America’s most expensive weapons system ever just hit another snag.
The F-35 Lighting II, Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter jet, is expected to miss a crucial deadline for successfully deploying its sixth and final software release — referred to as Block 3F.
Block 3F is part of the 8 million lines of sophisticated software code that underpin the F-35.
In short, if the code fails, the F-35 fails.
The latest setback for the F-35 stems from a 48-paged December 11 report from Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.
According to Gilmore, the stealth fighter jet won’t be ready by its July 2017 deadline.
As first reported by Aviation Week, the DoD report states that “… the rate of deficiency correction has not kept pace with the discovery rate” meaning, there are more problems quickly arising from the F-35 program than solutions.
“Examples of well-known significant problems include the immaturity of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (aka the IT backbone of the F-35), Block 3F avionics instability, and several reliability and maintainability problems with the aircraft and engine.”
One recommendation Gilmore gives for the F-35’s latest woes is to triple the weapons delivery accuracy (WDA) tests, which are currently executed once a month.
Adding more tests to the troubled warplane will likely add to the cost overruns and schedule delays, however, Gilmore warns that decreasing testing in order to meet deadlines will put “readiness for operational testing and employment in combat at significant risk.”
According to the DoD report, the Block 3F software testing began in March 2015, 11 months later than the planned date.
The now nearly $400 billion weapons program was developed in 2001 to
replace the US military’s legacy F-15, F-16 and F-18 aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s “jack-of-all-trades” F-35’s were developed to
dogfight, provide close-air support, execute long-range bombing attacks, take off and land on aircraft carriers — all the while utilising the most advanced stealth capabilities.
Adding to the complexity, Lockheed Martin agreed to design and manufacture three variant F-35’s for a particular sister service branch.
The Air Force has the agile F-35A, the F-35B can take-off and land without a runway, ideal for the amphibious Marine Corps, and the F-35C meant to serve on the Navy’s aircraft carriers.
The Marine Corps was the first sister service branch to declare an initial squadron of F-35’s ready for combat.
In July 2015, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commandant of the Marine Corps, declared initial operational capability (IOC) for 10 F-35B fighter jets.
The Air Force is expected to declare IOC for its F-35As later this year and the Navy plans to announce IOC for the F-35Cs in 2018.
Even so, America’s most expensive warplane’s turbulent march to combat readiness is far from over.
Here’s the full report from the Department of Defence:
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