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Fifth-Generation Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Stealth Fighter Jet Gets A Machine Gun

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After 13 ground gunfire tests, Lockheed Martin's notoriously expensive F-35A has just completed its first aerial test of the stealth fighter's 22/A 25mm Gatling gun system earlier this week.

The jet's 25mm Gun Airborne Unit (GAU) was first tested in June at the gun harmonizing range at Edwards Air Force Flight Test Center. This second phase of testing will see the four-barreled Gatling gun being tested under several different flight conditions, including various aircraft configurations.

The 25mm gun, embedded in the left wing of the jet, is concealed within the airframe until the pilot pulls the trigger.

That jack-in-box approach helps to limit the F-35A's profile, keeping the jet from drawing attention until spires of dirt and sand rise from the earth as the burst-fire gun sprays down bullets. The 25mm Gatling gun is both an air-to-ground and air-to-air weapon.

Several years of planning went into the development of the gun system, with testing intensifying in the first half of this year at Edwards' F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) Flight Test Squadron, according to Mike Glass, Edwards ITF flight test director.

"The results of this testing will be used in future blocks of testing, where the accuracy and mission effectiveness capabilities will be evaluated," Glass said.

The testing has been supported by Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force, according to Glass. Next year, testing will continue with the 25mm gun integrated into the airframe of a production F-35A.

"The test team will demonstrate the gun's effectiveness in both air-to-air and air-to-ground employment when integrated with the 5th generation fighter's sensor fusion software, which will provide targeting information to the pilot through the helmet mounted display," says Lockheed Martin. "At the end of the program's system development and demonstration phase in 2017, the F-35 will have an operational gun."

The successful gunfire events may be encouraging for some, as the F-35 - which has cost more than $3.5 billion - has been criticized as being the most expensive weapon ever.

"The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we're building it," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told a forum last July.

Check out the F-35A's gun in the video below.

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