F-35 Prototypes are Combat Capable?


No Way, José

...so just say NO to Marine Corps IOC

Stop F35

by Don Bacon, Better Acquisition Advocate
-continually updated


The US Marine Corps plans to declare initial operational capability (IOC) or "combat capable" on its first operational squadron of 10-16 F-35B prototype aircraft (probably only ten) in July 2015, one year prior to the Air Force and a full three years prior to the Navy. The Marine Corps version of the stealthy Joint Strike Fighter is has the shortest range (75% of the Air Force variant), is heavier than the Air Force plane, has the smallest payload (15,000 lb) of any of the F-35 variants and is the most expensive. To date, 43 F-35B developmental prototypes of various configurations have been produced/contracted for Marines, of the total 357 F-35B requirement.


details below, illustrated

The F-35, because of its design and lagging development problems, will be declared "combat capable" (not) with many shortcomings and work-arounds.

The unreliable (per GAO) engine requires work-arounds especially as a result of the June 23, 2014 engine catastrophic failure, including performance restrictions (3G) and frequent borescoping.

The Pentagon's program manager for the F-35 has said that the fusion deficiencies sometimes result in an inaccurate battlefield picture being presented to pilots. The USMC has created workarounds that allow pilots to safely fly the aircraft by making manual adjustments to the fusion of data shared by multiple F-35s.

The digital logistics and maintenance system - the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) - must be working satisfactorily. For now, mechanics have created a workaround using a laptop. The newly-developed deployable ALIS squadron operating unit may or may not be available by then. Will it have bugs? Sure.

No steep dives -- the aircraft are restricted from steep dives (greater than 50,000 feet per minute) due to fuel tank pressurization limitations. Additional restrictions include the prohibitions of: operating the weapon bay doors in flight, using the night vision camera display in the helmet, and night flying in instrument meteorological conditions. These limitations prevent the use of realistic combat tactics.

The F-35 flying computer (eight million software lines) was supposed to be fielded five years ago with Block 3 software, but that's far off so Block 2 is what they get. This means that the $400,000 helmet display doesn't work; pilots would operate much like in early fourth generation aircraft using cockpit panel displays as a work-around.

An F-35B, assuming, a 250-nautical mile ingress to a Close Air Support (CAS) area contact point would have approximately 20-30 minutes to organize with the controller and execute an attack using its two air-to-surface weapons, compared to the A-10 it replaces which would have approximately one and one half hours of time in the CAS area under the same conditions. Work-around and work-faster. CAS is made even more difficult because of the combined effects of digital communications deficiencies, lack of infrared pointer capability, limited ability to detect infrared pointer indications by a controller, and inability to confirm coordinates loaded to GPS-aided weapons. F-35B aircraft will need to operate under the direct control of a forward air controller, using voice communications to receive target information and clearance to attack. Make those twenty minutes count!

It will be difficult for F-35 aircraft to operate either autonomously or with other aircraft systems to build situation awareness and simultaneously engage multiple air and surface targets, which is the requirement. Recent tests of multi-ship operations indicated debilitating clutter on the cockpit displays of the F-35 aircraft contributing to poor battlespace awareness and significantly detracting from target identification, location, and weapons employment. F-35 aircraft are limited to internal carriage of two short-range air-to-surface bombs of the same type and two medium-range air-to-air missiles. Don't even think about using external weapons, mixed loads of weapons, gun employment, stand-off air-to-surface weapons, and more air-to-air missile capability.

F-35 mission data loads will not be available. The mission data loads enable the aircraft’s sensors to search for, identify, and locate threat radio frequency emissions, a capability critical to the aircraft’s combat effectiveness. What, me worry?

All of these cockpit problems increase pilot workload in discerning actual targets, prioritizing threats and employing weapons. Work around that!

--end quick read
This is largely based on the sworn testimony to Congress of Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, on March 5, 2015.

The Marine Corps commandant says they are ready

"The F-35 provides a transformational capability to the Marine Corps and the Joint Force. It gives our Nation a day one, full spectrum capability against the most critical and prohibitive threats." --General Joseph Dunford, Congressional testimony, Feb 26, 2015

But the prototype plane is not ready for this early IOC

F35B Problems

The Pentagon has been deeply involved in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development program since 2001..... This includes design and manufacturing contracts with Lockheed-Martin and Pratt & Whitney for the engine, and testing by the government. Testing includes development (half done) and operational (two years off) test and evaluation. The F-35 suffers from both software and hardware issues. Among them: engine problems that compromise safety and for which no design fix exists, software capability failures, fixes which have been deferred to later development blocks; wing design issues that have existed for six years without being adequately addressed; and a lingering fire risk due to the vulnerability of the aircraft’s fuel tank.

