Reuters reported yesterday evening that Lockheed Martin's stealthy new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter laid waste to a tank at Edwards Air Force Base in California using a 500-pound guided bomb. The Pentagon confirmed this was the first time an F-35 has deployed a weapon.
The report says the plane fired its laser-guided bomb unit (GBU-12) "Paveway II" from an internal weapons bay while flying at 25,000 feet. The bomb reached its target successfully in 35 seconds. The bomb reportedly contained no real explosives because the point of the test was to make sure the plane could accurately deliver a payload.
Marine Corps Major Richard Rusnok, who flew the test model, said of the test that "It represents another step forward in development of this vital program... This guided weapons delivery test of a GBU-12 marks the first time the F-35 truly became a weapon system."
A 10-year development cycle for the F-35 fighter program has cost $392 billion, and Reuters reports the program is "making strides in testing, production and operations" while the Marine Corps plans to regularly fly the planes in 2015.
The top arms buyer for the Pentagon, Frank Kendall, said he felt the F-35 program had displayed sufficient progress this week to budget for higher production, but that its software, computer-based logistics, and overall reliability are still questionable.
During the test, the F-35 also live-fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile constructed by Raytheon, also at Edwards AFB. The plane's ability to drop a 1,000-pound Boeing GBU-32 bomb will be tested next month.
In recent years, defense experts have found themselves debating whether stealth aircraft will maintain their effectiveness in a world ruled by powerful digital technology and improved radar. The F-35 JSF is one of those aircraft that could turn out to be a huge letdown if its expensive stealth program were to become obsolete.
Meanwhile, a second Reuters report from yesterday evening noted that the Pentagon might reintegrate developmental and operational testing of the F-35 JSF in order to save money. Check that story out here.[Image via this YouTube video showcasing some F-35 flight time]