On August 29th, it was revealed that the Pentagon is allegedly attempting to cover some serious problems with the F-35 joint strike fighter jet that could endanger troops, according to an investigation released by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
The investigation discovered that in June, an oversight board that was looking at the development of the high-tech fighter jet decided to downgrade 19 of the aircraft’s most severe deficiencies without a plan to fix them. These included an emergency alert system for when pilots eject and a system for bombing coordinates that could protect troops on the ground from friendly fire. All of them were moved to Category II status. According to POGO: “This is not how the development process is supposed to work.”
As reported by POGO, in acquisition programs, a deficiency is a design flaw that affects the weapon system’s performance or safety. During the test and evaluation process, the testing personnel identify and categorize design deficiencies based on severity, breaking them down into Categories I and II, with degrees of priority within each category. Category I deficiencies “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or result in a production line stoppage.”
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that, as of January 2018, the F-35 program still had 111 of these. Category II deficiencies “could impede or constrain successful mission accomplishment.” The program had 855 of these significant, though less catastrophic, design flaws.
Dan Grazier, a military fellow at POGO and long-time program watcher, said that the moves could help speed up the F-35 program, as it moves into a critical phase of development. The F-35 program is the most expensive one in the history of the Pentagon. “They want to be able to go up to Capitol Hill and say, ‘Nope, we don’t have any more Category 1 deficiencies,’” Grazier said.
According to POGO, the next big challenge before the F-35 comes on September 15th. That is the deadline for the initial test and evaluation of the aircraft. The tri-service fighters are billed as the most advanced in the world and are chock full of new military technology. As reported by Washington Examiner, the Air Force and Marine Corps variants are already in operational use. The Navy’s version is expected to be deemed ready to deploy next year. “We are obviously just three weeks away from that, so the big rush to kind of clear up these paperwork issues is to try to meet that deadline,” Grazier said. “Having these deficiencies, it actually increases the likelihood that the program will not pass IOT&E.”
However, according to POGO that can’t be further than the truth. Despite what the Pentagon claims, the average program unit cost for each F-35 has more than doubled, from $62.2 million at the program’s inception in 2001 to an average $158.4 million in 2018. It is also 12 years behind schedule. The F-35 program’s development phase will not be completed this year, or for many years in the future. As POGO’s investigation revealed “the F-35 Deficiency Review Board document reveals that F-35 Joint Program Office officials are not even attempting to deal with serious design flaws, just so they can claim to have finished this phase without busting the budget and the schedule yet again.” Instead of fixing the deficiencies, they will complete development work and fixes at a later point, with their “newly devised, amorphous “modernization” phase, free of the restrictions and accountability imposed by a budget and milestone baseline.”
Neither the Department of Defense nor Lockheed Martin responded to requests for comment on this investigation.