Indeed, he said the 10 F-35Bs passed all IOC criteria and met the requirements for a declaration of combat readiness. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford is reviewing the results and is expected to declare the F-35 ready for initial operations "soon," he said.

Even so, Davis said he would have liked to have had for "full four-ship fusion" for the early operational F-35Bs, along with a new night-vision helmet, Small Diameter Bomb II, GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm Gatling gun and the ability to stream video. Many of the enhancements will be included as part of a future software upgrade, known as 3F, which is slated for fully operational F-35Bs in late 2017, he said.

Lockheed engineers are working on resolving the sensor fusion issue. "They're getting closer," Davis said, though a solution might be a year or year or more away. "We demand it be fixed for 3F."

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