Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning and F-22 'Raptor' : News & Discussion

Picdelamirand-oil

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CCA Loyal Wingmen Drones To Cost Quarter To Third Of An F-35
We are slowly learning more about the Collaborative Combat Aircraft initiative, including cost and operational performance targets.
BY JOSEPH TREVITHICK PUBLISHED NOV 13, 2023 8:39 PM EST


Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall has offered new details about his service's plans for the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said his service is aiming for its future Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) drones that will fight alongside crewed aircraft to each cost as little as a quarter of the current price of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Kendall offered this and other details about the CCA program during a public event today at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank in Washington, D.C.

The CCA effort is centered on the acquisition of at least a thousand advanced uncrewed aircraft with high degrees of autonomy designed to work closely together with crewed combat jets. The program is part of the Air Force's larger Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) modernization initiative that also includes the development of a new crewed sixth-generation combat jet, weapons, electronic warfare suites, sensors, battle management capabilities, engines, and other systems.

A rendering of a notional sixth-generation crewed combat jet flying together with a trio of advanced drones. <em>Collins Aerospace</em>
A rendering of a notional sixth-generation crewed combat jet flying together with a trio of advanced drones. Collins Aerospace

Kendall and other senior Air Force officials regularly describe these uncrewed aircraft as a critical component of how the service will conduct operations, especially in a high-end fight against an opponent like China, and achieve critical "affordable mass" in the future.

"If we go ahead buying just the NGAD platform and F-35s ... and B-21s as ... our combat aircraft, you can't afford the Air Force. Those systems are all [in the] 100 million dollar plus category, in some cases, way beyond that," Kendall said today. "So, we've got to have something that will allow us to have massive, affordable prices. So, CCA is designed to do that."

The other main takeaways regarding the CCA effort from Kendall's chat with Stacie Pettyjohn, Senior Fellow and Director of CNAS' Defense Program, and the subsequent question and answer session are as follows:

  • The rough expected cost of a single CCA will be "on the order of a quarter or a third" of the current unit cost of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • That being said, the Air Force is still in the "early stages" of establishing key definitions regarding what it wants from its CCAs and working out the "right balance" in terms of requirements.
  • "We need something that has range and payload characteristics consistent with our operational concept." This concept demands drones that can "either fly ahead of or accompany crewed fighters" and that have useful "range and payload capabilities" in line with that core requirement.
  • Each CCA would not have "the full complement of systems that are on a fighter."
  • Some would carry weapons, some would carry other systems. "One of the things you can do with the CCA concept is select which systems ... to carry, which sets of capabilities, you have a modular design." This also means an enemy has to treat each one as armed, because it can be, whether it is or not.
  • Highly prepared and long runway independence is also a potential goal, as we have highlighted before, with Kendall stating, "Being able to get away from the use of relatively long runways is a nice feature for us. It makes the aircraft much more survivable."
  • Industry has already provided "different competing concepts" for what a CCA might look like.
  • The goal is to have started production of a "first increment" of CCAs within the next five years. The aim is to "field it [CCAs] as quickly as we can in reasonable quantities."
  • "They're not expendables. They're intended to be systems that you can accept losses of a fraction of them and not have a big operational impact." This also means they need to be able to be "produced relatively quickly."
  • "We're not going to take the length of time [with CCA] it takes to get a new, sophisticated crewed fighter."
  • The main planning figure for the size of the future CCA fleet is still 1,000 drones, but "I think it will very likely be more than that."
  • A key reason behind disclosing the 1,000-drone figure was to send a clear signal to industry that the Air Force is seriously invested in the CCA program. "We want you [industry] to invest in the technology and think about how you're going to make a very efficiently produced product for us."
  • CCA also represents one of the "hedging investments" the Air Force is looking to make now to help provide sufficient operational capacity to prevail in any future high-end conflict against China, and do so cost-effectively.
  • CCA continues to benefit from other adjacent projects, including autonomy developments using a force of modified, pilot-optional F-16s and other testing utilizing Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones. "We're using some of the Ghost Bats, the MQ-28s, as experimental aircraft to get some operational experience teaming them with crewed aircraft."
  • The Air Force views CCA as complementary to the Pentagon's Replicator initiative that was announced earlier this year.

