F-35 Stealth Jet's Gun Won't Work Till 2019

The reason Israel cut its purchase? US's jet of the future's gun to be useless for years - and then will be crippled by laughably low ammo.

Ari Yashar ,

F-35 Lightning II
F-35 Lightning II
US Air Force

Israel decided last month to cut its purchases of America's $400 billion F-35 stealth jet from 31 to 14 - the decision for caution to find out more about the plane makes a whole lot more sense after it was revealed Wednesday the F-35 won't be able to fire its gun until 2019.

An in-depth report by The Daily Beast revealed the F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as it has been labelled, will be rolled out into US Marine Corps fighter squadrons in 2015, and Air Force units in 2016, but missing Block 3F software will leave its 25mm cannon useless for at least four years.

"There will be no gun until (Block) 3F (software), there is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years," an Air Force official connected to the F-35 program told the paper. "Block 3F is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?"

The gun is a GAU-22/A four-barreled rotary cannon - but even after it becomes operational several years down the line, it was revealed that the gun will come with such a pitiful load of ammunition as to be practically useless.

While it is capable of firing 3,300 rounds per minute, the Air Force's version of the plane can carry just 180 rounds. The Navy and Marines versions fare little better with only 220 rounds.

"So, about good for one tactical burst," the Air Force official said. "Hope you don’t miss."

The defects of the main gun seem to further box the F-35 into being a plane centered on long-range missile warfare, not air-to-air combat or ground strikes using more precise guns rather than guided missiles. It will feature a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and two bombs, either 1,000 pound satellite-guided bombs or 500 pound laser-guided weapons.

However, the lack of ability to compete in dogfights seems to be irrelevant for the F-35 given that it is less maneuverable than several other modern planes, with one Air Force fighter pilot noting "the jet can’t really turn anyway, so that is a bit of a moot point."

"The JSF is so heavy, it won’t accelerate fast enough to get back up to fighting speed," said another pilot. "Bottom line is that it will only be a BVR (beyond visual range) airplane."

That sentiment was shared by a senior Air Force official, who noted the plane is focused on long range combat. "From an air-to-air standpoint, an argument could be made that the F-35A not having a functional gun - or any gun, for that matter - will have little to no impact. Heck, it only has 180 rounds anyway," he said.

America's Defense Department is slated to purchase 2,443 of the stealth jets in three different versions, for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, and views the plane of part of a larger plan to upgrade its air combat abilities.

However, aside from the major detriment of having no gun the jet's engine has also been problematic, with an F-35 being destroyed on takeoff early last year after a design flaw in the engine caused a fire.

The Daily Beast noted that neither the jet's manufacturer Lockheed Martin nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to inquiries regarding the status of the jet's cannon.

Lockheed Martin on Wednesday released a new video summarizing its progress on the stealth jet over the course of 2014.