F-35 Problems Persist

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The Marine Corps version of the F-35 might only last 25 percent of its presumed life expectancy according to a Pentagon report obtained by Bloomberg. The news service is reporting the short takeoff-vertical landing F-35B may only last 2,100 hours instead of the projected life limit of 8,000 hours. At a unit cost of about $252.3 million that works out to more than $120,000 an hour. It also means that the first B models will hit their best before date in 2026, just 10 years after entry to service. That’s only one issue in a long list of expensive deficiencies chronicled in the report on the F-35 program as a whole.

The Pentagon says the aircraft is “well below” its projected 80 percent dispatch rate, its computers are vulnerable to hacking and the planes take longer to fix than expected. The onboard maintenance diagnostic tool doesn’t work properly and there are “pervasive problems with data integrity.” It also notes the gun used in the Air Force model of the F-35 isn’t accurate enough for air-to-ground use.

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Comments (10)

This news comes as no surprise to me. Any time you ask an airplane to become an aviation version of a Swiss Army knife, it isn't going to do anything good and major compromises have to be made. To accommodate the STOVL "B" model, the Air Force and Navy versions had to make major capitulations in their designs. I guess no one learned anything from the McNamara TFX program of the 60's ... you know it as the F-111. How'd that work out in the end? They had to turn it into the electronic EF-111 Raven to get any real use out of it.

Because I spent over 30 years involved with military flight test, I took a keen interest in this program. Early on, I realized we -- as a Country -- were making a major mistake putting all of our "eggs" in this single design. A couple of years ago, the USAF sent a couple of test F-35's from Eglin AFB to Airventure and two young officers put on a forum. When questions were allowed from the audience, I confronted them with some technical questions I knew they'd be unable to answer. They stammered and didn't. It became perfectly obvious to me that their job was to convince the taxpayers present that the program was on track with a dog and pony show. Now here we are years and many billions of dollars into the program and we find THIS out! The officers who allowed this to happen should be reduced in rank to E-1 but ... they're likely now senior managers at Lockheed Martin making the big bucks because they have "connections." It's a good thing they weren't around in WWII; we'd be speaking a different language now.

And "they" want this thing to replace the A-10, F-16, F-18 and AV-8B ... give me a break. During the Gulf War, some A-10's safely returned to base with major airframe damage. An F-35 would be a smoking hole somewhere. An A-10 can carry over 1,000 rounds of 30mm depleted uranium ammo; the F-35 ... barely 200 of 20mm. And they say that the airplane is far more accurate so they don't need all that capacity. Bunk! If I were an Army or USMC infantryman dependent upon F-35 for air to ground support ... I'd be very, very nervous. As described, this thing is more likely to kill them than the bad boys. They should have just kept the lines for the older airplanes open and kept building F-22s for the Air Force.

This news is a travesty. The F-35 line should immediately be shut down until these issues are either resolved or the program is cancelled. But ... they'll field them with a promise to fix 'em later.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 4, 2019 4:53 AM    Report this comment

This program's goalposts have been moved so often, that they've been fitted with quick-disconnect mounts.
Apparently, thry should have done that for this dog's wings.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | February 4, 2019 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Larry, I'm pretty sure that anyone involved in the TFX mess has long since retired and probably flown west. Unfotunately, it took several losses of F-111's in combat in Viet Nam for the military to finally admit it was a terrible attack aircraft. I hope the same thing does not happen with the F-35.

Lockheed and its subcontractors have been promising to fix the problems later since the first F-35 rolled off the assembly line. Well, later has arrived and they are nowhere near being fixed.

Posted by: John McNamee | February 4, 2019 10:40 AM    Report this comment

This is a pretty misleading article...

The reports have said that only the early production F-35Bs have a low service life (this is what Aviation Week is reporting, among others). Major changes were made to the structural configuration part way through production and later production jets are expected to meet the 8000 hr life. This is pretty common in fighter design. Structural design flaws are discovered in ground testing, and improvements are incorporated through production. Lots of times older jets can have improvements retrofitted to extent their service lives.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of the F-35. I think it's a terrible idea from the start. But why exaggerate a relatively minor, common problem when there are so many major problems that you can pick on without exaggeration?

Posted by: Alex Rudy | February 4, 2019 11:48 AM    Report this comment

After watching the Thunderbirds do their Super Bowl flyover in their magnificent F-16's last night, something else popped into my thoughts. Sometimes I think that the senior people who run our Services forget they're in the business of preparing for, fighting and then winning wars using the most cost efficient methods and in a timely fashion. They're NOT in the business of running an expensive Aero Club for young flight officers at our expense at places like Edwards AFB and Patuxent River and Eglin AFB. Neither are they preparing for their second "career" with the contractor companies after they retire.

What good is a million dollar helmet that can look through the fuselage if there isn't any ordnance available. If a USMC F-35B won't last long enough to earn it's "keep" and can't carry enough ordnance to get the job done without RTB numerous times ... what good is it? Are they gonna try to scare the bad boys with jet noise (sic)? And a dismal dispatch (MC) rate !! With the minimal numbers of these things available, every last one of 'em has to be ready to fight ... period.

What the heck is L-M doing in Fort Worth? These aren't single line of code gestation problems, these are design issues. This thing first flew in 2000 and the F-35A flew in 2006. They test and test and test some more and this is what we get. It's gotta be better than the AV-8B or F-15 or F-16 or we've wasted our money AND constrained the other two Services with that silly looking lift fan and engine duct design. Like I said above ... we've put all of our "eggs" into the basket called F-35 and it's letting us down. In 2000, I knew this'd happen.