Kendall's comments here about the projected costs and production goals for the CCA program, as well as how the Air Force hopes to maximize what it can get capability-wise within those constraints are notable. While the CCA drones still look set to be significantly cheaper than fifth or sixth-generation combat jets, what is being laid out here is not necessarily inexpensive even by U.S. military budget standards.

How the unit costs of the three existing variants of the F-35 are calculated has long been a subject of debate. For instance, as of January, Lockheed Martin pegged the price of the A variant the Air Force flies at $69.9 million, according to Air & Space Forces Magazine, but that figure doesn't include the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The U.S. military's F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense One recently that the average unit price for examples of all three variants, including the engines, in the latest production lots is around $82.5 million.

A quarter of that would be just under $20.6 million. The bill for buying 1,000 CCAs with that unit cost would therefore be close to $20.6 billion. As Kendall noted, this is still much cheaper than purchasing substantial numbers of crewed jets at close to $100 million apiece, or substantially more. The Secretary of the Air Force has previously said that each NGAD jet, of which the service plans to buy 200, would cost "multiple hundreds of millions of dollars."

In terms of CCA requirements, Kendall's specific mention of wanting to get away from larger runways is interesting, but not surprising. The Air Force has made no secret of its concerns about the growing vulnerability of large, established bases and the need for more distributed operations, as well as new camouflage, concealment, and deception capabilities and tactics, as being essential for reducing those risks going forward. The War Zone has highlighted in the past how complete runway independence, or short takeoff and landing performance close to it, could be very valuable for the future CCAs to have in this context, and how it could also allow for additional operational flexibility.

It's also worth pointing out that Kendall said that multiple MQ-28s are being used to support Air Force test efforts tied to the CCA program. It emerged in 2022 that the service had acquired at least one of these drones, which was originally developed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), but further details about that effort have been limited since then. A video the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) released earlier this year, seen below, heavily featured MQ-28s, including slickly edited clips depicting them flying alongside Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and other crewed aircraft.

Though much about the CCA effort, as well as the larger NGAD program, is highly classified, Kendall's comments today also underscore how more and more details are still trickling out. This trend is likely to continue as the Air Force gets closer to kicking off its formal competition for the "first increment" of these drones, which is expected to come sometime in the current Fiscal Year.
 

randomradio

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Nov 30, 2017
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India
CCA Loyal Wingmen Drones To Cost Quarter To Third Of An F-35
We are slowly learning more about the Collaborative Combat Aircraft initiative, including cost and operational performance targets.
BY JOSEPH TREVITHICK PUBLISHED NOV 13, 2023 8:39 PM EST


Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall has offered new details about his service's plans for the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said his service is aiming for its future Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) drones that will fight alongside crewed aircraft to each cost as little as a quarter of the current price of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Kendall offered this and other details about the CCA program during a public event today at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank in Washington, D.C.

The CCA effort is centered on the acquisition of at least a thousand advanced uncrewed aircraft with high degrees of autonomy designed to work closely together with crewed combat jets. The program is part of the Air Force's larger Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) modernization initiative that also includes the development of a new crewed sixth-generation combat jet, weapons, electronic warfare suites, sensors, battle management capabilities, engines, and other systems.

A rendering of a notional sixth-generation crewed combat jet flying together with a trio of advanced drones. <em>Collins Aerospace</em>
A rendering of a notional sixth-generation crewed combat jet flying together with a trio of advanced drones. Collins Aerospace

Kendall and other senior Air Force officials regularly describe these uncrewed aircraft as a critical component of how the service will conduct operations, especially in a high-end fight against an opponent like China, and achieve critical "affordable mass" in the future.

