The U.S. Marines are making some big software upgrades to their controversial F-35B stealth fighter jets, hoping to allow one of the military’s most advanced and expensive aircraft to reach new heights by this summer.
At Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, engineers are installing new software called Block 2B to the planes.
"Well now when we go to 2B, we'll be able to go to 550 knots, we'll be able to go above the speed of sound, we'll be able to pull more Gs,” said Lt. Col. Steve Gillette, commanding officers of the Marine Fighters Attack Squadron 121.
The squadron, known as the Green Knights, is closer to having the jet ready for combat in just over three months. But getting the F-35B prepared has not been without its hitches.
CNBC and The Fiscal Times reported the F-35 Lightning II is the most expensive – and possibly the most bug-filled – project in the U.S. military’s history.
The Department of Defense is expected to spend $1.5 trillion over the program’s 55 years, and Winslow Wheeler with the Project of Government Oversight, a critic of the program, puts the cost of one Marine Corps F-35B at about $250 million.
The Lockheed Martin plane has been hampered with years of delays and cost overruns. Most recently, the Air Force reported concerns that the jet may not be able to tolerate fuel that is heated past a certain temperature, according to a CNBC report.
Gillette said his team has not had any problems with the F-35B in Yuma. They have been working with the aircraft for nearly two years, progressively adding software, having pilots test it and solving any issues.
"It's a very technical airplane, but [service members] have adapted extremely well to taking care of this airplane, and we continue to make huge progress,” he said.
If it performs as advertised, the F-35 will help pilots dominate the skies by evading enemy radar. The Marine version of the plane is capable of short take-offs and vertical landings – important for being close to troops on a mission.
"At the end of the day, all we really care about is can we better serve the Marines that are on the ground, as we support them as the aviation combat element, and I think the F-35 will do that very well,” said Gillette.
The Green Knights have a July deadline to meet the initial operational capability – a big step toward deployment.