B Cutaway

...but still has far to go, because it's still deep in development....The aircraft's mission systems have yet to be tested in the F-35, and the flight test and evaluation program has yet to explore the most challenging areas. The initial operational tests (IOT&E), to see how this complex machine performs in military use, won't even start before January 2018. The whole F-35 development program is scheduled to end four years off in April 2019 with a Milestone C production decision, but that may change due to software and test delays. Program manager General Bogdan said recently that “not a whole lot” of the jet’s full flight performance will be available, but it will have what the Marines are willing to live with. “They understand the limitations and have operational workarounds to ensure they have the capability they need,” Bogdan said. The issues are still being worked on, but they won’t likely be corrected until early Fall----TheFiscalTimes

This just in:

The Pentagon will be able to certify the F-35's computer's software is combat-ready by . . . the end of 2016. --CTMirror, Jun 2, 2015

The end of 2016!!

“I see a program that should have been held up,” said Tom Christie, who was the Pentagon’s test czar from 2001 to 2005. “You’ve got to take your time and wring this thing out before you start delivering these aircraft, and then have to go back and spend billions fixing them." ----aljazeera

The F-35 program is still deep in development, spending $1.6 billion this fiscal year for research and development, and this R&D spending is slated to go on to FY2020.

And the Marines really need the money elsewhere...

“The truth of the matter is we don’t have sufficient amphibious ships to meet all the combatant commander’s requirements. If we add it all up — and the CNO and I both agree on this — it’d be a requirement for over 50 amphibious ships. We have a fiscally constrained requirement of 33 and as of couple of weeks ago, we’ve got 30 in the inventory.” ----General Dunford

But they are violating the acquisition schedule...

1 2001 Milestone B (start of development)
2 2003 Preliminary Design Review
3 2008 1st Flight F-35B


X = now
4 2015 USMC IOC
5-6 2019 End IOT&E, MILESTONE C (end of development, production decision)


See that? Milestone C in 2019, production decision

Did somebody change that major milestone when we weren't looking?
Not according to the Air Force interview with General Bogdan, published March 26, 2015
“We have not changed a major milestone in this program, not one,” the general said.
But General Bogdan has in fact changed this major milestone, wanting full production now! Should we check the length of the general's nose?

So the rush to full production and deploying aircraft now is....

Way Too Early

But, spurred by the incipient misguided IOC, the Pentagon wants to spend over $15 billion procuring useless F-35 prototypes, while complaining of "the prospect of sequestration’s serious damage to our national security and economy." The program has already procured 179 F-35s and plans to add 339 more over the next five years for more than fifty billion dollars, all before flight test is complete. -- Michael Sullivan, GAO (20:40)




This early IOC violates policy, plan and law . . .

1....violates policy on Milestone C, entering production

In a normal program, according to DOD Directive 5000.02, the IOC would be after the end of development, at the time of the decision Milestone C to enter low rate initial production which for the F-35 is April 2019. But the Magic F-35 program is special. It can skip all that "fly before buy."

Milestone C, from DOD Directive 5000.02, p. 27
Milestone C and the Limited Deployment Decision are the points at which a program or increment of capability is reviewed for entrance into the P&D [production & deployment] Phase or for Limited Deployment. Approval depends in part on specific criteria defined at Milestone B and included in the Milestone B ADM.

The following general criteria will normally be applied:
-- demonstration that the production/deployment design is stable and will meet stated and derived requirements based on acceptable performance in developmental test events;
-- an operational assessment;
-- mature software capability consistent with the software development schedule;
-- no significant manufacturing risks;
a validated Capability Production Document (CPD) or equivalent requirements document;
-- demonstrated interoperability; demonstrated operational supportability;
-- costs within affordability caps;
full funding in the FYDP; properly phased production ramp up; and deployment support.

acquistion model

Milestone B started development in 2001.
Milestone C (production) for F-35 is April, 2019 according to the most recently released Selected Acquisition Report (SAR)
IOC is normally scheduled after Milestone C, as indicated, after the design is accepted and frozen.

Fact: Nobody in the government ever mentions F-35 Milestone C


other programs observe Milestone C, entering into low rate initial production (LRIP) or directly into production & deployment

The AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) program has successfully completed a Milestone C review and received approval for entry into Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). Mr. Sean J. Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, rendered the decision in a September 30, 2008 Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) signaling the program had demonstrated compliance with all milestone criteria, including successful completion of an Operational Assessment (OA) test phase. Achievement of Milestone C formally signals that the missile system's maturity is sufficient to commence LRIP. (Note: Sean Stackley is the nominal head of the F-35 program)

The newest variants of Raytheon's Advanced Medium Range Air-to-air Missile and Small Diameter Bomb II are moving toward Milestone C production decisions. The decisions, which will move the weapon systems from the engineering and development phase to production and deployment, are expected next month and follow the successful passing of milestone testing by the company and the U.S. Air Force, the company said in separate announcements.

