F-35 Program Office: Gun Remains On Schedule

By Aaron Mehta

WASHINGTON — The gun on the F-35 joint strike fighter remains on schedule to go operational in 2017, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The Daily Beast reported on Dec. 31 that the gun would not be able to be used until 2019, but in a statement F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova described that story as a “misreporting” of the facts.

The gun in question is a 25mm system known as the GAU-22, developed by General Dynamics. It is internal on the F-35A model and carried in an external pod of the F-35B and F-35C designs. GAU-22 testing for all three models is scheduled to start this year.

Since 2005, DellaVedova said, the GAU-22 was planned to go operational with the block 3F software. That software is scheduled to go online in 2017, with low-rate initial production lot 9.

“Delivering the gun capability in 3F software is well known to the military services, International Partners and our foreign military sales (FMS) customers,” DellaVedova said. “That has always been the stated requirement and plan and it hasn’t varied since the technical baseline review in 2010.”

DellaVedova did acknowledge a “minor low-level issue” with the gun’s software, but said that issue was identified as part of testing and would be resolved by spring of 2015, without affecting the timetable for the gun’s fielding.

While the gun is currently on schedule, that does leave a gap between when the first F-35 squadrons go operational and when the gun can be used. The F-35B jump-jet variant is scheduled to go operational for the Marines in mid-2015, while the F-35A conventional take-off and landing model will go operational for the Air Force in the fall of 2016.

The Navy’s carrier variant F-35C is scheduled to go operational in 2018, with a more up-to-date software package.

In the meantime, the F-35 will conduct close-air support (CAS) operations with a mix of air-to-ground precision weapons, including the AMRAAM, JDAM and GBU-12. Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, who commands the USAF Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and is developing tactics for the jet, told reporters in a December interview that the plane will rely much more on its precision guided munitions (PGMs) than the gun for close air support.

“I think, so far, it looks like the PGMs will be more useful in the CAS role,” Silveria said, before noting “we have not really completed all of the operational testing on the CAS.”

While the use of PGMs in CAS is significant in recent operations, those in the CAS community favor the A-10 Warthog and its 30mm cannon for close-in support of ground troops.

UPDATE 1/8/2015: After this story went online, The Daily Beast published a story calling DellaVedova’s statement a “misstep” and defending its reporting that the cannon would not be operational for frontline units until 2019.

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