The US Air Force (USAF) is reportedly exploring potential upgrades that can be performed on the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft in the future.
F-35 Integration Office director major general Jeffrey Harrigian was quoted by Reuters as saying that the service was already looking at follow-on capabilities for the fighter in the wake of rapid technological advances made by potential adversaries, and ensuring that the infrastructure was in place to enable such upgrades.
Harrigian said: "We are already considering and thinking through what are some of the technologies that will be part of the F-35.
The F-35 aircraft was built by Lockheed Martin under a $391bn programme. It is designed to conduct an array of ground attack, reconnaissance and air defence missions with stealth capability.
The aircraft is being developed in three variants, including a conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the US and allied air forces, a short take-off and landing fighter for the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy, as well as a carrier version for the US Navy.
Meanwhile, the USAF is preparing to declare initial operational capability for the aircraft by August or September 2016.
The service is currently working on a number of issues, including software development, modification of existing aircraft to incorporate design changes, advancing work on automated logistics system, and ensuring a sufficient number of technicians are trained to service the fighter.
Harrigian said: "There’s a lot of work to be done … but from where we sit, we’re on the right glide path to initial operational capability (IOC)."
The fifth-generation aircraft is expected to achieve full operational capability with the air force by 2021 or 2022.
Apart from the US, the jets have also been ordered by Australia, Italy, Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the UK.
Image: A F-35 Lightning II aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, US. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo / Staff Sgt Darlene Seltmann.