Burke said the program expects a Milestone C decision from the Navy approving low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the Triton by the end of this year. The first two LRIP aircraft and two initial operational test and evaluation aircraft will constitute a first operational orbit. A full-rate production decision review is expected in 2018, which would phase in the multi-int capability upgrade. IOC for the multi-int configuration would follow in 2020.

When Milestone B is reached, the program will award a contract for the "engineering and manufacturing development phase" to just one contractor - eliminating one of the current two contractors from competition. "That phase is to develop, build and test a product to verify it meets requirements - documented requirements," Lee said. The Milestone B decision is expected to be made in within this fiscal year. A Milestone C decision will mark entry into low-rate initial production. The Milestone C decision is expected to happen in fiscal 2017.

The Pentagon has given Milestone C approval to Raytheon’s Small Diameter Bomb II programme, moving the tri-mode seeker weapon to production and deployment with the US Air Force on the F-15E Strike Eagle.The air force’s top acquisition executive Bill LaPlante says the approval was received earlier this month, concluding a five-year development phase. The programme is about one year behind schedule due to a handful of failed test shots, but remains on cost.



2....violates plan for deployment with full capability software

The Marines plan to declare IOC on the F-35B "flying computer" with immature Block 2 software, whereas the Navy and Air Force plans are to wait for Block 3 'combat capable' software in accordance with the plan. The Marines are in violation of the original schedule to hold off on IOC until Block 3 as shown here.

Spiral Development

Block 2 -- Services can start planning deployments and staffing operational units.
Block 3 -- Service Initial Operational Capabilities are achievable.


3....most importantly, it violates the law intended to prohibit undue haste

What law? 10 USC § 2399 - Operational test and evaluation of defense acquisition programs

The Secretary of Defense shall provide that a covered major defense acquisition program or a covered designated major subprogram may not proceed beyond low-rate initial production* until initial operational test and evaluation of the program or subprogram is completed. (currently Feb 2019 for F-35 according to SAR)
*LRIP is primarily intended to provide production or production-representative articles for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E)and not to provide systems for in-service operation, as described here.


Congress was concerned about past abuses where the DoD inappropriately rushed systems into production without adequate testing. They gave high priority to testing requirements, creating four key statutes in Title 10 that specifically address test and evaluation,
which are here including:
DoD direction may be more restrictive than congressional direction, but can never be less restrictive".


Tell It to the Marines


The Air Force says no combat capability before 2017

The initial operating capability date of 2016 means the F-35A will be able to deploy with a limited capability, based on an updated schedule first planned in 2001. The most important date, [AF Chief of Staff Mark] Welsh said, is when the F-35A will reach full operational capability, meaning the jet will be able to use all of its weapons and fly in full combat with its complete software suite. This is not expected until after its most advanced software version, block 3F, begins to come online in 2017.--Defense NewsThis adjustment also moved the start of IOT&E [Initial Operational Test & Evaluation] to January 2018, vice August 2017, and hence pushed the completion of IOT&E into FY19.

The Navy has just said no to F-35 before 2018

The aging F/A-18 Hornet fleet, possibly augmented with the purchase on new Super Hornets, will remain the bulk of the Navy's strike fighter power into the next two decades, forcing the service to extend the airframe's life from its initial 6,000 hours to 10,000 and possibly beyond. "[The extended legacy Hornets] are kind of — I don't want to say gap-fillers — but they will be the biggest chunk of our carrier fleet through the middle to the end of the next decade," said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, who took over Naval Air Forces Jan. 22.--Navy Times

White Elephant

The Brits think the plane is a white elephant

New US fighter jet on course to becoming ‘one of history’s biggest white elephants’ . . .Not one of the 131 jets built so far is combat-ready. . ..“not a cat in hell’s chance” the F-35 would be combat-ready by 2018. . . You could argue it was already one of the biggest white elephants in history a long time ago. . .This aircraft is massively expensive, technically and operationally flawed and unlikely to enter full and proper operational service for several more years.-- The Independent . . . .Anyhow, Admiral Sir George Parr has the answers.


While the Pentagon test office reaffirms 2019

...This adjustment also moved the start of IOT&E to January 2018, vice August 2017, and hence pushed the completion of IOT&E into FY19.--DOT&E, p.44

Why is the Marine Corps doing this?

