The Pentagon has issued a restriction order for Lot 9 and newer Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighters after the discovery of cracks in the aircraft’s stealth coating following the use of the 25mm gun.
While all three variants of the F-35 share a 25mm gun, the F-35A has an internal gun system.
Concerns over the F-35 have been the focus point of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation: FY2019 Annual Report conducted by Robert Behler, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) within the Office of the US Secretary of Defense.
The report revealed “873 unresolved deficiencies” associated with the multibillion-dollar platform.
Behler’s report said the program was working to fix deficiencies however new discoveries are still being made which resulted in only a minor decrease in the overall number of issues.
“There are many significant deficiencies that should be addressed to ensure the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) baseline configuration is stable prior to introducing the large number of new capabilities planned in Block 4,” the report said.
One of the most startling revelations in the report was that airframes of the Lot 9 build, and subsequent lot builds, have experienced cracks in the outer mold-line coatings and the underlying chine longeron skin, located near the 25mm gun muzzle of the F-35A variant.
The short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the aircraft carrier-specific F-35C variant, mount the 25mm gun in an external gun pod.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is billed as a catalyst for the fifth-generation revolution, changing the face and capability of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the wider Australian Defence Force.
For the RAAF, the F-35A’s combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force multiplying, air-combat platform.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have a projected life of 30 years in service.
Ten nations are currently flying F-35s, including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan.
The first of Australia’s F-35A aircraft are now based on home soil after a period of training and development at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, plus an epic Pacific Ocean crossing in December 2018.
More than 340 F-35s are operating today with partner nations, more than 700 pilots and 6,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 170,000 cumulative flight hours.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.