Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility has been deafened by the first non-U.S customers F-35 taking to the skies for the first time.
BK1, the UK’s first of three development aircraft which rolled off the production line during November 2011 and will fly with the RAF serial ZM135, made its inaugural test flight on Apr. 13 with Lockheed’s pilot Bill Gigliotti at the controls.
The “B” model flight announces a milestone in the F-35 story, but also the beginning of the UK’s involvement which is proving to be a story in itself.
Originally, the first three test planes for the UK had to be “B” ones in the STOVL (short take off vertical landing) version, but in 2010 as consequence of the Defence Spending Review, decided to go with the C model with the arrestor hook. Following the decision, the UK worked out a deal with the US to swap BK3 (the third plane) to a C model (CK-1).
However after looking more closely at how much the change to the C model (that in the meanwhile experienced some problems with its arrestor hook to such an extent a new one had to be re-designed) will cost over the lifetime of the carriers the UK is currently building, the Ministry of Defense is thinking about reverting to the B model once again.
The two Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers (HMS Queen Elizabeth & HMS Prince of Wales) were originally designed with the STOVL version of the F-35 in mind, therefore were not designed with a cat and trap launch and recovery system similar to the one used by the American flattops. Hence, the cost of refitting one of the two carriers, only slightly smaller than a Nimitz class supercarrier, with a brand new catapult system, could be greater than anticipated.
Noteworthy, the new British JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) wears interesting low visibility national markings (roundel and tail flash). By the way, it’s not going to be easy to distinguish the UK’s roundel from that of Italy.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
2011 has been an annus horribilis for information security, and aviation has not been an exception to this rule: not only in 2011 the corporate networks of several aviation and aerospace industries have been targeted by digital storms (not a surprise in the so-called hackmageddon) but, above all, last year will be probably remembered for the unwelcome record of two alleged hacking events targeting drones (“alleged” because in the RQ-170 Sentinel downed in Iran episode, several doubts surround the theory according to which GPS hacking could have been the real cause of the crash landing).
But, if Information Security professionals are quite familiar with the idea that military contractors are primary and preferred targets of the current Cyberwar as the following infographic shows, realizing that malware can be used to target a drone is still considered an isolated episode, and even worse, the idea of a malware targeting the multirole Joint Strike Fighter is still something hard to accept.
However, things are about change dramatically. And quickly.
The reason is simple: the latest military and civil airplanes are literally full of electronics, which play a primary role in managing avionics, onboard systems, flight surfaces, communcation equipment and armament.
For instance an F-22 Raptor owns about 1.7 millions od line of codes , an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter about 5.7 millions and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner about 6.5 millions. Everything with some built in code may be exploited, therefore, with plenty of code and much current and future vulnerabilities, one may not rule out a priori that these systems will be targeted with specific tailored or generic malware for Cyberwar, Cybercrime, or even hacktivism purposes.
Unfortunately it looks like the latter hypothesis is closer to reality since too often these systems are managed by standard Windows operating systems, and as a matter of fact a generic malware has proven to be capable to infect the most important U.S. robots flying in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Indian Ocean: Predator and Reaper Drones.
As a consequence, it should not be surprising, nor it is a coincidence, that McAfee, Sophos and Trend Micro, three leading players for Endpoint Security, consider the embedded systems as one of the main security concerns for 2012.
Making networks more secure (and personnel more educated) to prevent the leak of mission critical documents and costly project plans (as happened in at least a couple of circumstances) will not be aviation and aerospace industry’s information security challenge; the real challenge will be to embrace the security-by-design paradigm and make secure and malware-proof products ab initio.
While you wait to see if an endpoint security solution becomes available for an F-35, scroll down the image below and enjoy the list of aviation and aerospace related cyber attacks occurred since the very first hack targeting the F-35 Lightning II in 2009.
Of course aviation and aerospace industries are not the only targets for hackers and cybercriminals. So, if you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated) at hackmageddon.com. And follow @pausparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
On Jan. 30, South Korea released a request for proposal for a next generation fighter plane that the ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force) is going to procure within the so-called F-X stage III.
Given the recent reports (later denied by the company), according to which Boeing has stopped development of the modifications for the F-15 Silent Eagle, the project saw the Lockheed Martin F-35 as the favorite choice. So far.
Two of the “must have” requirements included in the RFP may be a bit of a problem for the F-35. In fact, Seoul’s future combat plane has to fly at Mach 1.6 or faster and has to field external weapons on pylons.
The projected top speed of the F-35 is mach 1.6 which is the bare minimum required but as of writing has not been accomplished yet and, being a stealth plane, the Joint Strike Fighter was designed to carry weapons internally.
Lockheed Martin’s director for the F-35 Korea campaign Randy Howard spoke to the Korean Times and said that “the F-35 is designed to carry weapons internally. That’s what it does, and that’s why it is stealthy” although he did concede that if Korea insists on external weapons his company would simply customise the aircraft to Seoul’s needs.
The F-35 has 6 hard points to carry external weapons but this capability would not be ready for when the Koreans want to test out the aircraft during the June – September 2012 time frame. However, Koreans expect to recive US government assurances that the fighter will indeed meet both selection criteria, if not before June, at least once development has been completed.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
Similar concerns don’t seem to disturb the other two F-X contenders. The above mentioned Silent Eagle is a modification of an existing model which already meets all of the requirements as does the Eurofighter Typhoon, recently defeated by the Dassault Rafale in the Indian MMRCA competition.
Noteworthy, the Eurofighter Typhoon is the only non-stealthy aircraft in the South Korean competition that, initially, featured the radar-evading capability as one of the tender’s mandatory requirements (later lifted to have more choice).
Next months will tell us whether Boeing will be able develop the Silent Eagle in time, Lockheed Martin will convice Seoul that the Lightning II can meet all the requirements or Eurofighter will walk away with the $7.62billion contract.
There could even be a fourth option in that Korea sticks with what it knows and orders a further 60 F-15Ks like those that have recently taken part to the Red Flag 12-2 at Nellis AFB.
Watch this space, by October all could have been revealed.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
Ok, it isn’t taken on the deck of USS Nimitz. However, the following video, just released by the US Navy, gives you an idea of what US (and British) naval aviation will look like in the future. Just imagine some more green, blue, yellow, red jackets, the typical “island” of a supercarrier in the background, steam coming out of the catapults, and the sea at the end of the deck. To be honest, to add some more realism, we should add some payload (weapons and tanks) to that clean and light aircraft….
The video was taken at Lakehurst on Jul. 27, 2011 when Navy test pilot Lt. Christopher Tabert took off with the F-35C CF-3, the designated carrier suitability testing aircraft, launched by a steam catapult during catapult and jet blast deflector testing.
A few days ago, I published a post to explain how the F-35 JSF flies in both conventional and STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) Harrier-like mode. The following article provides some interesting info and images about the AV-8B, a version much similar to the one flown by the Marina Militare (Italian Navy):
The Harrier made its final flight with the British RAF last week, marking one end to the jet famous for being able to take off and land vertically. The jet’s recently declassified flight manual shows just how extraordinary it is.