The most expensive project in military history, the mighty F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, entered 2021, and continues its flights with a few flaws.
To be completely honest, the flaws are a bit more than few. The F-35 fighter jet has 871 software and hardware deficiencies that could undercut readiness, missions or maintenance, according to the Pentagon’s testing office.
The 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, which ended in April 2018 with 941 flaws.
As such, in nearly 3 years, less than 100 flaws were solved. In the entire 2020, the number of solved flaws sits at the impressive number of 2 (just two, there’s no typo).
Lockheed has delivered or is under contract for 970 aircraft of a potential 3,200 or more planes for the U.S. and other nations.
Despite that, there’s strong support in Congress for the $398 billion F-35 program that retains strong backing in Congress and from overseas purchasers despite its problems.
Those include a stalled one-month simulation exercise required to certify the plane is combat-ready against the toughest Russian or Chinese threats and thus ready for a decision on full-rate production.
The simulation was supposed to happen in December, but it didn’t.
Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, has directed a review by May 31st.
In October, the F-35 program will mark 20 years since Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed beat rival Boeing Co. in the contest to build the next-generation U.S. fighter.
Aside from the technical flaws, the F-35 program faces a $10 billion shortfall in the Pentagon’s planned budget for 2021 through 2025.
The Trump administration’s final budget blueprint calls for requesting $78 billion for research and development, jet procurement, operations and maintenance and military construction. But the Pentagon’s independent cost analysis unit estimates $88 billion will be needed, according to a June 2020 analysis.
The US national debt has eclipsed $27 trillion — or more than $200,000 per household. But instead of making a concerted effort to curb spending, lawmakers are determined to double-down on costly boondoggles. Case in point: the F-35 fighter jet, estimated to cost more than $1.5 trillion over the course of the program.
Still, Lockheed argues that out of the 871 deficiencies, “only” 10 are potentially serious “Category 1” issues, defined as critical deficiencies that could jeopardize pilot or aircraft safety or degrade mission effectiveness.
That’s compared with 102 such problems among the 941 cases cited in 2018.
Lockheed said in a statement that none of the 10 current deficiencies are “1A” problems that could affect pilot or aircraft safety but instead are in “Category 1B,” which the program office defines as representing “a critical impact on mission readiness,” training or maintenance.
“Though we have not seen the report, we track all F-35 deficiency reports,” Lockheed spokesman Brett Ashworth said in a statement. He said about 70% of the 871 pending items “are categorized as low priority or are with the F-35 Joint Program Office for resolution.”
Of the 10 pending “mission impacts” deficiency reports, nine have “closure resolution plans, with seven already delivered to the government awaiting action,” and the others currently being reviewed.
Among other findings, the testing office’s report said that although the F-35 is showing increased reliability, it’s still taking maintenance personnel too much time to repair aircraft and that cybersecurity vulnerabilities identified during earlier testing “have not been resolved.”
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