The US Marine Corps’ F-35B just made history by firing its gun pod for the first time while flying.
The gun pod, which straps on to the belly of the F-35B and US Navy’s F-35C, allows the ship-based fighters the option to sacrifice a little stealth, drag, and range for 220-rounds of 25 mm firepower — an upgrade from the 20 mm guns that current US fighter jets carry, though the magazine is smaller.
While the F-35 has fielded some criticism for its gun, which at 55 rounds per second can empty its entire magazine in under four seconds, the gun actually makes sense for the type of close air-support environment that the F-35 is expected to operate in.
The much-loved A-10 Warthog, the long-time king of close air support with 1,350 rounds of 30 mm, is ideal for flying low and slow, loitering in the sky, and delivering its precise fire to provide close air support. But this makes sense in only uncontested air space.
The F-35’s smaller magazine capacity reflects the future of close air support as military planners envision it, where quick and precise strikes leverage a suite of sensors, electronic-warfare capabilities, and stealth.
Unfortunately, that vision of close air support remains in the future. As it stands, though the F-35 can fire its gun while flying, the software update needed to properly aim the gun remains elusive.
Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s main contractor, says the software could come out as early as late 2017, but a recent report from the Government Accountability Office said it could take a full year, and millions in additional funding, to come around.
Watch the F-35B run and gun for the first time below:
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