The beneficiaries include the US Air Force (USAF), Navy, Marine Corps and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers and non-DoD participants.
In addition, this modification will also see Lockheed Martin provide the reprogramming laboratory development of Lot 17 aircraft in Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway and the UK. The contractor will also provide Lot 17 mission data file updates for the Governments of Denmark and the Netherlands.
‘Lot 17’ is a designation given to the latest tranche of F-35 aircraft produced; the DoD finalised a deal for production in December 2022.
This ‘lot’ includes 126 aircraft that will be the first iteration to include the Technical Refresh-3 (TR-3) upgrade, the modernised hardware needed to power Block 4 capabilities. TR-3 includes a new integrated core processor with greater computing power, a panoramic cockpit display and an enhanced memory unit.
However, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report in December complaining the Block 4 modernisation programme – now in its fifth year – faces major delays and cost growth.
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Originally due to be completed in 2026 and determined to cost $10.6bn, the Block 4 programme has risen to $16.5bn and is now estimated to conclude in 2029, the GAO reiterated, already having voiced concern in May 2023.
The AGM-88 HARM is an air-to-surface tactical missile designed to seek and destroy enemy radar-equipped air defence systems.
It can detect, attack and destroy a target with minimum aircrew input. The proportional guidance system that hones in on enemy radar emissions has a fixed antenna and seeker head in the missile nose. A smokeless, solid-propellant, dual-thrust rocket motor propels the missile.
DoD reverts to a legacy missile
Usually, HARMs are integrated on the F-16C Fighting Falcon jets. Although, according to the US Air Force, as of August 2020, this was the only aircraft in the Air Force inventory that could carry the AGM-88.
However, the upgraded variant – the AARGM – also complements the F-35A/B/C, F/A-18C/D/E/F Super Hornet as well as the E/A-18G Growler aircraft.
The integration of legacy HARMs over the AARGMs is a curious circumstance.
However, considering the DoD only ordered the production 118 AARGM extended range missiles at the end of November last year, it would be reasonable to assume that US weapons inventory lacks the upgraded variant and is left to integrate it legacy missiles.