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One of the most advanced and expensive fighter jets is about to receive a series of upgrades. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is about to be upgraded to Block 4. These new series of upgrades are intended to keep the F-35 ahead of the fifth-generation fighter jet competition. Several of these upgrades include more fuel tanks, better electronic warfare capabilities, the ability to control a swarm of UAV escorts, and much more.

The F-35 has been in development ever since the late 1990s. Back then, a lot of the conventional combat technology we have today were in very early phases of development. Block 4 is just another series of upgrades that will help keep the jet relevant for the modern operation.

Popularmechanics.com reports that Block 4 will incorporate 53 new technologies to the F-35. None of these new additions will change the way the jet looks, instead they are mainly enhanced features in the fighter’s software. Only about 20% of the Block 4 upgrades will be in the form of new hardware for the aircraft.

Some of the unclassified upgrades Block 4 has to offer to the F-35 are:

New Weapons

Upgraded versions of the F-35 will be equipped with the Stormbreaker smart glide bomb, that can precisely attack ground targets. Other weapons to be added on to the jet include the United Kingdom’s Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile and Meteor missiles, as well as Standoff missiles and several other types of air to ground missiles.

Electronic Warfare Updates

Alongside with several communication updates, the F-35 will receive several radar updates, allowing the pilot to detect enemy jets faster and jam their communications better.

UAV Assistance

The United States Air Force, as well as many other militaries, have been interested in pairing the F-35 with UAV escorts. The F-35 will fly with a swarm of UAVs escorting the fighter. The UAVs can assist with information gathering, electronic warfare, or just merely create a diversion for enemy forces. The idea is to make the F-35’s cockpit double as a UAV command station.

Ground Control Collision Avoidance System (GCAS)

This system will help pilots avoid the dangers that come along with disorientation. The system will utilise the aircraft’s sensors to alert the pilot if the jet is on a collision course. If the pilot doesn’t respond to the aircraft’s warning, then the aircraft will automatically change its flight course to a safer one. 

This technology would have saved the life of Japanese fighter pilot Akinori Hosomi, who lost his life after crashing his F-35 into the Pacific Ocean.

Larger Fuel Tanks

Possibly the only upgrade that can slightly change the aircraft’s exterior appearance. The extra fuel tanks are expected to allow the jet to carry 600 extra gallons of fuel.

Block 4 will also receive several other upgrades such as increased ability to shoot down ballistic missiles and upgraded infrared sensors. However most of the F-35’s new upgrades remain classified.

The upgrades will be updated in stages, with each upgrade happening every April and October starting in 2019 and ending no earlier than 2024.