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A Key Part of the F-35 Stealth Fighter Is Getting A Lot Cheaper

BF-17 WDA-315, flight 265. test 386. Flown by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot David "Doc" Nelson. This was the first live fire of a United Kingdom ASRAAM off a USA F-35.

On Wednesday, BAE Systems announced that it had received a $93 million Undefinitized Contract Action from Lockheed Martin to provide critical sustainment support for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter‘s electronic warfare system. BAE Systems is largely considered a leader in electronic warfare (EW) systems, and has designed, manufactured, and sustained some of the most advanced systems in the world.

As part of the five-year contract, BAE Systems will provide critical sustainment support for the AN/ASQ-239 EW countermeasure system, which will ensure the mission readiness of the growing global fleet of the fifth-generation combat aircraft.

“We have a strong track record of sustaining electronic warfare systems to support our customers’ mission readiness,” said Rob Dykema, F-35 Sustainment program director at BAE Systems via a statement.

“This contract lays critical sustainment groundwork, establishing and optimizing the infrastructure to support the aircraft,” Dykema added.

Under the terms of the contract, BAE Systems will provide software maintenance, depot test equipment support, logistics analysis, obsolescence monitoring, technical field support, and reachback support for the F-35 U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory.

PBL Program

The company also noted that the contract complements its F-35 performance-based logistics (PBL) program, through which BAE Systems ensures EW material availability. Under the EW PBL, BAE Systems has already demonstrated a sixty percent improvement in supply support, and has delivered more than eighty-five percent EW material availability to the F-35 enterprise with reduced cost per flight hour using a cost-effective, outcome-based support strategy.

The AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare suite provides real-time situational awareness and superior electronic warfare attack and countermeasure capabilities. The innovative system has been seen as capable, reliable, affordable and sustainable. BAE System has also stressed that the suite enables the U.S. and its allies to maintain electromagnetic spectrum superiority with the F-35.

Cutting Costs But Not Performance

The F-35 program has often been in the spotlight, not for its high flying capabilities, but all too often for its supposed sky high costs. While BAE Systems will ensure mission readiness with its EW suite, it could also address some of the costs.

According to a report from Breaking Defense, Jerrry Wohletz, vice president of the Electronic Combat Solutions at the defense contractor, said that BAE has already managed to cut the cost per flying hour of the EW system on the F-35 Lightning II by more than 50. That reduction only applies to the cost of the AN/ASQ-239 EW suite, and not the “total” weapons system – however, Wohletz said it represents “a substantial saving pass on” to the F-35 Joint Program Office.


Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team pilot, performs over Miami Beach, Fla., May 24, 2019. Olson performed the demo in preparation for the Miami Beach Air and Sea Show. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

“We’ve delivered cutting-edge electronic warfare systems for every F-35 fighter,” Deb Norton, vice president of F-35 Solutions at BAE Systems told reporters in June. “Our team is focused on manufacturing excellence and execution, providing agile, adaptable systems to outpace the current and future threat.”

And now it seems BAE is also helping make the F-35 a little bit more affordable, which should be good news to its critics on the Hill.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.