How and why did that happen?. The testing phase was originally supposed to end in 2013, but is now officially scheduled to continue until 2019 or later at Milestone C. The F-35 development program should have been terminated in 2010 or 2012 and not extended, but it wasn't. It will go until 2019 or later.

And this just in....

The Marines say the F-35 is not combat ready!

“If I had my druthers, I’d rather not deploy it right away, because I’d like to build some momentum in the program and build the instructor base" --General Davis, USMC

It's all about sending money to Lockheed.
moneypallet  arrow LM

The next two batches of F-35 fighter jets could be worth over $15 billion.
"It's a big deal...one of the largest sole-source negotiations in the history of the department."--Reuters
DoD chief: Pay cuts possible if sequestration continues--FederalTimes

The contractor wants to take advantage of this mistake and increase production of faulty pre-production prototypes, to go to full production before the completion of testing in violation of the law. It's about money, according to NationalDefenseMagazine:

Industry analysts said Lockheed is navigating through treacherous waters as it tries to bring costs down and make profits for its investors. Wall Street views the F-35 as Lockheed Martin’s “growth-engine,” noted industry consultant James McAleese, of McAleese & Associates. Even if the Defense Department’s budget is cut across the board under sequestration in 2016, many investors are bullish on Lockheed both because the company continues to pay substantial dividends to shareholders and also because of an anticipated F-35 production ramp-up, McAleese wrote in an advisory to clients.

There are growing concerns, though, that F-35 profits are not moving in the right direction. Lockheed Martin is “struggling with F-35 production operating margin,” said McAleese. F-35 production sales grew by more than $800 million in 2014, but operating profit was flat compared with 2013. Lockheed Martin is “under tremendous pressure to drive to double-digit F-35 production operating margin by 2017,” McAleese added. He predicts the company will resist any additional large-dollar affordability investments in F-35 “unless there is clear profit upside … and matching DoD funds.” Investors are hopeful that Congress will approve the administration’s budget proposal for 2016 that funds 57 F-35s, he added. Lockheed Martin is “hungry for the expected jump to 57 F-35 aircraft.”

How big is this program? It's huge.

The F-35 program represents the largest contract in procurement history. The U.S. government plans to buy 2,400 of these multi-role combat fighters. Foreign governments may add another 600 orders. The program is projected to cost $400 billion to purchase all those fighters. Another trillion will finance maintenance and upgrades over the program's lifetime within a logistic program uniquely owned by Lockheed, with all the system data rights owned by Lockheed. And this is a stream of revenue that will feed into Lockheed Martin's earnings – and by extension, stock price – over the 56-year life cycle of the program. This means Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor of a program expected to return an average of $25 billion a year. To put that in perspective, Lockheed Martin's total sales to the U.S. government for 2014 totaled $36.1 billion. That means that the F-35 could on average bring Lockheed Martin the equivalent of 70% of its 2014 U.S. government sales each year over the life of this program.--nasdaq



Hobby Horse

LockMart's hobby horse

But it requires cooperative government operatives.

In business it's grow or die, and Lockheed-Martin and Pratt & Whitney need continually increasing orders to maintain growth in revenues, earnings and stock price. That's just good business. And with the Pentagon, what a major contractor wants, it usually gets, with help from congressional friends. That's the intent of the McAleese advisory to clients quoted above.

Shipping money to Lockheed promotes earnings and stock price growth

In spite of poor F-35 performance, including major engine failures and grounding, Lockheed Martin stock has risen more than 135% in the past two years thanks to a well-conducted marketing campaign, friendly journalists and political support from the politicians who gain from the program despite the jet's failures.

LM Stock Price


But that financial adulation has begun to change recently

"...All that said, Lockheed Martin still faces plenty of threats. On the military side, its F-35 stealth fighter jet has been the subject of almost endless criticism, with a huge price tag that could lead many potential customers to cut back on or even eliminate their previous plans to make major purchases of the new aircraft. Especially as unmanned aircraft play an ever-more important role in military operations, manned fighters like the F-35 look increasingly obsolete." -- Investopdeia

So let's just say these prototypes are combat-capable...

How to justify all these hundreds of useless prototypes? Why, let's arbitrarily say that these Magic F-35s are "combat-capable." And that's what the Pentagon plans to do. No rules, just right!

. .including close air support, air-to-air etc.

