January 23, 2014
Credit: Paul Weatherman/U.S. Air Force
A new U.S. Defense Department report warns that ongoing software, maintenance and reliability problems with Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter could delay the Marine Corps’ plans to start using its F-35 jets by mid-2015.
The latest report by the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, provides a detailed critique of the F-35’s technical challenges, and focuses heavily on what it calls the “unacceptable” performance of the plane’s software, according to a 25-page draft obtained by Reuters.
The report forecast a possible 13-month delay in completing testing of the Block 2B software needed for the Marine Corps to clear the jets for initial combat use next year, a priority given the high cost of maintaining current aging warplanes.
Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation for the U.S. Defense Department, has long been critical of the $392 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, and the latest report is no exception.
The report, due to be sent to Congress this week, said the aircraft is proving less reliable and harder to maintain than expected, and remains vulnerable to propellant fires sparked by missile strikes.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program chief, said in a statement to Reuters that Gilmore’s report was factually accurate but did not reflect concerted efforts under way by his office and industry to address software, reliability and maintenance issues.
“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,” Bogdan said. “Of course, we recognize risks still exist in the program, but they are understood and manageable.”
Bogdan said he remained confident that the F-35’s initial combat capability would be ready in time for the U.S. Marine Corps next year, and cited a series of successful weapons tests done late last year. He said the program was about halfway through developmental testing after completing 1,153 flights and accomplishing more than 9,000 test objectives in 2013.
Lockheed is developing the F-35 for the Marines, Air Force and Navy, and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, Italy, Turkey, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have also ordered the jet.