WASHINGTON — The first production F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with an early, incomplete version of the software powering a key upgrade flew last week at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility, the company told Defense News.

The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office is considering whether a strategy to load interim versions of Technology Refresh 3 software onto the newest F-35s could provide a way to end a months-long delivery disruption. could, and allow the government to start accepting it. Latest version of fighter aircraft.

Technology Refresh 3, or TR-3, is the name of a batch of hardware and software upgrades to the latest F-35, and includes improved displays, computer memory and processing power. The TR-3 upgrade is necessary to pave the way for a more extensive modernization, known as Block 4, which will allow the F-35 to carry more long-range precision weapons and improve its electronic warfare capabilities and target identification. Will allow.

TR-3 has been hampered by software problems and difficulties integrating with new hardware, and its schedule has been significantly reduced. It was originally expected to arrive in April but has now moved to 2024, perhaps the end of next June.

Lockheed first started rolling out jets with TR-3 hardware from its Fort Worth production line in late July. But because the software was not finished, these fighters could not be taken to the test flights required for the Defense Department to accept them.

While the Pentagon has halted deliveries, Lockheed has continued to build new F-35s with TR-3 hardware and then store them in Fort Worth. JPO declined to tell Defense News how many planes are now parked there, citing security concerns, but Lockheed Martin can make about a dozen F-35s per month.

The delay in starting the TR-3 upgrade has angered Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Air and Land Forces. Wittman told Defense News in September that although he was hopeful the F-35 program was on track to fix the software and resume deliveries, he held a hearing on how much progress had been made by the end of the year. Plans have been made to take it forward. ,

JPO confirmed in an email that it is looking for a way to resume acceptance flights for the newest F-35 before the TR-3 is completely phased out.

When asked if this might include using an interim or early release version of the software, the JPO said “potentially”, and the software could be updated down the line to meet TR-3 capabilities. .

JPO said, “JPO and Lockheed Martin are working with U.S. services and international customers on potential options to deliver operationally acceptable aircraft, requiring future software drops for a subset of capabilities to meet all requirements.” Will be required.”

However, the JPO cautioned that no decision has yet been taken by the services, partners and international customers on delivery of the F-35 with the initial form of TR-3 software.

A Lockheed spokesperson agreed with JPO’s responses to the defense news and said in an email that “the first production F-35 with TR-3 software and hardware flew in Fort Worth last week.”

The spokesman said last week’s flight was an initial vehicle system checkout flight, which will be the first in a series of acceptance flights for the fighter. A Lockheed spokesman said other TR-3-capable production F-35s have flown since the first flight, but would not say how many other than “a few.”

JPO confirmed that the flights that began last week were the first for the production TR-3 model, and said that these initial flights will allow the final acceptance flight process to proceed more quickly once the software is approved for operational use. .

Test F-35s with the TR-3 are also continuing their flight tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California and Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, a Lockheed spokesman said.

Stephen Losey is an air combat reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times and the Pentagon, special operations and air combat at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover US Air Force operations.