"If we go ahead buying just the NGAD platform and F-35s ... and B-21s as ... our combat aircraft, you can't afford the Air Force. Those systems are all [in the] 100 million dollar plus category, in some cases, way beyond that," Kendall said today. "So, we've got to have something that will allow us to have massive, affordable prices. So, CCA is designed to do that."

The other main takeaways regarding the CCA effort from Kendall's chat with Stacie Pettyjohn, Senior Fellow and Director of CNAS' Defense Program, and the subsequent question and answer session are as follows:

  • The rough expected cost of a single CCA will be "on the order of a quarter or a third" of the current unit cost of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • That being said, the Air Force is still in the "early stages" of establishing key definitions regarding what it wants from its CCAs and working out the "right balance" in terms of requirements.
  • "We need something that has range and payload characteristics consistent with our operational concept." This concept demands drones that can "either fly ahead of or accompany crewed fighters" and that have useful "range and payload capabilities" in line with that core requirement.
  • Each CCA would not have "the full complement of systems that are on a fighter."
  • Some would carry weapons, some would carry other systems. "One of the things you can do with the CCA concept is select which systems ... to carry, which sets of capabilities, you have a modular design." This also means an enemy has to treat each one as armed, because it can be, whether it is or not.
  • Highly prepared and long runway independence is also a potential goal, as we have highlighted before, with Kendall stating, "Being able to get away from the use of relatively long runways is a nice feature for us. It makes the aircraft much more survivable."
  • Industry has already provided "different competing concepts" for what a CCA might look like.
  • The goal is to have started production of a "first increment" of CCAs within the next five years. The aim is to "field it [CCAs] as quickly as we can in reasonable quantities."
  • "They're not expendables. They're intended to be systems that you can accept losses of a fraction of them and not have a big operational impact." This also means they need to be able to be "produced relatively quickly."
  • "We're not going to take the length of time [with CCA] it takes to get a new, sophisticated crewed fighter."
  • The main planning figure for the size of the future CCA fleet is still 1,000 drones, but "I think it will very likely be more than that."
  • A key reason behind disclosing the 1,000-drone figure was to send a clear signal to industry that the Air Force is seriously invested in the CCA program. "We want you [industry] to invest in the technology and think about how you're going to make a very efficiently produced product for us."
  • CCA also represents one of the "hedging investments" the Air Force is looking to make now to help provide sufficient operational capacity to prevail in any future high-end conflict against China, and do so cost-effectively.
  • CCA continues to benefit from other adjacent projects, including autonomy developments using a force of modified, pilot-optional F-16s and other testing utilizing Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones. "We're using some of the Ghost Bats, the MQ-28s, as experimental aircraft to get some operational experience teaming them with crewed aircraft."
  • The Air Force views CCA as complementary to the Pentagon's Replicator initiative that was announced earlier this year.

Kendall's comments here about the projected costs and production goals for the CCA program, as well as how the Air Force hopes to maximize what it can get capability-wise within those constraints are notable. While the CCA drones still look set to be significantly cheaper than fifth or sixth-generation combat jets, what is being laid out here is not necessarily inexpensive even by U.S. military budget standards.

How the unit costs of the three existing variants of the F-35 are calculated has long been a subject of debate. For instance, as of January, Lockheed Martin pegged the price of the A variant the Air Force flies at $69.9 million, according to Air & Space Forces Magazine, but that figure doesn't include the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The U.S. military's F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense One recently that the average unit price for examples of all three variants, including the engines, in the latest production lots is around $82.5 million.

A quarter of that would be just under $20.6 million. The bill for buying 1,000 CCAs with that unit cost would therefore be close to $20.6 billion. As Kendall noted, this is still much cheaper than purchasing substantial numbers of crewed jets at close to $100 million apiece, or substantially more. The Secretary of the Air Force has previously said that each NGAD jet, of which the service plans to buy 200, would cost "multiple hundreds of millions of dollars."

