The ‘world’s most advanced’ fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, currently in service with the US military and eight allies, continue to be plagued by 871 software and hardware deficiencies, the Pentagon says.
The F-35 is considered the most advanced and sought-after fighter jet in the world. Israel, Britain, and few others already possess the fifth-generation fighter along with the US Air Force.
Ever since its conception in the 1990s, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program has been labeled as the most ambitious fighter development program in the history of the US Defense Department.
It is also the most expensive program in the world with an estimated budget of $1 trillion for its 60-year lifespan. Despite all this, the F-35 fighter jet program is not glitch-proof.
Robert Behler, Director of Operational Testing, described how the US Defense Department’s costliest weapons system “continues to carry a large number of deficiencies, many of which were identified prior to” the development and demonstration phase of the fighter, which ended in April 2018 with 941 flaws.
While the flaws regarding the F-35 fighter have been reduced only by two from 873 to 871, as reported by Behler last year, it still retains very strong support from overseas purchasers as well as from the Congress.
Therefore, the incoming Biden administration at the very outset will have a very important agenda for resolution.
The fighter needs to be put through a one-month simulation exercise which has been stalled. The simulation is necessary for the aircraft’s certification which will prove that it is combat-ready against the toughest Russian or Chinese threats, thereby leading to a decision on its full-rate production.
The US undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Ellen Lord, had directed a review no later than May 31 on the progress toward the conduct of the simulation that had been rescheduled to occur in December.
Lord had also ordered an update to the Pentagon’s F-35 acquisition strategy, in a previously undisclosed memo to the US Air Force and Navy officials on December 15. According to Behler though, the simulation is likely to occur by mid or later this year.
Apart from the technical flaws, the fighter jet program is also facing a $10 billion shortfall in the planned budget for 2021 through 2025.
The final budget blueprint belonging to the Trump administration sought $78 billion for research and development, jet procurement, operations and maintenance, and military construction.
However, as per the Pentagon’s independent cost analysis unit, an estimated $88 billion will be needed.
According to reports, the F-35 fighter jet program is undergoing a ‘Block 4’ upgrade worth at least $12.1 billion, aimed at correcting the past deficiencies and introducing new capabilities in six-month increments through 2026.
It includes retrofitting in some already built aircraft and in those being used by the militaries of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
However, Behler claims despite the effort “the overall number of open deficiencies has not changed significantly since” the beginning of 2018.
He says that it is mainly “due to ongoing problems with initial software quality” in Block 4 and “limited lab and flight test capability, resulting in a high rate of problem discoveries” in testing and in the field.
“(The Block 4 process) is not working. It is causing significant delays to planned schedules and results in poor software quality, containing deficiencies. (Software changes) intended to introduce new capabilities or fix deficiencies often introduced stability problems,” maintains Behler.