The F-35 won’t be ready for combat until 2022

The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) recently released a scathing assessment of the F-35 program as part of his annual report. Buried inside 48 pages of highly technical language is a gripping story of mismanagement, delayed tests, serious safety issues, a software nightmare, and maintenance problems crippling half the fleet at any given time.

The report makes clear just how far the F-35 program still has to go in the development process. Some of the technical challenges facing the program will take years to correct, and as a result, the F-35’s operationally demonstrated suitability for combat will not be known until 2022 at the earliest. While rumors that the program office would ask for a block buy of nearly 500 aircraft in the FY 2017 budget proposal did not pan out, officials have indicated they may make such a request next year. The DOT&E report clearly shows any such block commitments before 2022 are premature.

As damning as this report is, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office quickly issued a statement disagreeing with the report’s emphasis—but acknowledging that every word of it is “factually accurate.” …

  • Key Tests Have Been Delayed Repeatedly
  • Flight Controls Impact Maneuverability
  • Serious Safety Concerns Remain
  • Significant Logistics Software Problems
  • Deferring Cyber Security Testing Leaves Aircraft Vulnerable
  • Maintenance Problems Keep Aircraft Grounded
  • Simulation Facility Failure Threatens Testing Program
  • Impending Air Force IOC: Aircraft Would Be Combat-Ready in Name Only
  • Concurrency Tax: Extra Costs for Few Aircraft
  • Block Buy Purchase Discussions Are Wildly Premature

The JSF Program has already been in development for more than twenty years. The plane is still years away from being capable of providing any real contribution to the national defense if, in fact, it ever will be. The issues raised with this program are important for everyone, citizens and decision-makers alike to understand. There is already discussion in the halls of the Capitol and the corridors of the Pentagon about the next fighter plane program beyond the F-35. Unless everyone learns from their mistakes with this program, history will be repeated. The United States can ill-afford another $1.4 trillion mistake that will do more to harm our national security than it does to secure it.

The F-35: Still Failing to Impress