In terms of CCA requirements, Kendall's specific mention of wanting to get away from larger runways is interesting, but not surprising. The Air Force has made no secret of its concerns about the growing vulnerability of large, established bases and the need for more distributed operations, as well as new camouflage, concealment, and deception capabilities and tactics, as being essential for reducing those risks going forward. The War Zone has highlighted in the past how complete runway independence, or short takeoff and landing performance close to it, could be very valuable for the future CCAs to have in this context, and how it could also allow for additional operational flexibility.

It's also worth pointing out that Kendall said that multiple MQ-28s are being used to support Air Force test efforts tied to the CCA program. It emerged in 2022 that the service had acquired at least one of these drones, which was originally developed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), but further details about that effort have been limited since then. A video the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) released earlier this year, seen below, heavily featured MQ-28s, including slickly edited clips depicting them flying alongside Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and other crewed aircraft.

Though much about the CCA effort, as well as the larger NGAD program, is highly classified, Kendall's comments today also underscore how more and more details are still trickling out. This trend is likely to continue as the Air Force gets closer to kicking off its formal competition for the "first increment" of these drones, which is expected to come sometime in the current Fiscal Year.

At a third of the F-35's cost, it could end up in much greater numbers than the F-35.
 

Innominate

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There should have been 5 myths instead of 4 the fifth being calling the SU-57 stealth

If IAF's procurement goes stupid (which it usually does) and selects SU-57 they are going to regret it bigly.
 

randomradio

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There should have been 5 myths instead of 4 the fifth being calling the SU-57 stealth

If IAF's procurement goes stupid (which it usually does) and selects SU-57 they are going to regret it bigly.

The last bit is nonsense. The upcoming versions of both Su-57 and J-20 are in the same class of stealth as the F-22.

People confused between aspect stealth and average stealth.
 

Lolwa

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The last bit is nonsense. The upcoming versions of both Su-57 and J-20 are in the same class of stealth as the F-22.

People confused between aspect stealth and average stealth.
That's just not true. F-22 is still superior. It's only weakness is it's range.
 

randomradio

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That's just not true. F-22 is still superior. It's only weakness is it's range.

I doubt it. Against the basic version of the Su-57 and J-20A, yes. But with new models and engines, like Su-57M and J-20B, they would have matched or surpassed the F-22 in a lot of areas.

In any case, the USAF themselves claim the F-22 and F-35 combo aren't enough anymore. And even with NGAD and B-21, they will only have parity with the Chinese and Russians.
 

Lolwa

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But with new models and engines, like Su-57M and J-20B, they would have matched or surpassed the F-22 in a lot of areas.
Both of them are vapourwares. The f-22 is a reality. Although I do think j-20B wil end up having a larger radar and it's more range will make it ideal against the amreekis in Taiwan and even beyond. The su-57 is the weakest of the three if they Russians don't improve the radar soon.
There should have been 5 myths instead of 4 the fifth being calling the SU-57 stealth

If IAF's procurement goes stupid (which it usually does) and selects SU-57 they are going to regret it bigly.
It is stealth. It is VLO not VVLO like the f-22.
 

randomradio

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Both of them are vapourwares. The f-22 is a reality. Although I do think j-20B wil end up having a larger radar and it's more range will make it ideal against the amreekis in Taiwan and even beyond. The su-57 is the weakest of the three if they Russians don't improve the radar soon.

In terms of stealth, all three jets are in a similar space. In terms of performance, range and payload, the Su-57M and J-20B will outstrip the F-22. In terms of maintenance, all three are likely a b!tch to maintain, but the two newer jets may have some more advantages considering they are newer. So, even if the avionics are older, they have the potential to catch up. It's very difficult to say though. A newer airframe design always has advantages over an older design. For example, the F-22 needs an IRST, 360 deg EODAS, a patrol link and a 360 deg multi-band ECM with towed decoys, all currently missing. And what if the other two jets have built-in DEW capabilities? It's impossible to say these things 'cause we can't quantify it like the other parameters.

