Jan 31, 2014
New Tests Find Significant Cracking In The F-35
The U.S. Defense Department’s newest and most advanced fighter jet has cracked during testing and isn’t yet reliable for combat operations, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester said in new report.
The entire F-35 fleet was grounded last February after a crack was discovered in a turbine blade of an F-35A. While the order was subsequently lifted, more cracks have been discovered.
Durability testing of the F-35A, the USAF, and the F-35B, the US Marines Corps revealed “significant findings” of cracking in engine mounts, fuselage stiffeners, and bulkhead and wing flanges, according to the document.
The F-35C, the Navy’s version, has also had cracks in the floor of the avionics bay and power distribution center and, like the F-35B.
The hardware problems, along with ongoing delays in software development, among other issues, led Pentagon to conclude that the fifth-generation fighter jet’s “overall suitability performance continues to be immature, and relies heavily on contractor support and workarounds unacceptable for combat operations” adding that, “Aircraft availability and measures of reliability and maintainability are all below program target values for the current stage of development.”
The Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition effort, estimated last year to cost $391 billion to develop and build 2,457 F-35 Lightning IIs. The single-engine jet is designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.
The Pentagon this year plans to29 F-35s, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps, and four for the Navy. The department in fiscal 2015 wants to purchase 42 of the planes.
The Marine Corps had expected to begin operational flights of the aircraft in 2015, followed by the Air Force in 2016 and the Navy in 2019.
The Corps’ schedule depends on using a more limited version of the software, known as Block 2B, designed for use with such precision-guided weapons as the AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, GBU-32/31 Joint Direct Attack Munition and GBU-12 Paveway II bomb.
The first operational flights, however, will probably be delayed because the aircraft’s software won’t be ready in time due to ongoing glitches, according to the report.