Lockheed Martin has commenced the integration of the automatic ground collision avoidance system (Auto-GCAS) into the F-35 fighter aircraft.

The company is delivering the system in coordination with the F-35 Joint Program Office, the US Air Force (USAF) and other government agencies.

Integration of the life-saving technology into F-35s comes seven years ahead of schedule. The Auto-GCAS technology was originally planned for delivery by 2026.

Lockheed Martin stated that the fielding of the system was expedited using a ‘rapid, agile development, test and contracting approach’.

F-35 Program Executive Officer lieutenant general Eric Fick said: “This is a great day for the warfighter as the Auto-GCAS is a proven system that is long overdue. Expediting this life-saving technology into the F-35 across the global fleet will bring more warfighters home.

“Over the service life of the F-35 fleet, having Auto-GCAS is estimated to prevent more than 26 ground collisions from happening. It is indeed a remarkable achievement in aeronautics, which will improve the performance, efficiency, and safety of the F-35.”

The technology leverages terrain mapping, geolocation and automation to identify and prevent potential ground collisions.

It detects and alerts the pilot to respond to imminent ground impact. In case the pilot is not in a position to take the correct course of action, Auto-GCAS will take control and return the aircraft to a safe trajectory.

Auto-GCAS was first deployed on the F-16 aircraft and has been operational for more than five years. The system is said to have so far saved the lives of eight F-16 pilots.

USAF F-35 Integration Office lieutenant colonel Darren Wees said: “Early integration of Auto GCAS in the F-35 is bringing game changing safety capability to a rapidly growing fleet. It couldn’t have come at a better time as we near full-rate production resulting in more aircraft and pilots exposed to rigorous missions.”

The industry and government team plan to gradually integrate the Auto-GCAS aboard the F-35B and F-35C variants.