Pentagon will not be accepting F-35 Joint Strike Fighters outfitted with Tech Refresh 3 (TR-3) hardware starting next month.
The Technology Refresh 3 effort aims to give the fighter better displays, computer memory and processing power. It was originally due this past April. TR-3 is necessary before the F-35 can receive a more expansive modernization known as Block 4, which will allow it to carry more long-range precision weapons, improve its electronic warfare capability and provide better target recognition.
“As we reported to Congress in March, we still see risk of TR-3 delivery slipping until the December 2023-April 2024 timeframe,” F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) spokesman Russ Goemaere said in a statement to Breaking Defense.
Lockheed Martin may have to store dozens of upgraded F-35s at its main factory in Fort Worth, Texas, for much of the rest of the year, and perhaps into spring 2024.
“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 acceptance occurs,” he added.
The first TR-3 flight test took place in January. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 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.
Goemaere said the challenge lies in the TR-3 software and getting the programming to work with the new hardware.
Lockheed Martin said it remains committed to delivering the first TR-3-enabled fighter this year. “Our team is fully dedicated to delivering Tech Refresh 3 (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,” the company said in a statement.
Lockheed said in an email to Defense News that it is too early to say how many fighters might be affected, and the company did not say how many F-35s with TR-3 hardware it expects to build this year. The company originally planned to deliver between 147 and 153 total fighters in 2023.