An unknown number of new F-35s will be held up as a result of ongoing testing for the TR-3 system, with deliveries expected to start between December 2023 and April 2024.
Starting in July, newly built F-35 Joint Strike Fighters outfitted with Tech Refresh 3 (TR-3) hardware will not be accepted by the government until ongoing testing for the system is completed, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) tells Breaking Defense.
“As we reported to Congress in March, we still see risk of TR-3 delivery slipping until the December 2023-April 2024 timeframe. Delivering combat capable aircraft to our warfighters is our #1 priority and TR-3 provides the computational horsepower that ensures the F-35 remains superior to potential adversaries for decades to come,” JPO spokesman Russ Goemaere said in a statement.
“Starting later this summer, F-35 aircraft coming off the production line with TR-3 hardware will not be accepted (DD250) until relevant combat capability is validated in accordance with our users’ expectations. The JPO and Lockheed Martin will ensure these aircraft are safely and securely stored until DD250 occurs,” he added.
Following January’s first TR-3 flight test, the F-35 program started integrating the new hardware into production in February and set the first delivery of a jet equipped with TR-3 for July, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. Since more flight testing and further evaluation of the system’s software remains, Goemaere’s statement confirms that jets with TR-3 hardware set to start rolling off the line this summer will be sequestered until that testing completes.
Earlier this year, during the company’s first quarter earnings call, Lockheed Martin chief executive officer Jim Taiclet indicated that F-35 deliveries would take a hit due to TR-3 delays. Taiclet, however, characterized the impact as minimal, describing it as only a “fraction” of F-35s that would result in “little to no revenue impact”; it is still unclear exactly how many jets will be held up as a result of the delivery pause.
“Our team is fully dedicated to delivering TR-3 F-35 aircraft and will continue to work with the JPO on software development while maintaining the highest levels of safety and quality. We continue to deliver aircraft in the TR-2 configuration as planned,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
In March, F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt told lawmakers that the JPO’s “80 percent schedule risk assessment” expected that the TR-3 system would be completed by April 2024, an indication that date could slide left or right. Lockheed’s estimate, however, was that the TR-3 system would arrive by December 2023, a schedule the company is holding fast to.
“The joint team continues to work tirelessly on TR-3, and Lockheed Martin remains committed to delivering the first TR-3 jet this year,” the company said in response to questions from Breaking Defense.
Bottom line: any F-35 jet coming off the line starting in July that is expected to get the TR-3 configuration will be warehoused until that testing is finished. The best case based on existing estimates is around five months; worst case is closer to nine months, or even beyond if delays occur. (Lockheed is still building jets with a TR-2 configuration, whose deliveries will continue.)
TR-3 essentially provides the computing backbone to enable Block 4, a suite of new capabilities for the Joint Strike Fighter with features like enhanced electronic attack weapons and the ability to carry additional missiles. Block 4’s development has been mired in delays, with GAO reporting last month that its cost growth cannot be fully accounted for.
Previously, the F-35 program planned to have TR-3 available by April 2023, putting plans about a year behind the current schedule.