Jan 5, 2015
F-35 Can’t Fire Its Gun Until 2019
Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.
The JSF won’t be completely unarmed. It will still carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of bombs. Initially, it will be able to carry 1,000-pound satellite-guided bombs or 500-pound laser-guided weapons. But those weapons are of limited utility, especially during close-in fights.
Air Force official familiar with the F-35 confirmed that the jet won’t have the software to fire its gun until the Block 3F software is released to frontline squadrons sometime in 2019. Neither Lockheed nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to inquiries about the status of the jet’s gun.
The lack of a cannon is a particular problem, as the F-35 is being counted on to help out infantrymen under fire. (This is known as close air support, or CAS, in military jargon.) The F-35 will lack the ability to mark a target or attack enemy forces in “danger close” situations, said one highly experienced Air Force fighter pilot.
Typically, aircraft will work in pairs where the flight lead will make an initial pass to mark a target with rockets. A second aircraft will then attack with its guns. Incidentally, the F-35 won’t be armed with rockets, either, sources told The Daily Beast.
The reason pilots would choose to use guns over a bomb or a missile is simple. Basically, a pilot might not want to drop a bomb near ground troops in situations where the enemy has gotten in very close to those friendly forces. Even a relatively small 250-pound bomb could kill or injure friendly troops who are within 650 feet of the explosion.
By contrast, a gun will allow a pilot to attack hostile forces that are less than 300 feet from friendly ground forces.
The F-35 will be almost entirely reliant on long-range air-to-air missiles. It doesn’t carry any short-range, dogfighting missiles like the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder when it’s in a stealthy configuration. One pilot familiar with the F-35 added that “they will not have a large enough air-to-air [missile] load to be on the leading edge” of an air battle in any case.