The US Government Accountability Office has released its annual report into the F-35 JSF program.
The GAO says delays in testing the revolutionary aircraft’s critical software systems put at risk planned in-service dates for the three major US services. It says “persistent software problems” have meant flight testing has been delayed and often requires re-testing, particularly of the aircraft’s navigation, targeting and reconnaissance systems. It says software testing is as much as 13 months late in some areas, putting at risk US Marine Corps plans to achieve an initial operational capability with the Block 2F software load in 2015.
“Delays of this magnitude would mean that the Marine Corps will not likely have all of the capabilities it expects in July 2015,” the report states. “The effects of these delays compound as they also put the timely delivery of Air Force and Navy initial operating capabilities at risk.”
As the USAF and US Navy plan to achieve IOC with Block 3I in 2017 and 3F in 2019 respectively, any delays in finishing Block 2F will flow on to these later blocks. “At this point, we believe the most pressing issue is the effect software testing delays are likely to have on the capabilities,” the GAO said.
Other risks to the program identified by the GAO include the new HMS pilot helmet upon which the aircraft is dependent in order to present navigation and targeting information to the pilot via the visor, and the Navy version’s arresting hook which required a redesign in 2012 and is yet to demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to land on an aircraft carrier.
The GAO also identified current US budget constraints as a risk to the program achieving planned levels of affordability. It says the projected program cost including development and production of the planned 2,443 US aircraft is US$391bn (A$424bn), some 68 per cent more than that predicted in 2001.