“The variants are all identical,” he said.
The F- 35 program office agreed.
“The bottom-line reason you want to make this
system the same for all three variants is it just flat out
saves money,” Cassell said.
“You’re not doing three efforts, you’re doing one
effort to cover all three variants,” Rara added.
Getting a communication system that is software-based, like CNI, and fits on a rack was a big deal for a
number of reasons beyond just being able to upgrade
it easily. There also were space and weight considerations, said Sean Burley, CNI lead engineer for the
F- 35 program.
“We went from black boxes installed all over the
aircraft to two racks that you can bring all these wave-
forms in to, so it does save real estate,” he said. “It
saves weight, it saves power and you have all that stuff
located in one area, so it also saves on hardware qual-
ifications. There’s just a lot of saved effort by going to
With the F-35s making their way to the fleet, there
is not much left to do but put the finishing touches on
the CNI systems. The software is fairly mature, with a
little bit of development work left to integrate some of
the capabilities with the rest of the other systems in the
aircraft. Thanks to the fact that it is software-based,
the program anticipates making upgrades to the system
throughout its lifetime.
“That’s probably another advantage to it. You can
put a different waveform in there that wasn’t in there
before without adding another box in order to get the
capability in there,” Rara said. “You just slap a card
on the existing rack that still has extra slots for cards.
That’s the advantage of having a rack system.”
Block 4 upgrades are making their way down the
pipeline, Burley noted. One of the capabilities in Block
4 is the highly anticipated JPALS, and that will be
expanded to enable full auto-land for F- 35 fighters.
About four separate increments of Block 4 are scheduled,
beginning in 2020 and going through around 2026.
Besides wrapping up SDD, pushing those Block 4
upgrades through will be a big focus in 2017.
“The CNI system is ahead of most of our systems,
but the avionics suite in general is a good way to close
out Block 3F and present a very impressive capability,”
Rara said. n
Two Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs transit the Pacific Ocean Jan. 9 on their way to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to join Marine Fighter
Attack Squadron 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the service’s first F- 35 squadron. A main focus of the F- 35 program this year will be completing the
system development and demonstration phase of the aircraft’s Communication, Navigation and Identification system.
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