Plus, unlike the Americans, the other two are coming out with new versions.

While the F-22 is a reality today, the other two are pretty close anyway. By 2027, the US may have to deal with 200+ J-20Bs over Taiwan for example, giving the Chinese parity or even superiority over some 80-100 F-22s. Whereas the Americans aren't interested in fighting Russia, it's a future EU problem.

From India's perspective, we are not fighting the US, and any Su-57 choice, if made, will come with Indian avionics. So it works out for all of us.
 

randomradio

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Finally!!! Step one!


Now comes the Block 4 upgrades.

And finally the F-35 will actually start delivering what was promised 20 years ago. Hopefully most of the software unlocks happen in the next 3 years.
 
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Optimist

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Finally!!! Step one!


Now comes the Block 4 upgrades.

And finally the F-35 will actually start delivering what was promised 20 years ago. Hopefully most of the software unlocks happen in the next 3 years.

And they can blame UK and australia for any delays.


F-35 Operational Test Expands to Include United Kingdom and Australia​


Follow-on “Block 4” test and evaluation has been conducted independently by the UOTT, for the past two years, while international agreements were in work. This renewed UOTT partnership has come at the perfect time to assist with the testing of multiple upcoming software releases and the new Technology Refresh 3 hardware upgrade.

Commander Charles Escher, the Officer in Charge of the UOTT, emphasized the importance, “not only to expand our partnership with the UK and Australian testers, but also to increase our ties with the UK and Australian F-35 squadrons to ultimately help guide the F-35 program to continuously improve the most critical aspects of F-35 lethality and survivability.” He added that, “international cooperation on weapons testing and large force test events will continue to be crucial requirements for operational test.”

UK and Australian F-35’s ability to carry some additional weapons that are not in the U.S. arsenal, such as the European developed Meteor missile, expands our alliance’s range of capabilities and tactics. This can further complicate an enemy’s problems when facing our coalition of sophisticated fighters with a variety of weapons. The united nature of F-35 operational test reflects the further strengthening of defense ties between the United States and its close allies. Our efforts to test together today support our ability to combine forces seamlessly in future combat scenarios.
 
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Rajput Lion

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Finally!!! Step one!


Now comes the Block 4 upgrades.

And finally the F-35 will actually start delivering what was promised 20 years ago. Hopefully most of the software unlocks happen in the next 3 years.
Block-4 is absolutely vital for USAF to take on PLAAF in the backyard.
 

randomradio

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Nov 30, 2017
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And they can blame UK and australia for any delays.


F-35 Operational Test Expands to Include United Kingdom and Australia​


Follow-on “Block 4” test and evaluation has been conducted independently by the UOTT, for the past two years, while international agreements were in work. This renewed UOTT partnership has come at the perfect time to assist with the testing of multiple upcoming software releases and the new Technology Refresh 3 hardware upgrade.

Commander Charles Escher, the Officer in Charge of the UOTT, emphasized the importance, “not only to expand our partnership with the UK and Australian testers, but also to increase our ties with the UK and Australian F-35 squadrons to ultimately help guide the F-35 program to continuously improve the most critical aspects of F-35 lethality and survivability.” He added that, “international cooperation on weapons testing and large force test events will continue to be crucial requirements for operational test.”

UK and Australian F-35’s ability to carry some additional weapons that are not in the U.S. arsenal, such as the European developed Meteor missile, expands our alliance’s range of capabilities and tactics. This can further complicate an enemy’s problems when facing our coalition of sophisticated fighters with a variety of weapons. The united nature of F-35 operational test reflects the further strengthening of defense ties between the United States and its close allies. Our efforts to test together today support our ability to combine forces seamlessly in future combat scenarios.

