The F-35 Just Made History: Full-Scale Production Begins

F-35 Fighter from Lockheed Martin
March 14, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35F-35 Joint Strike FighterMilitaryDefense

The F-35 Just Made History: Full-Scale Production Begins

The F-35 Lightning II, a stealth fighter jet, received Pentagon approval for full-scale production on March 12, marking a significant milestone for the program.

Summary: The F-35 Lightning II, a stealth fighter jet, received Pentagon approval for full-scale production on March 12, marking a significant milestone for the program. Under Secretary of Defense William LaPlante praised the decision, which signals the program's stability and readiness to fulfill nearly 3,500 orders across its three versions. Despite this achievement, the program faces challenges with delivering the aircraft. Technical issues and manpower shortages have halted deliveries, despite Lockheed Martin producing at normal rates. The awaited TR-3 software update, crucial for new munitions and enhanced capabilities, further complicates deliveries. The Department of Defense may accept aircraft with older software to ensure timely fulfillment, underscoring the jet's critical role in national security.

F-35 Lightning II Hits Production Milestone: What Lies Ahead for the Stealth Fighter?

The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet achieved another major milestone after the Pentagon approved full-scale production on March 12. 

“This is a major achievement for the F-35 program,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante said in a press release.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, is now cleared hot to meet the vast demand for the aircraft from the U.S. military and from dozens of foreign partners. In total, there are almost 3,500 orders for the three iterations of the F-35, with several additional countries waiting to enter the program and submit their own orders. 

“This decision — backed by my colleagues in the department — highlights to the services, F-35 cooperative program partners, and Foreign Military Sales customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed,” LaPlante added.

The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced fighter jet in the skies today. A multi-role, fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II comes in three versions (A, B, C) and can operate from the ground, from aircraft carriers, and in expeditionary conditions. 

Full-scale production approval is an important milestone, but it is of limited practical value. There are some serious issues with the production of the F-35 that largely negate the effect of the Pentagon’s announcement. 

What’s Up with F-35 Deliveries? 

Deliveries of F-35s have largely been halted. In its February fast facts on the F-35 program, Lockheed Martin indicated “990+” deliveries. More than a month later, in the March fast facts, the manufacturing company displays the exact same number of deliveries. To make matters more complicated, Lockheed Martin announced a few months ago that it reached the 1,000-aircraft milestone in production. 

Lockheed Martin has been producing aircraft at normal rates (approximately 158 aircraft a year) but isn’t delivering them, because technical issues and manpower shortages are delaying necessary software updates for the manufactured aircraft. 

Specifically, Lockheed Martin has been trying to roll out the TR-3 update, which includes upgrades to the F-35’s onboard digital infrastructure, data storage and processing capabilities, and user interface. In addition, the TR-3 will allow the fifth-generation stealth fighter to carry new air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, as well as pack better sensors and cyber warfare countermeasures. 

If that wasn’t enough to complicate the situation, the F-35 Program is waiting for yet another major upgrade (Block 4) that cannot go through until the TR-3 software is ready. Block 4 is an important milestone in the F-35 program, and it will ensure that the stealth fighter is ready to fight and prevail in a contested near-peer operational environment. 

Although Lockheed Martin expects the issues with the TR-3 software to be resolved this year – within the summer according to some estimates – the Department of Defense is considering accepting deliveries of the aircraft with the older TR-2 software. 

Smooth and timely deliveries of the F-35 are a national security issue, as the fifth-generation fighter jet can make the difference in a potential conflict with a near-peer adversary. 

About the Author

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP. Email the author: [email protected].

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