The F-35 is built on a foundation of 21st century technology.
The F-35’s onboard computer, microchips and software are among its most critical components. The Integrated Core Computer (ICP) was designed from the start to undergo capability upgrades every few years, as technology progresses.
System software will be upgraded over time through a block process.
Each block represents the most mature capability for the aircraft at the time of release. The aircraft is combat ready beginning with Block 2.
In a real sense, the software will never be finished on the F-35.
As new code is written and capability refreshes are completed, the F-35 software will evolve over time to further enhance the aircraft’s performance.
The airplane was designed with technical refreshes in mind, the program knew they would want to upgrade the hardware and software along the way, even in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program.
The technical refreshes are primarily hardware and do not necessarily affect the software. By refreshing the hardware we gain processing reserve in advance of future software.
With each block, new capability is added to the foundational software from the previous block.
In other words, the previous software isn’t thrown away but merely built upon. Block 2 introduces the various data links. Block 2 also introduces many advanced air and surface weapons capability making the F-35 ready to go to war for the first time.
The sensors are integrated and fusion is working at Block 2. It is worth noting that the capabilities in Block 2 are sufficient for the Marines to declare Initial Operational Capable (IOC).
Block 3 software builds on top of Block 2 by including the full weapon set and some additional sensor modes.
With Block 3, by the end of SDD, the plane is fully capable.
The aircraft itself isn’t really changing. When we say “hardware upgrade” many think we are talking about a new sensor. This is not the case. All of the sensors are resident in the Block 1 airplane.
We are simply upgrading the computers in order to run the next block of software.
Here’s an example we can all relate to: you buy a new laptop and you know the moment you buy it’ll be obsolete in six months. There’ll be something better by then. So what if the seller said, “In order to preserve your edge let’s plan on installing a better processor six months from now. We’ll make it as good as the one we’re going to sell in six months.” You would say, “Yea, that makes sense” because otherwise, as a consumer, you’d keep waiting in anticipation of a better laptop in six months.
That is exactly what the F-35 program did.