The year 2015 is the pivotal year for both the production ramp-up and the Magic F-35 "combat capable" designation. To keep with Pentagon doctrine this latter event will be called Initial Operating Capability (IOC). This July event concerns the Marine Corps variant of the F-35, but with high parts commonality there is no doubt that this false "combat capable" rubric will be applied to all three variants -- Marines, Air Force and Navy. The Marine Corps IOC standards are laid out here in a 2013 report to Congress. See link for full details. In short, on page 5 (excerpt):

Marine Corps F-35B IOC shall be declared when the first operational squadron is trained, manned, and equipped to conduct CAS [Close Air Support], Offensive and Defensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Assault Support Escort, and Armed Reconnaissance in concert with Marine Air Ground Task Force resources and capabilities. Based on the current F-35 JPO schedule, the F-35B will reach the IOC milestone between July 2015 (Objective) and December 2015 (Threshold). Should capability delivery experience changes or delays, this estimate will be revised appropriately.

But saying isn't doing.

Of course the F-35B isn't combat capable in the middle of a development program. In the FY2015 SAR also linked to above, pp. 14-15, for the current "F-35" all of the plane's Demonstrated Performance Characteristics are "TBD" -- To Be Determined. We don't know how the F-35 will perform, so how can it be sent into combat? It can't, except perhaps as a show in a non-threatening scenario. Because development is only half done, this substandard "fighter" for many years won't even have the capability of current fighters according to the Air Force --"General: F-35 Will Initially Lag Older Aircraft in Close Air Support."

The General Accounting Office doesn't like it

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) doesn't like the idea (March 2014):

Our past reports have concluded that purchasing aircraft while concurrently conducting developmental flight testing increases the risk that problems will be discovered late in testing and additional funding will be needed to rework aircraft that have already been purchased.

It's no better in a September 2014 GAO report:

• Annual operational and support costs for the F-35 will be $19.9 billion (in 2012 dollars) during the fleet's peak years, 79% higher than costs for legacy aircraft like the F-15 and F-16.
• Based on tests from the Air Force and Marine Corps versions of the F-35, parts are being replaced on average 15 to 16 times more frequently than what the Joint Program Office assumes. The GAO cites a $4,800 sensor on the plane that needs to be replaced 60 to 129 times more often than originally anticipated.
• The Autonomic Logistics Information System, described by one official as "the brains of the aircraft" that helps manage diagnostics, maintenance and supply-chain issues, failed to meet basic requirements like identifying faults and failures.

bad reports

March 2015 -- still no better, in a GAO report:

While manufacturing efforts remain steady, less than 40 percent of the program's critical manufacturing processes are mature—despite the 110 aircraft produced—and problems with the aircraft's engine have delayed aircraft deliveries and testing. Software development and testing remains a significant risk. Further delays in development may put future milestones at risk. There are risks facing the program which may result in additional cost growth and schedule delays.
Key gaps in product knowledge persist. One of the critical technologies—the aircraft prognostic and health management system—is not mature and the program continues to experience design changes. Developmental testing is progressing, but much of the testing remains, which will likely drive more changes. While manufacturing efforts remain steady, less than 40 percent of the program's critical manufacturing processes are mature—despite the 110 aircraft produced—and problems with the aircraft's engine have delayed aircraft deliveries and testing. Software development and testing remains a significant risk. Further delays in development may put future milestones at risk.
• The contractor uses statistical process controls as one means to assess critical manufacturing processes. Less than 40 percent of those processes are currently matured to best practice standards. In 2014, late software deliveries and fleet-wide groundings due to an engine fire delayed aircraft deliveries. In addition, part shortages further delayed aircraft deliveries and decreased production efficiency.
• “Software development and testing remains a significant risk. Further delays in development may put future milestones at risk.” To achieve initial operating capability, the Marine Corps and Air Force will accept aircraft with the basic capabilities provided by software Blocks 2B and 3I respectively, while the Navy intends to wait for the full suite of capabilities provided by Block 3F. According to DOD officials, Block 2B development testing is currently about three months behind schedule. The GAO, which serves as Congress’s independent auditor, said “key gaps” persist that threaten to increase costs and put development even further behind schedule. The GAO report concludes: “There are risks facing the program which may result in additional cost growth and schedule delays.”

panic button

April 2 -- reach for the panic button, another unfavorable GAO report:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program had to make unexpected changes to its development and test plans over the last year, largely in response to a structural failure on a durability test aircraft, an engine failure, and software challenges. At the same time, engine reliability is poor and has a long way to go to meet program goals. With nearly 2 years and 40 percent of developmental testing to go, more technical problems are likely. . . . . .As GAO has previously reported, increasing production while concurrently developing and testing creates risk and could result in additional cost growth and schedule delays in the future.

engine failure

And guess what, ABC News has reported that the sloppy job being done by the contractor costs more money as the price tag on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jumped up another $4.3 billion in the last year – the latest hike in a program that’s gone $113 billion over its original projected cost, according to the March 2015 GAO report. Lockheed's revenue rose 9% per year to $12.5 billion, and increasing its profit to $904 million in the fourth quarter which helped its stock price go up 32% in the past year.



What, me worry?
I'm from the Pentagon and I'm here to save you money!


from Navy Times, Sep 2014, quoting General Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer

"Keeping the program steadily moving forward is the only way to truly drive costs down, Bogdan said, using an oft-cited figure that 80 cents on every dollar of potential savings for the program now comes from economies of scale. “In the next three years we double production, and in the next five years we triple production,” Bogdan said. “So there is a significant ramp coming to us."-- General Bogdan

What about the claim that increasing production would decrease acquisition cost? ...No way, José

According to Lockheed, due to its cost reduction programs, the unit cost has already been markedly decreased over seven years of increased production and the cost curve (i.e. learning curve) has flattened.


Lockheed's F-35 manager Lorraine Martin recently illustrating the flattened cost/learning curve


Most of the flattening is the stabilization of labor hours per plane at about 60,000 as compared with initial labor hours approaching 160,000 per plane as seen here (fig. 6) in a recent GAO report. And as GAO has previously reported, increasing production while concurrently developing and testing creates risk and could result in additional cost growth in the future. It's happened before -- remember why those laws were passed prohibiting this behavior? (see above)

There are no appreciable unit cost savings left, which is in line with this GAO report which (p.25) included a Pentagon study that F-35 unit costs would increase 6-19% under any procurement plan.

To better understand the potential impacts on prices from changes in quantities, OSD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office did a sensitivity analysis to forecast impacts on F-35 average procurement unit costs assuming various quantities purchased by the United States and international partners.
For example, if the United States bought its full quantity of 2,443 aircraft and the partners did not buy any aircraft, CAPE calculated that the average unit cost would increase by 6 percent. If the United States bought 1,500 aircraft and the partners bought their expected quantity of 697, unit costs would rise by 9 percent. If the United States bought 1,500 and the partners 0, unit costs would rise 19 percent.--GAO


As we've seen in the recent GAO reports, costs are in fact going up. It could be worse, The Pentagon would have you believe that nobody ever heard of cost reduction until recently, but that's not the case. Value Engineering, or cost increase reduction, has been around a long time including at Lockheed as you may read here.

And why increase production when quality control is poor?

One purpose of the low rate initial production, as we've seen above, is to "establish an initial production base for the system." There is no evidence that an adequate production base has been established. Two 2013 reports from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and the Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) regarding Lockheed are troubling, and there is no evidence that the systemic poor quality control has been corrected.

Just over one-third of manufacturing processes are currently judged to be capable of consistently producing quality parts at the best practice standard. The contractor has a plan in place to achieve the best practice standard by the start of full-rate production in 2019.--GAO

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics company (Lockheed Martin) and its subcontractors did not follow disciplined AS9100 Quality Management System practices as evidenced by 363 findings, which contained 719 issues.--DOD IG


And now the quality control situation is still bad according to a March 2015 Department of Defense Inspector General report.

Finding A - Insufficient progress has been made toward implementation of the critical safety item program
Finding B - Oversight of product development and realization of requirements was inadequate
Finding C - The quality assurance organization was not independent and not adequately staffed
Finding D - Reduction of the assembly defect rate was inadequate
Finding E - Corrective action request escalation was inadequate
Finding F - Software quality management was insufficient
Finding G - Subcontract management procedures were still inadequate

The Joint Program Office (JPO) did not:
ensure the program made sufficient progress toward full compliance with Public Law 108-136, “National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2004,” Section 802, “Quality control in procurement of aviation Critical Safety Items (CSIs) and related services,” and the Joint Service CSI Instruction (SECNAVINST 4140.2), “Management of Aviation Critical Safety Items,”
ensure that all system level requirements and capabilities were realized and verified,
create an independent quality assurance organization, establish its roles and responsibilities, and ensure it was adequately staffed to perform effective oversight for the F-35 Program,
ensure that Lockheed Martin was taking necessary steps to reduce the assembly defect rate in order to meet the full rate production goals

Bottom line: The F-35 production plant at Fort Worth is not ready for expanded production.

