Problem Dogs Lockheed Martin’s $428 Billion F-35 Programme

Defence Industry

New Delhi: The 25mm gun on Air Force models of the Joint Strike Fighter has “unacceptable” accuracy in hitting ground targets, and is mounted in housing that’s cracking, the Pentagon’s test office said in its latest assessment of the costliest US weapons system.

The annual assessment by Robert Behler, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, doesn’t disclose any major new failings in the plane’s flying capabilities. But it flags a long list of issues that his office said should be resolved — including 13 described as Category 1 “must-fix” items that affect safety or combat capability — before the F-35’s upcoming $22 billion Block 4 phase.

According to a report by a news media, the number of software deficiencies totaled 873 as of November. That’s down from 917 in September 2018, when the jet entered the intense combat testing required before full production, including 15 Category 1 items. What was to be a year of testing has now been extended another year until at least October.

“Although the programme office is working to fix deficiencies, new discoveries are still being made, resulting in only a minor decrease in the overall number” and leaving “many significant‘’ ones to address, the assessment said.

The assessment doesn’t deal with findings that are emerging in the current round of combat testing, which will include 64 exercises in a high-fidelity simulator designed to replicate the most challenging Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian air defences.

Despite the incomplete testing and unresolved flaws, Congress continues to accelerate F-35 purchases, adding 11 to the Pentagon’s request in 2016 and 2017, 20 in fiscal 2018, 15 last year and 20 this year. The F-35 continues to attract new international customers such as Poland and Singapore. Japan is the biggest foreign customer, followed by Australia and the UK.

By late September, 490 F-35s had been delivered and will require extensive retrofitting. The testing office said those planes were equipped with six different versions of software, with another on the way by the time that about 1,000 planes will be in the hands of the US and foreign militaries.

A spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 programme office had no immediate comment on the testing office’s report.

The Air Force’s F-35 model had the best rate at being fully mission capable, while the Navy’s fleet “suffered from a particularly poor” rate, the test office said. The Marine Corps version was “roughly midway” between the other two.

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