The United States will keep to itself sensitive software code
that controls Lockheed Martin Corp's new radar-evading F-35 fighter
jet despite requests from partner countries, a senior Pentagon
program official said.
Access to the technology had been publicly sought by Britain, which had threatened to scrub plans to buy as many as 138 F-35s if it were unable to maintain and upgrade its fleet without US involvement.
No other country is getting the so-called source code, the key to the plane's electronic brains, Jon Schreiber, who heads the program's international affairs, said in an interview.
"That includes everybody," he said, acknowledging this was not overly popular among the eight that have co-financed F-35 development - Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
The single-engine F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is in early stages of production.
It is designed to escape radar detection and switch quickly
between air-to-ground and air-to-air missions while still flying -
tricks heavily dependent on its eight million lines of onboard
Schreiber said the United States had accommodated all of its partners' requirements, providing ways for them to upgrade projected F-35 purchases even without the keys to the software.
"Nobody's happy with it completely but everybody's satisfied and understands," he said of withholding the code.
It is also a rebuff to Israel, which has sought the technology
transfer as part of a possible purchase of up to 75 F-35s.
Instead, the United States plans to set up a reprogramming facility, probably at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, to further develop F-35-related software and distribute upgrades, Schreiber said.
Software changes will be integrated there and new operational flight programs will be disseminated out to everybody who's flying the jet, he said.
Representatives of the British defence staff in Washington did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Britain has committed $2.7 billion to develop the F-35, the most
of any US partner.
In March 2006, Paul Drayson, then Britain's minister for defense procurement, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Britain might quit the program if the United States withheld such things as the software code.
The issue rose to the top.
In May 2006, then-President George Bush and then-Prime Minister
Tony Blair announced that both governments had agreed that the UK
will have the ability to successfully operate, upgrade, employ, and
maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains
operational sovereignty over the aircraft.
The source code is kind of the holy grail for this, controlling everything from weapons integration to radar to flight dynamics, said Joel Johnson of TEAL Group, an aerospace consultancy in Fairfax, Virginia.
Lockheed Martin said all F-35 partners recognize the complexity of the highly integrated F-35 software and the program plan to upgrade F-35 capabilities as an operational community.
"This enables the aircraft to remain at the cutting edge of combat capability while allowing the program to meet affordability objectives," John Kent, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
Schreiber said Singapore had signed a special security agreement last month, clearing the way for it to receive classified information on F-35s it could buy.
Lockheed, the Pentagon's No 1 supplier by sales, projects it will sell up to 4,500 F-35s worldwide to replace its F-16 fighter and 12 other types of warplanes for 11 nations initially.
The United States plans to spend roughly $410 billion over the next 25 years to buy a total of 2,443 F-35 models, its costliest arms acquisition.
Competitors include Boeing Co's F/A-18E/F SuperHornet; Saab AB's Gripen; Dassault Aviation SA's Rafale; Russia's MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35; and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies.