The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive military program in the world with a total cost of more than $US1 trillion ($1.3 trillion). Now, a new Pentagon report suggests that the futuristic fighter jet still has hundreds of deficiencies and won't be ready for full combat testing until 2019.
The Pentagon's latest brutal assessment of this high-priced aircraft was part of an annual report from the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation Michael Gilmore. The dossier includes a five-page evaluation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the results of which are damning — emphasis ours:
The Services have designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as "critical to correct" in Block 3F, but less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections in 3FR6.
That's not all. In addition to the hundreds of flaws that have already been found in the aircraft, the Pentagon expects to keep finding more. The report specifically states that deficiencies are popping up at a steady rate — emphasis ours:
Deficiencies continue to be discovered at a rate of about 20 per month, and many more will undoubtedly be discovered before and during IOT&E.
The operational performance of the aircraft is a complete joke. The plane's "objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities" while breaking the sound barrier are just some of the many flaws plaguing the aircraft, including overheating problems and cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could lead to compromises of F-35 data.
The most telling sign in the Pentagon's report is that the agency admits to ignoring many of the upcoming development tests, instead shifting focus to the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOTE) process that begins in August. By rushing through the development tests, the agency will place more emphasis on the operational testing process, which could end up causing even longer delays.
The report appears to admit that there is no clear path to resolving the ballooning cost of the F-35 program — emphasis ours:
Significant, well-documented deficiencies; for hundreds of these, the program has no plan to adequately fix and verify with flight test within SDD; although it is common for programs to have unresolved deficiencies after development, the program must assess and mitigate the cumulative effects of these remaining deficiencies on F-35 effectiveness and suitability prior to finalising and fielding Block 3F.
With all of these lingering issues, it's no wonder President-elect Donald Trump recently lashed out against the F-35 program, saying the "cost is out of control" and "billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th".
Despite the F-35's incomplete state, the first Marine Corp squadron deployed to Japan last week from a military base in Yuma, Arizona. The partially operational F-35 squadron is the first permanent international deployment of the joint strike fighter and will be used for operations throughout the Pacific. The Air Force had also declared F-35 fighters "combat ready" before grounding many of those jets only one month later.
Lead defence contractor working on the plane, Lockheed Martin, refuses to acknowledge the issues plaguing the fighter jet program. Nevertheless, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson promised on Friday that the company is close to cutting a new contract that would significantly reduce the cost the program.