The United Kingdom has yet to decide if it will upgrade its Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JAF) combat aircraft with the new Distributed Aperture System (DAS) announced earlier in the month.
Answering questions in the House of Commons, Guto Bebb, Minister for Defence Procurement, said that a decision on whether or not to swap the current Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-37 DAS with a new system to be developed by Raytheon will be made “once [the government] understand[s] the time and cost implications”.
“As with all upgrades, this will be undertaken as part of the future capability development programme,” he said on 19 June. “Costs have not yet been negotiated or agreed.”
Bebb’s comments came five days after Lockheed Martin announced that from Lot 15 production in 2023 it is to switch DAS suppliers to “enhance capability and reduce cost”. This timeline coincides with the commencement of deliveries of Block 4 (now known as Continuous Capability Development and Delivery [C2D2]) full-operating configuration in the early 2020s, which will be the first post-system design and development (SDD) standard (Block 4 is to be rolled out in increments from 2020, with the full configuration being made available from 2023).
By 2023, the United Kingdom will have received 42 of the 48 short take-off and landing (STOVL) F-35Bs that it has so far committed to (the wider international programme will have seen 951 aircraft of all variants delivered during the same period). A decision to upgrade these UK aircraft to the newer DAS system will have to be made as part of a wider plan to bring them up to the latest Block 4/C2D2 standard.
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