The F-35 brings advanced technology to every stage of the aircraft lifecycle. From production techniques to testing methodologies and from pilot and maintainer training to sustaining the global fleet, the Lightning II is the culmination of decades of experience in fighter technology.
With components from global aerospace and defense industry leaders and a common production line for all three variants, the F-35 is the first international 5th Generation fighter. Production costs are declining and will continue to do so as the ramp rate increases to full rate production.
Underpinning the F-35’s unrivaled capabilities is more than 8 million lines of software code – more than four times the amount of the world’s first 5th Generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor.
Integrated Test Force teams have consistently accomplished more test points, flights and flight hours each year to prove capability and introduce new software blocks to the fleet.
As a single seat fighter, the F-35 relies on advanced training techniques to prepare pilots for first flight. Three training centers across the United States host the latest courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators, flight events and event-based maintenance training.
The F-35 was designed with sustainment in mind to control cost at the individual aircraft, squadron, service and global fleet levels.
Focus on Sustainment
A Digital Jet for the Modern Battlespace
Underpinning the F-35’s unrivaled capabilities is more than 8 million lines of software code – more than four times the amount of the world’s first 5th generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor. From flight controls to fusing together the F-35’s sensor data to form a clear and comprehensive picture of the battlespace, software is essential.
F-35 software enables:
- Flight controls
- Radar functionality
- Communications, navigation and identification
- Electronic attack
- Sensor fusion
- Weapons deployment
A Block Development Approach
From the program’s outset, the software team has focused on developing six key software releases known as Blocks:
- Block 1A/1B – Block 1 comprises 78 percent of the more than 8.3 million source lines of code required for the F-35’s full warfighting capability. Block 1A was the ready for training configuration while Block 1B provided initial multi-level security.
- Block 2A – Block 2A is currently released to the F-35 fleet. It provides enhanced training including functionality for off-board fusion, initial data links, electronic attack and mission debrief. With Block 2A, nearly 86 percent of the required code for full warfighting capability is flying.
- Block 2B – Block 2B provides initial warfighting capabilities, including but not limited to expanded data links, multi-ship fusion and initial live weapons. The U.S. Marines declared IOC in July 2015 with Block 2B. With Block 2B, more than 87 percent of the required code for full warfighting capability is flying.
- Block 3i – Block 3i provides the same tactical capabilities as Block 2B. The principal difference between 2B and 3i is the implementation of new hardware, specifically the updated Integrated Core Processor. The Air Force declared IOC with Block 3i in August 2016. With Block 3i, 89 percent of code required for full warfighting capability is flying.
- Block 3F – Block 3F provides 100 percent of the software required for full warfighting capability, including but not limited to data link imagery, full weapons and embedded training.
Combining Teamwork and Technology
The F-35 production process has been called an orchestra where time-tested manufacturing principles, next generation tooling techniques and a highly skilled workforce perform together to produce unmatched capabilities for American and allied forces.
More than 300,000 individual parts all come together to produce the F-35 Lightning II at Lockheed Martin's mile+-long factory in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition, final assembly and checkout is performed at facilities in Cameri, Italy and Nagoya, Japan.
The F-35 program brings together the world’s most experienced aerospace industry leaders, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Pratt & Whitney. The global team also includes more than 1,400 suppliers from domestic and international companies around the world. This landmark project combines team expertise with sophisticated manufacturing, engineering and technological capabilities.
The F-35 production strategy is based on flow-to-takt manufacturing implementation. Flow-to-takt is the movement of component assemblies, like wings and forward fuselages, from one build station to the next at a rate equal to the delivery rate. This production rhythm increases efficiencies, lowers costs and reduces span times while synchronizing the delivery of parts, timing of tasks and positioning of personnel to achieve standard work in each line position.
The F-35 production strategy is already paying tremendous dividends. Production learning curves are beating legacy aircraft like the F-16. Costs have come down 62 percent since the procurement of the first production aircraft, and the time it takes to build the F-35 has been reduced by nearly half. As the F-35 prepares to enter full rate production, these key manufacturing indicators are projected to continue to improve.
Focus on Sustainment
The F-35 was designed with sustainment in mind. The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is the fleet management backbone for the F-35. Pilots plan and debrief missions, and sustainment professionals maintain the F-35 using ALIS. Delivering an integrated interface to maintenance, supply chain and sustainment information, ALIS is the single management tool supporting all F-35 operations.
The F-35 is the first tactical aircraft system to have sustainment tools designed in concert with the air vehicle to optimize operations. This focus on sustainment, together with economies of scale realized from a global supply chain for more than 3,000 aircraft, will help control the costs associated with maintaining a fleet of 5th Generation fighters.
ALIS is integral to maintaining and operating F-35s. It is a system-of-systems approach to fleet management that connects maintenance, supply chain and sustainment information into a single management tool to support all F-35 operations.
ALIS turns maintenance data into actionable information that enables pilots, maintainers and military leaders to make proactive decisions and keep jets flying.
A single, secure information environment provides users with up-to-date information using Web-enabled applications on a globally-distributed network. Security is paramount, and ALIS allows each nation to keep their sovereign data protected while pooling the data that the nations choose in order to support worldwide reliability and maintainability.
In April 2016, the latest iteration of ALIS was approved for installation at U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy F-35 sites. Along with a number of improvements to the system's baseline, the upgrade delivers significant enhancements for managing forward operations and sustainment.