Outgoing Pentagon official cites “significant, well-documented deficiencies,” but says Defense Department “has no plan to adequately fix and verify hundreds of these deficiencies” in current schedule • He says testing will not be complete until 2019-2020.
The F-35 stealth fighter jet program is continuing to hit considerable turbulence, a new Pentagon report has found.
The damning new report, which lists 276 “deficiencies in combat performance,” estimated that it would cost half a billion dollars to extend the August 2017 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation deadline.
The report by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s outgoing director of combat testing, cited the fighter jet’s “significant, well-documented deficiencies in critical combat capabilities.”
The U.S. Defense Department’s F-35 program office “has no plan to adequately fix and verify hundreds of these deficiencies using flight testing within its currently planned schedule and resources,” Gilmore wrote. He said deploying F-35s “with capable mission systems is critical to our national security,” but the program “is at high risk of sacrificing essential combat performance.”
Gilmore’s 62-page annual report said military services have “designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as ‘critical to correct'” in the final version of the “3F” software that gives the aircraft its full combat capability.
“But less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections [so far],” Gilmore wrote. He said the Pentagon’s approach “guarantees the program will attempt a premature” termination of mission systems testing, “which will increase the risk of mission failures” once the aircraft enters the one-year phase of intense combat testing, “and more importantly, if the F-35 is used in combat.”
Combat testing provides the most credible way to predict combat performance, Gilmore wrote. But under the latest projections, combat testing will not be complete until “at best” December 2019 and more likely later, in 2020, he wrote. The testing is currently scheduled to start in August.
The delay in combat testing will most likely put off by as much as a year a Pentagon decision to approve the aircraft for full-rate production — the most lucrative phase for Lockheed — from the planned April 2019 into 2020, Gilmore wrote.
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.
In December, Israel received its first two F-35s (renaming them “Adir,” Hebrew for “Mighty”), and an additional seven F-35s were expected to arrive in Israel throughout 2017.
It is unclear if the additional testing required will affect the F-35 orders from Israel and other countries.
The F-35 program, which began in 2001, is around 70% over initial cost estimates and years behind schedule.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has slammed the fighter jet program as too expensive, while his aides said he intends to keep pushing to cut the costs of military hardware.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” Trump tweeted in December, echoing campaign promises to cut waste in federal spending. “Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after Jan. 20.” Jan. 20 is the date Trump will be sworn into office.