The pending stuff is all American though.
 

Picdelamirand-oil

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Now comes the Block 4 upgrades.

And finally the F-35 will actually start delivering what was promised 20 years ago. Hopefully most of the software unlocks happen in the next 3 years.
Before the upgrades of block 4 it is necessary to integrate TR3 and its software with block 3F because at the moment they have flown the F-35 with partial software, which is not enough for the plane to be able to fight and the block 4 is too far away to wait for it.

We already knew that to run Block 4 of the F-35 correctly, you needed Tech Refresh 3 or TR3. We know that TR3 includes software and hardware upgrades to improve displays, memory and computer processing power, we also know that this development increases power consumption and the need for cooling.

Unfortunately the F-35 is a little short on electrical generation and cooling, which means that we are already above the initial specifications, particularly for cooling where the thermal management system takes more air than expected, which means operating the engine at excessive temperature which will wear it out prematurely. For electrical generation it is not much better since we learn that we cannot operate all the systems at the same time due to its weakness.

It must be understood that the problem is due to a bad design, itself due to a bad specification, because in order of magnitude an electric generation of a fighter is peanuts in energy compared to what is available for the propulsion. That is to say that if it was well designed the thrust would be a little weaker but so insignificant that we would not even feel it in the performance.

So they say to themselves that if we improve the performance of the reactor by changing its core (it's easy because since the development of the F-35 has dragged on, there has been technological progress in this area) and if we make a new thermal management system to a good specification we should be able to solve the problem.

But for these modifications to be fully exploited, it is necessary to improve the electrical generation, that is to say take more energy, which leads to a new gearbox, and a replacement of the electrical generator which will be part of an overall modification of the electrical power system.

Likewise, the evolution of the thermal management system (the one which draws air from the engine) will be accompanied by an evolution of the fuel thermal management system.

So the modification is:
  • Software upgrade
  • Screens
  • Memoirs
  • Processors
  • Reactor Core
  • Gearbox
  • Electric generation
  • Thermal management system
  • Thermal Fuel Management System
Well, it seems that it is not cheap, according to the pifometer we are in the order of magnitude of the price of the Rafale program.

Oh yes, it will be necessary to retrofit approximately 1000 F-35s.
 

randomradio

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Block-4 is absolutely vital for USAF to take on PLAAF in the backyard.

Yes, and it's a lot more serious than people believe.

The F-22 is already slowly becoming non-competitive with the J-20. For example, the old Block 20 cannot defeat the current version of the J-20 as per the USAF. And the J-20B could very easily become competitive with the Block 35. That makes the F-35 all the more important before the arrival of the NGAD. And the Chinese equivalent of the NGAD will likely be even better than NGAD, 'cause the Americans are developing NGAD in a hurry, with proven technologies.
 
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Picdelamirand-oil

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The software that the JPO is trying to develop is normally the basic software of TR3, but the difficulty they are probably encountering is that the Blk 3 F software which had fallen into operation with TR2, refuses to fall into operation with TR3.

Block 4 is too late for it to be contractually used for receiving planes so it is absolutely necessary for 3F to work on TR3. As 3F worked with TR2, they must incriminate TR3 while the change of base software also reveals dormant bugs of 3F.

To get out of this they have to integrate 3F again function by function: They start with the flight controls, when it works they add navigation, when it works they add the management of the anemo unit then the inertial units, the GPS etc then the sensors one by one IRST EW Radar... until everything works (even the opening of the hold doors and the firing of the missiles).

But it is obvious that the plane is capable of flying before everything works, they simply must not try to use what has not been validated. Now they have about 60 planes to accept and for that let's say there are 5 test flights per plane. If TR3 is capable of flying with a configuration that allows them to make the first test flight, they can carry out this flight for all 60 planes and that's still what they won't have to do later, and moreover they will be able to start again when TR3 can fly with a 3F configuration which allows the second test to be carried out, etc...