The F-35 Has 966 "Still-Unresolved Design Flaws"

September 6, 2018 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35MilitaryTechnologyWorldStealth

The F-35 Has 966 "Still-Unresolved Design Flaws"

A new report outlines what could be a major setback for the $1 Trillion dollar stealth fighter. 

characterizing it as a Category I “High” deficiency. But the Deficiency Review Board knocked it down to a Category II “High” problem, without indicating a plan to correct it.

This is not how the development process is supposed to work.

Testers have also identified an issue with the arresting hook on the Air Force’s F-35A conventional takeoff variant. The F-35A, like other Air Force aircraft, is equipped with a single-use tailhook for emergency-landing situations when the pilot suspects a braking failure. Testing on the F-35A’s tailhook began in 2016.

Testing engineers found that the arresting hook is causing damage to the aircraft due to “up-swing.” They originally rated this a Category I “Medium” deficiency. At this meeting, the deputy director of engineering, this time with the concurrence of the testing sites, downgraded the deficiency to Category II “High,” with instructions to study the maintenance- and replacement-cost data to better define the difference between “major damage” and “non-major damage”—but without actually proposing any fixes to the problem.

One combat-related flaw the Board downgraded has the potential to endanger the lives of troops on the ground. As testing officials have previously reported, the F-35’s current mission systems do not allow pilots to confirm the target coordinates entered into precision-guided bombs. The pilots can see what information they send to the weapon, but not what coordinates have actually been stored in the weapon.

The Pentagon’s operational testing director characterized this as a serious concern in his most recent annual report. In close-combat situations, the rules of engagement require the pilot to read back the aimpoint target coordinates to a ground controller to prevent friendly troop and civilian casualties.

This most commonly occurs when troops are locked in a difficult fight and urgently request close air support. F-35 test teams rated this a Category I “High” deficiency, but the Board downgraded it to Category II “High,” without any indication of whether plans exist to correct it.

The nature of the design flaws the Board downgraded is not the only matter of concern. Individually, each flaw may not prevent an aircraft from being launched, but the accumulation of flaws greatly increases the probability that the aircraft will be unable to execute the mission that is needed. The sheer number of outstanding deficiencies creates a problem of its own for the operating forces as they work to integrate the F-35 into their fleets.

Each deficiency becomes one more issue that could keep an aircraft grounded or force the pilot to abort a mission. As these issues accumulate, it becomes an almost overwhelming challenge for the fleet to maintain an acceptable readiness and availability status. These cumulative F-35 deficiencies add significantly to the maintenance burden the services are already facing—and is one of many reasons the F-35 program can still muster only a 26 percent fully mission-capable rate.

The list of attendees of this particular Deficiency Review Board meeting partially explains why this process unfolded the way it did on June 4. The attendees include 11 members of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Board. These people have the most incentive to see the program completed quickly. The list also includes eight members of the Integrated Test Force from Edwards Air Force Base and three from the corresponding team at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

Sources closely involved with this process told POGO the 11 Integrated Test Force members effectively work for the F-35 program office. They ultimately answer to the services, whose senior leaders are eager to quickly end the development process and begin the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase by Sept. 15, 2018, without letting deficiencies slow down the purchase rate of new F-35s in the meantime.

Even though the operational testing of F-35 airframes loaded with deficiencies is a major threat to successful completion of the IOT&E process—the crucial legal hurdle before the program can move to full-rate production—only three members of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team attended the Deficiency Review Board meeting.

Significantly, the highest-ranking member of this joint test team at the meeting was a major, rather than the higher-ranking officers in charge of the team or in charge of the various service operational testing agencies.

Similarly, the combat operating forces from the services were hardly represented while addressing deficiency decisions. Just one operating force representative, a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, participated. The Navy and Marine Corps operators were not represented at all.

In other words, even though the combat-aircraft fleets of all three services will be comprised mainly of F-35s in the near future, the operating forces’ leaders, who represent the men and women who will have to fly these aircraft in combat, had essentially no say in deciding the priority of any F-35 deficiencies.

The Department of Defense’s