Competing F-35, B-2, CRH Upgrades

The Air Force is assessing whether it can structure the Block 4 upgrade of the F-35A fighter with open architecture, so it can compete the upgrade among several contractors, service acquisition chief William LaPlante said Friday. “It’s not been decided that we will do it or we won’t … but it has been decided that we’re going to try,” LaPlante told reporters after an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va. He acknowledged that competing combat aircraft upgrades is “hard because the avionics are integrated with the mission systems. That’s why you have to build it in at the beginning.” He also said there has to be a “business case” for creating an open architecture for Block 4, assessing cost versus gain and how long the system will be in service. “It may come back that it’s too expensive,” he said, but open architecture is the rule on new systems like the Long-Range Strike Bomber and T-X trainer. In the long run, it will save money, he said, and make LaPlante’s successors’ jobs “easier.” LaPlante said his shop is trying to “carve out upgrades to [the B-2 bomber], make it modular, but it’s hard on things that are already integrated.” He also said the Air Force “got a very, very good deal” on the Combat Rescue Helicopter contract with Sikorsky for data rights that will make it easier to compete future sustainment and upgrade of that aircraft.