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Pentagon DOT&E warns on further F-35 delays

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 25, 2014
The DOT&E has warned of possible further delays to the F-35 program. (JPO)
The DOT&E has warned of possible further delays to the F-35 program. (JPO)

A draft report from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational test & Evaluation (DOT&E), Dr Michael Gilmore has warned that continuing software and hardware development issues on the F-35 JSF program could delay the US Marine Corps’ efforts to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) in 2015.

The 25-page draft report is a detailed critique of the F-35’s protracted development covering the period from mid-2012 to April 2013, and has highlighted what is calls “unacceptable” performance of the aircraft’s software.

With the USMC planning to achieve IOC in mid-2015 with an interim Block 2B software build, the report says this may slip by as much as 13 months due to delays in completing Block 2B testing.

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“Initial results with the new increment of Block 2B software indicate deficiencies still exist in fusion, radar, electronic warfare, navigation, electro-optical target system, distributed aperture system, helmet-mounted display system, and datalink,” the report said.

Other issues he has highlighted include ongoing development issues with the aircraft’s revolutionary helmet mounted display (HMD), weapons testing delays, difficulties in starting the jet, and problems with the development of the ALIS support system.

Gilmore also highlights the fact that, while the program appears to be meeting its revised test flight schedule which was reset in early 2011, many more test points are having to be added to the schedule than planned or are having to be re-tested due to ongoing fixes in the aircraft’s systems, thus putting the test points plan behind schedule.

“The basic design of the F-35 is sound, and test results underscore our confidence in the ultimate performance that the United States and its international partners and allies value so highly,” JSF program executive officer LtGen Christopher Bogdan told Reuters in response to the draft report which is due to be tabled at the end of January. “Of course, we recognise risks still exist in the program, but they are understood and manageable.”

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Australia currently has two F-35As in build at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility, and these are due to be delivered to a USAF integrated training centre at Luke AFB in Arizona later this year ready for the commencement of RAAF pilot training in early 2015. Government is scheduled to make a decision on an additional 12 F-35As later this year for delivery in 2017. The USAF is currently scheduled to declare IOC with the interim Block 3i software in 2017/18, while the RAAF is planning to reach IOC in 2020.

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8 Comments

  • Lewis

    says:

    Why am I not surprised. It’s been the same old story for 13 years now!.

  • Tom

    says:

    How long have we been reading stuff like this peice? years and years, in fact I remember reading things of a very similar nature late last decade. It’s the same story with different dates on it. The JSF development cylce is a merrigo round that just keeps on going. If I dont get off of it I think I’m going to puke.

  • Ben

    says:

    All of the great aircraft today had development issues. This aircraft is far more complex. They’ll get there.

  • paul davis

    says:

    I fully agree with you Ben.IOC 2075.

  • Ross

    says:

    At what cost and with what compromises?

  • Lewis

    says:

    Ten reasons to kill the $1.5 trillion F-35 program…

    1. Due to system complexity and mismanagement the program is far behind schedule. It was five years to first flight but in the ensuing seven years little has been accomplished and the system is only half-way through development testing. The original ten year development program has extended to eighteen years, and that looks problematical.

    2. The test program has been seriously lagging because even after twelve years the system isn’t really ready for testing, and as new features are introduced tests must be repeated. Nevertheless, test results have been poor. The plane has experienced cracks in various structural frames, webs and flanges. Combat capability can’t be tested any time soon.

    3. The overly high-tech F-35 computer system, a major reason for delays, shows no sign of ever being ready. Mission systems software development and delivery to flight test have lagged behind the plan. The program manager says that software remains the program’s number one risk. The 24 million lines of computer code necessary to operate the plane and its combat capability won’t be delivered for at least four more years.

    4. The F-35 is a poor performer. It lacks payload capacity as a bomber, it lacks manoeuvrability as a fighter and its large size, high wing loading and poor manoeuvrability at low speed limit its close air support. The supposed (unproven) stealth feature may not be much of a feature because of radar advances. It’s better to defeat radar with electronic countermeasures than to try to evade it. Also the F-35C carrier variant, a major component of the program destined for the Navy and Marine Corps, can’t land on a carrier because the tail hook doesn’t work.

    5. System quality control is poorly managed. A recent DOD Inspector General report found that the Joint Program Office did not ensure that Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors were applying rigor to design, manufacturing, and quality assurance processes, resulting in many quality control shortcomings.

    6. While plans call for prospective sales of 700 planes to foreign countries, they do not support it. JSF program partners have either reduced their purchase quantities or, like Canada, avoided any purchase decisions entirely. The program has no non-partner sales orders. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of airplanes — it gets no respect.

    7. The $1.5 trillion F-35 system costs too much. Development has increased from $34 billion to $74 billion including producing planes that aren’t required for testing, unit plane costs have ballooned from an estimated $40-$60 million to over $300 million in low rate production and total acquisition costs are nearing $400 billion.

    8. Excessive spending on development and low rate production in the failing F-35 program combined with budget cuts has caused a shift from training and maintenance to operations, and then even operations had to be curtailed. Earlier this year, the Air Force had to temporarily stand down 17 squadrons with a reduction of 44,000 flying hours. Many aircrews had to be recertified, and US pilots are currently flying 120 hours or less per year, less than those in other major countries.

    9. One of the worst features of the F-35, constituting two-thirds of the lifetime cost, is operations and support cost. F-35 operating and support costs are currently projected to be 60 percent higher than those of the existing aircraft it will replace, and even according to the Pentagon, that is unaffordable. High F-35 operating costs are the major factor making total life cycle cost for the F-35 fleet an astronomical $1.5 trillion, the most expensive system in history by far.

    10. The F-35 program isn’t structured properly and it might get worse. Frank Kendall, Pentagon acquisition chief, a few years ago: “I can spend quite a few minutes on the F-35, but I don’t want to. Putting the F-35 into [low rate initial] production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice. It should not have been done.” And now, despite all its problems, Kendall wants to commit major acquisition malpractice and move into high-rate production five years before the Milestone C production decision scheduled for April 2019. Producing more unproven planes is not a good idea. It’s just more acquisition malpractice. Moving to alternate systems makes more sense, and would cost much less.

  • paul davis

    says:

    This jet will cost us so much the RAAF will regret it in the long run.I say advanced rhinos all the way.Imagine all the problems that will dog it before it is combat ready.SCARY.

  • Mike Dunn

    says:

    I truly hate to join the F-35 knockers…but, you’d have to be Blind Freddy to not see that this program is a total balls-up! Even China (CHINA! GOD FORBID!) is pulling ahead of the ‘West’ now…you have to look beyond the current J-20 and J-31 Programs (which we have to assume are running on time and within Budget) to the next stage of China’s Air Power objectives to UNMANNED Long Range Fighters!

    By the time the F-35 goes into service…ahem…it will be totally outclassed by the new generation fighters that China and Russia are readying for production! The ‘Capitalist West’ have Jargonised and Misbudgetised themselves to death! We are making the same mistake in assessing Chinese Air Power that we made with the Japanese in WWII.

    (EDIT: Mike, racist comments like your last sentence will not be published on this site! Andrew)

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