I hereby challenge someone from Lockheed Martin to come onto Avweb -- or anywhere else -- and tell us all what the heck is going on here. I'll debate you ... one on one! Name the time and place. And just who in NavAir and AF Materiel Command -- at the senior levels -- is putting up with this? Captain or Admiral or General, I have some very bad news for you ... ya'll fell on your sword. You are very lucky that General Curtis Lemay isn't around anymore or your heads would be on his platter tomorrow morning.

It's no darned wonder the term "Military Intelligence" is an oxymoron. I am insulted by this debacle. And you can bet that our adversaries are watching all of this with glee.

And don't get me stared on the debate over high technology vs. sheer numbers of simple weaponry. David and Goliath already proved that for us. Give me a good 'ol Piper PA-48 Enforcer any day (google it). BTW ... guess where the F-111 was built ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 4, 2019 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Larry I have used the F111 as a reason to hope the F35 will deliver in the end. Despite the famous issues in the 70s with the wing boxes etc they became a solid platform with unmatched logistics - even with those inefficient F14 engines one of them could deliver ordinance out to a good distance in a way that now requires multiple modern strike aircraft supported by one or more refueling aircraft. Many times the cost and commitment of resources. I know multiple countries were interested in an updated version with super-cruise capability. And they were designed for carrier ops...

But this modern saga has left me unable to trust the competence of those charged with these programs. These are the people and the culture that made the space shuttle fly so often despite the known issues. Impressive but massively over-priced and designed to spread largess around instead of provide the best solution. And there is no evidence that procurement has improved, given this Lockheed-Martin business.

Posted by: Cosmo Adsett | February 5, 2019 12:06 AM    Report this comment

Cosmo ... that's my point. Over many decades involved with flight test on numerous major flight test programs, I've seen some stellar successes and some dismal failures. That's what the business of flight test is all about. You purposely try to uncover weaknesses in the design if not break or wear out the test airplanes. THEN you push the big red procurement button and start buying the production machines in low rate production runs. That's why in days of old, new airplanes had an "X" (experimental) then "Y" (prototype) and then "A", et sub, in their designators.

The F-35, however, is now nearing 20 years since first flight and the Pentagon just inked the 11th Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) contract for 141 aircraft ... for which they're not even disclosing the $$ amount. Not only will the F-35 Program Life Cycle costs be about $1.5T over it's 55 year life cycle, the defense of the free world -- including our allies -- is dependent upon this thing working as specified and promised. More importantly, grunts in the Corps are dependent upon the "B" model working. And that's why I'm "hot" over this news.

Forbes is reporting that both the Pentagon and European allies are now balking at unit costs ... despite success in lowering them in each succeeding LRIP batch ordered. I'm sure that if L-M responded to my challenge, they'd bring that out into the forefront. Great! But if the machine isn't meeting specifications, unit costs don't mean a darned thing. Service Length Extention Programs (SLEP) are supposed to EXTEND the life of aging airframes ... not to meet the initial service life specification. Engineers were supposed to design this thing to meet same. And flight test was supposed to uncover this weakness long ago. I wonder if anyone in this Program has heard of a "lead the fleet" machine?

When I was in the USAF and involved in this business, we had a saying: "How can you tell when the Contractor is lying? ... their lips move." True story. Seeing a laser light show when the new airplane is unveiled and nifty flight exhibitions of test articles at Airventure is fine but -- in the end -- the rubber meets the road when the war fighter gets what they need and want at a cost they can afford so they have enough of them. A broken (and prohitively expensive) F-35B ain't part of that. If I were magically the Executive Program Manager of the F-35 ... senior contractor and customer heads would be rolling over this news and the Program would be put on hold pending "further..."

In WWII, we designed, built and fielded the B-29 in just a few years. After the War, numerous advancements in aviation were done with a slide rule. In the 60's, we went to the moon before the HP35 was invented. How the heck did it come to "this?"

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 5, 2019 7:54 AM    Report this comment

Anyone with a brain in aviation knew that the F-35 would be sub-par on every level, a master of nothing. Tell me, how does being "sub-par" work out when your in combat?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 5, 2019 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Dropping the F-22 for this come-along-later dog was the biggest mistake ever made, and dropping the A-10 for the F-35 would be the next-biggest blunder.

Until an aircraft with a Star-Trek/UFO type zip-zap drive comes along, there won't ever be any such thing as an "all-purpose superiority" fighter. And why on Earth didn't anyone in DOD know that, or in Congress find that out? And why, besides money and cushy post-military jobs would high-ranking Air Force commanders push the retirement of the A-10 with no suitable replacement in sight, when they have to know the F-35 isn't it?

One success the F-35 does represent is that of the military-industrial complex (MIC), to control the Congress and to allow monopolistic practice to pervade the shrinking field of major-systems defense contractors, resulting in unsustainable costs and systems. It's past time to overhaul the DOD acquisition process and cut the tentacles of the MIC.

Posted by: Malcolm Kantzler | February 6, 2019 3:54 AM    Report this comment

They retired the F-117A Nighthawk early to afford this THANG, too, Malcolm. Those officers and the ones who -- still -- want to retire the A-10 (the first major program I worked at Edwards) should be handcuffed to grunts dependent upon those machines to stay alive in real world situations. THEN come back and make a decision. As ya'll can tell ... the F-35 Program makes me very very angry.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 7, 2019 12:21 PM    Report this comment

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