Air-Launched Weapons

F-35 drops PGM on a moving target using Block 3F software

21 April 2017
An F-35C from the 461st 'Deadly Jesters' Flight Test Squadron drops a GBU-12 PGM over Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. Source: Lockheed Martin

The Joint Program Office (JPO) for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has for the first time dropped a Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway II precision-guided munition (PGM) against a moving target using the aircraft's Block 3F software.

The inert drop, which was announced on 20 April, took place at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California and involved a carrier-variant F-35C from the 461st 'Deadly Jesters' Flight Test Squadron (FTS) attacking a remotely controlled pick-up truck.

As noted by the US Air Force's (USAF's) 412th Test Wing, this event using the Block 3F (full combat capability) software is significant, as it incorporates new release 'logic' to reduce pilot workload and increase effectiveness against moving targets. This logic is called Lead Point Compute, and it evaluates the speed and direction of the target against the altitude and speed of the aircraft to determine the exact release point.

The target for the test was a remotely controlled pick-up truck. (Lockheed Martin)The target for the test was a remotely controlled pick-up truck. (Lockheed Martin)

"[The pilot] doesn't have to think about how fast the target's going, or what direction," Collin O'Fallon, an engineer attached to the 461st FTS for the test, was quoted as saying. "By him using this [Block] 3F capability, it's doing all the weaponeering for him. That's really the big thing, it's a single-seat fighter. He's got to do it all, so we want to do as much for him as we can."

The 500 lb GBU-12 has now been dropped from every F-35 variant, though previous tests involved earlier aircraft software blocks. "This was really a test of the aircraft targeting system and associated [Block 3F] weaponeering logic, and the results of this test will be used to certify this capability with a GBU-12 on the F-35." O'Fallon said.

With the F-35 currently fitted with the Block 3i (initial full capability) software, Block 3F is due to be rolled out in May 2018.

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