F-35C getting redesigned wing tips that will not break carrying missiles while making tight turns

The outer wings of 32 carrier-based F-35C-models need to be replaced to carry the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder, the aircraft’s primary dogfighting weapon.

The U.S. Navy variant experienced an undisclosed amount of oscillation or turbulence during flight trials with the AIM-9X in December 2015, and Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan says aircraft already delivered need to be retrofitted with strengthened wings.

The outer, folding portion of the wing has inadequate structural strength to support the loads induced by pylons with AIM-9X missiles during maneuvers.

Engineers have already produced an enhanced outer wing design, which is now undergoing flight testing. The issue has impacted the timeline for fielding AIM-9X, which is being rolled out for the Navy in Block 3F

Because of a seven-year schedule delay, the fifth-generation F-35 fighter will carry air superiority missiles that are one generation behind missiles on F-18s, which are already carrying the newest AIM-9X Block II and AIM-120D.

The missile must be delivered in time to support initial operational test and evaluation and complete the 17-year F-35 system development and demonstration phase by May 2018. The Navy, in particular, must be cleared to fly and shoot the AIM-9X to declare combat-ready status with its first squadron of F-35C Block 3F aircraft in 2018.

The F-35 team is adding a moving target capability, as reported by Aviation Week on Feb. 15. There are currently no plans to install weapons capable of hitting moving and maneuvering targets, such as an insurgent driving away in a pickup truck. The F-35’s laser designator cannot lead the target, its basic inventory of late-1990s guided bombs will fall short if that target moves briskly.

The military is integrating Raytheon’s GBU-49 Lot 5 Enhanced Paveway II, which automatically corrects for target speed and direction as well as wind conditions. The Marines have expressed a preference for the Raytheon GBU-53B Small Diameter Bomb Increment II, but that is not slated for full integration and flight clearance until Block 4.2, around fiscal 2022 or later.