The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been hailed as the ‘most expensive weapon in history’, costing $400bn. It has been plagued with delays, prompting Donald Trump to describe it as ‘out of control’ and demanding a price cut from Lockheed Martin. Now, a new Pentagon report has warned the jet still has hundreds of faults – and won’t be ready to even begin full combat testing until 2019.
The crucial ‘Initial Operational Test and Evaluation’ tests were scheduled for August.
The deadline represents the latest in a series of pushed-back delivery milestones.
‘The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office (JPO) acknowledged in 2016 that schedule pressure exists for completing System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and starting Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) by August 2017, the planned date in JPO’s Integrated Master Schedule,’ the report says.
‘In an effort to stay on schedule, JPO plans to reduce or truncate planned developmental testing (DT) in an effort to minimize delays and close out SDD as soon as possible.
‘However, even with this risky, schedule-driven approach, multiple problems and delays make it clear that the program will not be able to start IOT&E with full combat capability until late CY18 or early CY19, at the soonest.’
The Pentagon’s Office of Operational Testing and Evaluation says only half of its long list of concerns will be addressed before the major performance milestone.
‘The Services have designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as “critical to correct” in Block 3F, but less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections in 3FR6’
But addressing even that reduced list is appearing rushed, it says. There are ‘significant, well-documented deficiencies resulting in overall ineffective operational performance … ‘hundreds of which will not be adequately addressed with fixes and corrections verified with flight testing.’ Key among them are fixing the 25mm cannon which vibrates excessively and the way it is targeted by the aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet.
THE MAIN ISSUES
- Fixing the 25mm cannon which vibrates excessively
- Way it is targeted by the aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet needs work
- Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire also an issue
- Aircraft’s ‘objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities’ while crossing the sound barrier – for which there are currently no plans for a fix
TRUMP’S F-35 PRICE CUT
Lockheed Martin Corp is close to a deal to significantly lower the cost of its F-35 aircraft, Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson said on Friday after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
‘I certainly share his views that we need to get the best capability to our men and women in uniform, and we have to get it at the lowest possible price,’ Hewson said to reporters in Trump Tower.
Hewson had previously assured Trump she would drive down the cost of the company’s fighter jet, after he tweeted last month that he was asking rival aerospace company Boeing Co whether it could offer a cheaper alternative to the F-35, based on its existing F-18 Super Hornet. Trump has threatened and rebuked some of America’s largest companies, creating a new business risk for those who have been or fear being targeted.
Improvements in the internal diagnostics software — the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) have also been slow to emerge. They lead a list including overheating, premature wear of componentsin the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire. The aircraft’s ‘objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities’ while crossing the sound barrier as yet has no plans for a fix.
‘The current schedule-driven program plans to close out testing in 2017 do not include enough time to fix these key deficiencies, nor time to verify corrections in flight test,’ it adds.
‘The program currently has 17 known and acknowledged failures to meet the contract specification requirements, all of which the program is reportedly planning to get relief from the SDD contract due to lack of time and funding.’
Despite it’s incomplete state, a partially operational squadron of the Marine Corps’ F-35B was deployed to Japan last week. The report did note some progress, such as the completion of important ship-integration tests and steps toward fixing a dangerous ejection seat. However, most of chief tester Michael Gilmore’s report focuses on what still needs to be done.
In a previous memo obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, warns that the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office is simply cut short the plane’s development phase in order to pretend that schedule and cost goals are being met.
‘The purpose of this memorandum is to document my continuing concerns regarding progress in the -35 JSF program as you prepare to conduct the upcoming Defense Acquisition Board review,’ the note says, according to War is boring.
It calls for the entire programme to be restructured so enough testing can be completed.
‘The primary concerns were that the program appeared to be prematurely ending System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and was not taking the necessary steps to be ready for which will be conducted using realistic combat missions fully consistent with our war plans and threat assessments.’
Taking incompletely developed F-35s into combat will, Gilmore says, place pilots at ‘significant risk.’
‘If the program continues with plans to close out SDD prematurely, it will carry the high risk of failing and having to repeat the approximately $300-million operational test, and failing for many years to provide the full combat capability Block 3F has long been meant and claimed to provide.
‘Finally, the combination of unfinished SDD work and the likely follow-on Operational test would significantly delay, and increase the cost of, achieving the important capabilities which are urgently needed to counter current and emerging threats.
‘I therefore recommend very strongly that the program be restructured now and provided the additional resources it clearly requires to deliver its long-planned and sorely needed full Block 3F combat capability.’
The Marines began moving 16 F-35Bs to Iwakuni Air Station in Japan earlier this month, it has been revealed.
The Marines will be the first force to deploy the Lockheed Martin jet aboard the USS Wasp next year, and will deploy a second contingent soon after, aboard the USS Essex.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE WITH ITS 1970S PREDECESSOR, THE F-16 JET?
‘We will learn from that, and see what capabilities we need to further develop,’ said Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, the commanding general of the Marines’ Combat Development Command, according to Defense One.
‘A lot of it’s going to be the school of hard knocks.’
The jets will deploy as part of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 in early 2017, a Marine spokeswoman said. At year’s end, six of that squadron’s planes will attach to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.Industry and U.S. defense officials say they are working hard to continue driving down the cost of the new warplanes to $85 million per plane by 2019, as well as the cost of operating them.
Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he welcomed the announcement but made clear he intended to keep a close eye on the hugely expensive program.’The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to exercise rigorous oversight of the Joint Strike Fighter program’s long-delayed System Development and Demonstration phase as well as the start of the operational test and evaluation phase,’ McCain said in a statement.
To become battle ready, at least a dozen individual F-35 must demonstrate their ability to drop bombs and shoot down other planes.
Each jet must be upgraded to a specific software package, and plugged into the complex logistics cloud that manages maintenance.
The F-35 project office had previously set an Aug. 1 target date.
THE EJECTOR SEAT THAT COULD KILL
Pilots under 136 pounds aren’t allowed to fly any F-35 variant. Pilots under 165 pounds have a 1-in-4 chance of death and 100 percent chance of serious neck injury upon ejecting, according to the testing office.
‘The testing showed that the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection.
This results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position. When the parachute inflates and begins to extract the pilot from the seat (with great force), a ‘whiplash’ action occurs. The rotation of the seat and resulting extension of the neck are greater for lighter weight pilots,’ the report states.
It is designed to support operations, mission planning and to spot any maintenance issues with the vehicle.
‘Program officials said that if ALIS is not fully functional, the F-35 could not be operated as frequently as intended,’ the report said.
‘But a DoD commissioned plan found that schedule slippage and functionality problems with ALIS could lead to $20-100 billion in additional costs.’
So far, the software has been so flawed that maintenance crews have had to resort labour-intensive alternatives. According to National Interest, in one instance maintainers had to manually burn data onto CDs and to send the massive files across a civilian WiFi network. One major problem, the report said, is that the F-35 data produced goes through a single main operating unit which has no back up.
‘The F-35 is still in development, and this is the time when technical challenges are expected,’ Lt. Genernal Chris Bogdon told CNN.
‘However, we believe the combined government and industry team will resolve current issues and future discoveries,’ he said.
Lead defense contractor for the plane, Lockheed Martin, insists development of the logistics software is on schedule.
‘As ALIS development continues, our focus is on the warfighter and delivering the most effective, efficient fleet management system to sustain the F-35 over the next five decades of operations,’ said Sharon Parsley, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin.
‘The recommendations by the GAO are in line with the actions already underway in preparation for full-rate production and worldwide sustainment.’