The Pentagon's most expensive fighter F-35B is "incapable" of carrying the military's highly advanced bombs because of a design flaw, the joint program office confirmed this week.
The F-35B's internal weapons bay is too small for a Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) load, according to Inside Defense report.
The F-35 in general and the F-35B in particular has been plagued by massive cost overruns and delays. Joe DellaVedova a spokesman for the F-35 program was quoted as saying by Inside Defense last week that changes are being made to the jet, so it can be released on schedule.
Though it's mandated that Lockheed Martin’s F-35B jet holds eight SDB IIs in the bay, only four reportedly fit, besides it is considered troublesome to get off the ground.
The fighter program will cost about $590 billion over the next decade. The F-35B is one of three variants of the F-35 program and features a lift fan that will allow it to make short takeoffs and vertical landings - like a helicopter.
Lockheed Martin will likely get the alterations contract down the line in 2015. “This is not a new issue to us,” DellaVedova added. “The fit issues have been known and documented and there were larger and more substantial modifications needed to support SDB II that has already been incorporated into production F-35 aircraft. These minor or remaining changes were put on hold until the aircraft reached a sufficient level of maturity to ensure that the needed changes would not adversely impact any ongoing SDB [II] developments.”
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program office so far has not publicly recognized problems - and that eight internal and 16 external SDB IIs are in fact meant to go on the F-35B.
Raytheon is responsible for the development of SDB II bomb. The company said in its website, SDB II can fly more than 45 miles to strike mobile targets, reducing aircrews’ time in harm's way.
The weapon's small size allows fewer aircraft to take out the same number of targets as previous, larger weapons that required multiple jets. SDB II's size has broader implications for the war fighter and taxpayers, as it means fewer attacks with less time spent flying dangerous missions.
The SDB II can employ a number of techniques that includes imaging infrared, laser, and radar homing - to hit targets, the company says. The SDB II weapons system is accommodated by both the F-35A - the Air Force version - and F-35C - the US Navy version, company executive Jeff White told Inside Defense.
“I think it's just the B. When we did our fit checks on the JSF, the A and the C basically had the same bay”, White added. 353 F-35Bs are being bought by the United States Marines Corp and about 17,000 weapons will come from the US Air Force's SDB II program.