"...additional quality initiatives are required to meet full-rate production goals"

But the Joint Project Office will not do it:

JPO partially agreed with the recommendation to work with DCMA to implement an effective root cause analysis and corrective action process to reduce assembly defects to meet full-rate production goals. However, JPO stated that no additional changes to corrective action processes were necessary. We disagree with JPO’s response because additional quality initiatives are required to meet full-rate production goals and DCMA’s involvement is necessary to ensure objectives are met. Our recommendation was for JPO to take actions to identify and correct the cause of the program’s inability to reduce defect rates to support full-rate production. -- from the DOD IG report, p.5


dod ig """"" Bogdan

"The Joint Program Office (JPO) did not ensure the program made sufficient progress
toward full compliance with Public Law 108-136
....However, JPO [General Bogdan shown] stated that no additional changes
to corrective action processes were necessary."


Okay, Bogdan, you didn't like the IG, how about GAO?

Lockheed Martin reports that less than 40 percent of its critical manufacturing processes are considered in statistical control which means that for those processes it can consistently produce parts within quality tolerances and standards. Statistical control is a measure of manufacturing maturity. The best practice standard is to have 100 percent of the critical manufacturing processes in control by the start of low-rate initial production, which began in 2011 for the F-35 program. According to Lockheed Martin officials, only 54 percent of its F-35 critical manufacturing processes will provide enough data to measure statistical control. As a result, they do not expect to achieve 100 percent.-- GAO report

So don't use IOC to accommodate the contractor and surge production.

Don't implement a phony IOC and jack up production quantities from 40 to 240 planes per year because it's too early, it violates policy and plan, it's illegal, it won't decrease unit costs, also plant quality control isn't up to standard and the plane isn't anywhere near combat capable as we'll see.

When the billions being mispent on prototypes hurts readiness...

“The current pressures on the budget have kept us from having the readiness levels that we believe we should have … so we are trying to work with our financial partners on the Hill to keep moving in a direction of recovery of that readiness.”-- General Welsh, USAF


F-35 partners won't help much

aus f35       empty hangar

Australia has ordered a couple, but Canada, Denmark and Turkey -- zero

If not the F-35, then what?

"The F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”-- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ...And Mabus later went on: “What we’re looking at UCLASS [Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike] is to be the bridge between manned systems and completely autonomous unmanned strike — which will be sometime in the 2020s — to develop that program using UCLASS to get us there.” --Mabus



Why isn't the F-35B combat capable?

The problem, of course, is that the system is not fully developed at this fake IOC. It can't even be fully tested because of hardware and software shortcomings. Let's look at the particulars of the Magic F-35 which isn't so magic: engine, software, helmet, logistics support (ALIS), weapons, reliability and mission files. Plus there all the corrective action engineering changes resulting from deficiencies found during testing. The F-35 has not yet been proven by more rigorous development tests nor by operational tests to see how it actually performs in service, so we'll go with what we know in this analysis.

First, these are not your father's fighter planes

The F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft are labelled "fifth-generation," a quantum leap of technology over previous fighter aircraft with "stealth" design and with computers driven by eight million lines of computer code which control all aircraft functions including flight, weapons, communications and maintenance. The joint strike fighter was supposed to be cheaper to produce and operationally superior to the F-22 when production of the latter was halted. The F-35 has failed on both counts. The Marine F-35B STOVL (short takeoff, vertical land) variant is the most mechanically complex of the F-35 series, incorporating a Rolls-Royce "Lift System" which enables the plane to take off in a short distance and land vertically, giving the plane the acronym "STOVL" -- short takeoff vertical land. The F-35B is the most expensive of the three variants, acquisition price of $235 million (recently ordered by UK). F-35 IOC has slipped multiple times because of development program delays, and in 2013 the Pentagon released the latest F-35 IOC dates. A system this complex especially requires proper attention to development including sufficient test and evaluation to ensure delivery of a proper working system to the forces that will employ them.

But the F-35 is too complex, too expensive, too ineffective and too late. “Our systems are becoming so complex, so time consuming to produce, that we can't keep pace with commercial technology and we can't keep pace with the threat. A system-of-systems approach could help overcome [the] inherent issue with high-cost, monolithic, multifunction platforms,” DARPA chief Sandell said. More information here.


...problems with engine


The F-35 engine, shared by all three F-35 variants, is its biggest problem. The Pentagon has temporarily grounded F-35s no fewer than 13 times since 2007, mostly due to problems with the plane's Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine, the largest, heaviest and hottest jet engine ever put in a fighter plane. It is not durable, with breaking turbine blades, and the engine flexes too much in sharp turns. The engine also lacks necessary containment, so the resulting engine breakup due to flex-induced rotor/stator friction and breaking turbine blades sends parts through the engine casing and into the surrounding fuel (used as a coolant for this hot engine) thereby causing a fire and destruction of the plane, as happened at Eglin Air Force base on June 23, 2014. Plus nine other engines have been removed from F-35s after showing signs of premature wear.

firesmoking plane      

June 23, 2014 - Similar fire, with actual results shown.
The pilot has not been identified.
The mishap report is finally out, but it doesn't address root causes. It's stuff we mostly already knew.
Still no proper root cause analysis.

fried F-35closeup damage

The engine requires extensive redesign to be useful, with more rigidity and containment, but the program office has not recognized that fact. To date no permanent fix has been announced, now approaching a year after the Eglin fire.

