Thanks to Jim for the link!
When Lockheed Martin first won the contract 17 years ago, the F-35 was expected to begin operational testing in 2008. Once they failed to meet that, 2017 was supposed to be the big year for the start of the combat testing process. We now know that this process will almost certainly be delayed until 2019…and possibly 2020.Full story here.
The first page of the DOT&E report lists 13 major unresolved problems with the F-35 that will prevent the program from proceeding to combat testing in August 2017. But you wouldn’t know any of that from the public comments made by officials in charge of the program. During testimony before a House Armed Services subcommittee in February, officials neglected to raise any of these issues with Congress even though the DOT&E report had been released less than a month earlier.
The scale of the challenge yet remaining with the F-35 is easily quantified in this year’s DOT&E analysis. According to the report, the F-35 still has 276 “Critical to Correct” deficiencies—these must be fixed before the development process ends because they could “lead to operational mission failures during IOT&E or combat.” Of the 276, 72 were listed as “priority 1,” which are service-critical flaws that would prevent the services from fielding the jets until they are fixed.
Much has already been made about the F-35’s shortcomings in combat, yet structural problems still remain with the basic airframe. An example of this is a failure of an attachment joint between the jet’s vertical tail and the airframe. This has been a persistent problem, as the shortcoming was discovered in the original design. Engineers discovered premature wear in a bushing used to reinforce the joint during early structural tests in 2010. The joint was redesigned and incorporated in new aircraft in 2014. In September 2016, inspectors discovered the redesigned joint had failed after only 250 hours of flight testing—far short of the 8,000 lifetime hours specified in the JSF contract.
Testing of the F-35’s mission systems continued falling behind schedule in 2016. Program managers identify and budget for baseline test points, or “discrete measurements of performance under specific flight test conditions.” These are used to determine whether the system is meeting the contract specifications. Testing teams also add non-baseline test points for various reasons to fully evaluate the entire system. Examples include adding test points to prepare for the later, more complicated tests, to re-test the system after software updates to make sure the new software didn’t alter earlier results, or “discovery test points,” which are added to identify the root cause of a problem found during other testing.
The program budgeted for 3,578 test points for the F-35’s mission systems for 2016. The test teams weren’t able to accomplish them all, finishing 3,041 while also adding 250 non-budgeted test points through the year.
Despite the slipping schedule, the F-35 program office has expressed a desire to skip many needed test points and to instead rely on testing data from previous flights—where the test aircraft used earlier software versions—as proof the upgraded system software works. But DOT&E warns that the newer software versions likely perform differently, rendering the earlier results moot. Program managers essentially want to declare the developmental testing process over and move on to operational testing, even though they haven’t finished all the necessary steps.
I know the thinking of Marine Corps leadership. Get it and once we get it, we'll fix it. That worked with the Harrier, but won't with this airplane.
Add FUBAR BUNDY to your list of military acronyms. It applies to the F-35 in spades.