WASHINGTON — The F-35 joint strike fighter is getting a cheaper, more powerful computer processor supplied by Harris Corp., which recently won a competition to replace the legacy system built by Lockheed Martin’s rotary and mission systems group.
Harris will introduce its next-generation Integrated Core Processor in the 15th lot of F-35s, which are set to roll off the production line in 2023, F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin stated in a news release.
Lockheed selected Harris’ ICP— which processes data from the jet’s core electronics systems, to include the cockpit and helmet displays, electronic warfare system, sensors, communications gear and guidance system — in the hopes of pushing down the F-35’s production and sustainment costs while increasing the aircraft’s capability.
The new processor is expected to provide 25 times more computing power at a unit cost that is 75 percent less than the current system, Lockheed estimated. Harris’ ICP will also be easier to sustain and more reliable, with an open architecture backbone that will allow the company to modify it to be more resilient against emerging threats.
“The new F-35 ICP will pave the way for system scalability well into the future,” said Ed Zoiss, president of Harris Electronic Systems. “Open systems are the future of avionics and Harris has invested substantial R&D to deliver more affordable and higher performance solutions than would have been possible using proprietary technology.”
Computer technology has greatly advanced since the F-35 was developed in the early 2000s, with systems becoming smaller, faster and more powerful.
That idea is the impetus for the program’s effort to recapitalize key F-35 computing systems, called Technology Refresh 3. Besides the new processor, Lockheed has also awarded contracts to Harris for two other Tech Refresh 3 requirements: the panoramic cockpit display electronic unit and aircraft memory system.
“We are aggressively pursuing cost reduction across the F-35 enterprise and, after conducting a thorough review and robust competition, we’re confident the next generation Integrated Core Processor will reduce costs and deliver transformational capabilities for the warfighter,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of the F-35 program.
The win by Harris is the second major shakeup to the F-35 supply base this year. In June, Raytheon nabbed a contract to build the Joint Strike Fighter’s distributed aperture system after its legacy builder, Northrop Grumman, opted not to bid on the follow-on opportunity. Raytheon’s new DAS will also be delivered in 2023 with the 15th lot of F-35s, and is expected to cost $3 billion less than Northrop’s system over the course of the program.
Lockheed is also considering competing a host of other F-35 systems, including its electronic warfare and communications, navigation and identification system, Eric Branyan, Lockheed’s vice president for F-35 supply chain management, confirmed to Defense News in June.
“We’re working toward the $80 million target” for a single F-35A model, he said then. “To do that, one of the most effective means is to conduct competitions.”
Correction 9/27/18 at 1:35 pm EST: An earlier version misstated the figure associated with the ICP’s computing power. It is 25 times more powerful.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.