Monday, January 14, 2013

US Report Details Unresolved Issues With F-35 Program

An 18 page Pentagon report recently sent to the United States Congress has provided some details about the current state of the F-35 fighter Lightning II program, which at $396 billion makes it the most expensive weapons program in the history of the United States.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, is to build 3 different models of the F-35 fighter for the United States, which plans to purchase 2443 of the aircraft. In addition, the plane will likely be acquired by eight other nations that helped pay for its development, including:
  • Australia, 
  • Canada, 
  • Denmark, 
  • Italy, 
  • the Netherlands, 
  • Norway, 
  • Turkey,
  • the United kingdom 
While Lockheed Martin has reported the F-35 plan overall remains on track with continued progress on flight tests, software development, and was demonstrating exceptional stability, the highlights of the report include the following:
  • the program has completed a third or 20,000 of all planned test flights and has 39,579 left to go
  • certain tests planned for 2012 by Lockheed Martin were not accomplished, but overall the number of tests completed in 2012 of 1092 exceeded the number planned of 927 by performing some future tests earlier
  • the F-35A completed 30 percent less tests than planned due to problems with the weapon bay doors, operating limits of the aircraft and problems with the air refuelling system, which required new instrumentation
  • the F-35B for the Marine Corps has issues with the engine lift fan built by Rolls Royce, a supplier to the engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp
  • durability testing of the F-35B had to be halted after multiple cracks were found on the underside of the plane's fuselage
  • the F-35C has problems with the ability to transfer video and imagery data to ships and a potentially serious problem with the coolant system
  • during high-speed, high-altitude flights, the stealthy coatings peeled off on horizontal tail surfaces due to higher-than-expected temperatures
  • software packages from Lockheed Martin needed to support flight tests were delayed or not complete when delivered
  • both the advanced helmet and the computerized logistics system have issues that remain unresolved 
  • weapons integration testing has been delayed by numerous factors, including problems with radar performance
  • flight operations are currently banned within 25 miles of known lightning conditions due to issues with the system that protects the plane from fuel tank explosions caused by lightning
  • the mean time between critical failures has increased and the aircraft weight has remained steady, but the aircraft's performance remains below the level expected at this point in time
Overall, the report revealed the F-35 fighter aircraft has yet to mature due the continued developmental problems of the program, which has already been restructured 3 times before to slow down production and allow continued development.

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