Uh Oh- $400B F35 Fighter Program at Considerable Risk

70 ARS Refuels F-35As

Picture Credit: Marines

  • Fifth-generation fighter has been plagued with issues 
  • $400bn development schedule has stretched to 15 years
  • Weeks ago military bosses claimed it was finally ‘combat ready’

IAI wrote recently about the stretch out of multiple combat role platforms to 2025 or even 2040 given their history of reliability and cost effectiveness (like the A-10 Warthog) and the application of additive manufacturing to achieve parts re engineering performance improvement. Now we learn what many expected was going on behind the scenes: the program has failed in critical systems design elements spanning the heads-up displays for pilots and the stability of the flight control systems, according to SOFREP:

  • During its initial test flight, recently declassified reports reveal that the test pilot reported heavy vibrations in the controls, due to tail flutter. Installation of new fairings or “fillets” in the wing roots to improve airflow, as well as counterweights and horizontal stabilizer angle of incidence seemed to mend the control issues.
  • On one of the early test missions, there is a report of an engine failure during approach to landing. This caused some instability and caused the aircraft to bank steeply and drop altitude at more than a rate the pilot could compensate for.
  • The crash of the only flyable version of this new fighter is reported to have set the secret program back two years. When later versions of this fighter emerged and began flight test, they too saw significant airspeed and flutter problems.
  • The issue was so bad that engineers completely redesigned the tail surfaces. One of the new-tailed designs was launched on a test flight to see how it would work. That pilot, also revealed, was Mr. Ralph Virden. He entered a dive with the new aircraft to test its speed limits and upgraded tail…and never recovered. He was killed instantly when the aircraft impacted the ground.

The jets were first to deploy as part of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 in early 2017. “We will learn from that, and see what capabilities we need to further develop. A lot of it’s going to be the school of hard knocks,” said Marine Lieutenant General Robert Walsh, the commanding general of the Marines’ Combat Development Command, according to Defense One.

f-35-northrop

Picture Credit: Lockheed Martin F-35

But the Pentagon’s director of testing recently warned it is “not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver’ the plane’s full combat capabilities on time.” The F-35 program has derailed to the point where it “is actually not on a path toward success, but instead on a path toward failing to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion.” The 16-page memo, first reported by Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg and then by others, details just how troubled this program is: years behind schedule and failing to deliver even the most basic capabilities taxpayers, and the men and women who will entrust their lives to it, have been told to expect. In a memo obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, warned that the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office is simply cut short the plane’s development phase in order to pretend that schedule and cost goals are being met, reported the Daily Mail (UK).  Gilmore charged that “the primary concerns were that the program appeared to be prematurely ending System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and was not taking the necessary steps to be ready for which will be conducted using realistic combat missions fully consistent with our war plans and threat assessments.”

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