New Report: 500 F-35s may be built before proven combat ready

Tests of how Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will perform in combat won’t begin until at least August 2018, a year later than planned, and more than 500 of the fighter jets may be built before the assessment is complete, according to the Pentagon’s test office.

“These aircraft will require a still-to-be-determined list of modifications” to be fully capable, Michael Gilmore, the U.S. Defense Department’s top weapons tester, said in his annual report on major programs. “However, these modifications may be unaffordable for the services as they consider the cost of upgrading these early lots of aircraft while the program continues to increase production rates in a fiscally constrained environment.”

Other F-35 flaws cited by Gilmore in his report:

  • A fuel system deficiency on all three models of the plane that limits their maneuverability when carrying a full load of gas.

  • A diagnostic system, called “ALIS,” that continues “to demonstrate poor accuracy and a high false alarm rate.”

  • Cracks in wing spars discovered in October on the Navy version of the F-35 and “damage to a significant number of fasteners and grommets” found during testing of the Marine Corps model.

  • A lack of high-fidelity simulators to rehearse combat missions and specialized data for each major geographic area that pilots will use to test sensors and track enemy radar.

  • A pilot escape system that could kill ejecting pilots who weigh 136 pounds or less by breaking their necks. DellaVedova said the program office plans improvements by November to fix the neck-stress issue.

The U.S. May Build 500 Jets Before Finding Out If the F-35 Works

The Pentagon envisions buying nearly 2,500 of the jets eventually, in a program estimated to cost well over $1 trillion. The first several hundred are due over the next few years, but various problems with the plane, particularly software issues exposed last week, have required the Pentagon to push back the start of a years-long testing process to 2018.

Considering the plane’s track record so far, the likelihood that the testing of its capabilities will reveal shortcomings and other problems seems pretty high. And that means that the Pentagon will have hundreds of incredibly expensive planes on its hands that may not perform up to expectations. …

The F-35 is what’s known as a “fifth-generation” fighter, a category of the very newest military aircraft in the world. The only true fifth generation fighter currently in operation is the U.S. F-22. Known as the Raptor, the F-22 was extremely expensive and notoriously unreliable. The Pentagon has fewer than 200 of them. Congress stopped funding it in 2009, in part because the F-35 was thought to be on the way.

The Russian Federation last year announced that the first of its fifth-generation T-50 fighter will roll off the assembly line this year. Experts believe a fully-functional F-35 would be superior to the T-50, but until it overcomes its reliability problems, it is possible that Russia will, for a time, be flying the most advanced fighter in the world.

More Bad News for the Snakebit F-35