F-35 prototypes are currently restricted to maneuvers not exceeding 3 g’s due to the limitation imposed on the fleet from the engine failure in June 2014. (Fully capable F-35A aircraft are to be able to maneuver at up to 9 g’s.) The aircraft are also restricted from steep dives (greater than 50,000 feet per minute) due to fuel tank pressurization limitations.Additional restrictions include the prohibitions of: operating the weapon bay doors in flight, using the night vision camera display in the helmet, and night flying in instrument meteorological conditions. These limitations prevent the use of realistic combat tactics, which would have been necessary for conducting the OUE. --DOT&E, MAR 5, 2015 (p. 5)



Aggressive maneuvers including sharp turns may cause excessive rub with the resulting heat bursting the turbine blades
up through the fuel cells creating a catastrophic fire.

Fighter planes are expected to withstand 9 G turns in maneuver, which is the original spec for the F-35A, Gs being an accepted maneuver parameter.
Degradation of F-35B max Gs in maneuver: original spec 7.5g to 4.5g now 3.2g -- Reuters

For more information on the faulty F-35 engine go here for details on the faulty engine that keeps the F-35 from being combat capable. Combat capable with severe flight restrictions? No. In fact, not even airworthy. The P&W F135 engine in the F-35 did not contain the engine fragments which punctured a fuel cell, causing the fire. And this means that the F-35 is not airworthy, because the DOD Handbook MIL-HDBK-516B for Airworthiness Certification Criteria requires the applicant to "Verify that any uncontained failure of an engine control or subsystem component with rotating parts does not adversely affect the continued safe operation of the air vehicle." The recent DOT&E test report: "Confirmed the expected vulnerabilities of the fuel tank structure. . .Engine live fire tests in FY13 and prior live fire test data and analyses demonstrated vulnerability to engine fire, either caused by cascading effects or direct damage to engine fuel lines and fueldraulic components. Additional details and analyses of the uncontained F135 fan blade release and subsequent fuel fire in an F-35A at Eglin AFB in June are needed to support and update the existing engine vulnerability assessment."

On April 6, 2015 Pratt & Whitney (not the government) announced that the 'pre-trenching' fix work-around which was approved for F-35 test jet engines only, will now be applied to the rest of the prototype fleet, which will take a couple years. But the root cause, engine flex, has not been addressed and there is no fix in sight!

On September 19, 2014 Bennet Croswell, president of Pratt & Whitney military engines division, said that “there’s more movement of the engine” within the F-35 airframe “than we thought when we designed it." --AINOnline

So why don't they fix the engine?

tech strategy
Currently, the F-35 engine’s reliability is very poor, less than half of what it should be.--GAO report

This just in: F-35 Needs a Bigger, More Powerful Engine - The current one is just not cutting it. - Upgraded future versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could replace the stealthy jet’s Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan with a new adaptive cycle engine. The current F135 engine is at the limits of its capabilities and can’t push the jet out to the outer edges of its airframes capabilities—especially at low speeds. . .--NationalInterest, Mar 27

Congress is concerned about the faulty engine
. . .
and the need for design change-
On Apr 22 The House Subcommittee on tactical air and land forces called for reliability and cost history & challenges on the F135 engine, w/options, plus:
- thorough assessment of the incident of June 23, 2014, engine failure & fire including
--identification and definition of the root cause of the incident
--identification of potential actions or design changes needed to address such root cause
--associated cost, schedule, and performance implications of such incident to both the F135 engine program and the F-35 JSF program

-- go here (Appendix) for more information on the faulty root cause analysis of the June 23 failure and fire

And the Pentagon Inspector General reports . .
... management failures in engine quality control at Pratt

...(similar to airframe quality problems at Lockheed)

Findings: April 27, 2015: We inspected the F-35 engine (F135) program’s quality management system for conformity to contractually required AS9100C, “Quality Management System,” statutory and regulatory requirements, DoD policies, and internal quality processes and p rocedures. F 135 engines are procured by the Department of Defense from Pratt & Whitney for the F-35 Lightning II Program.

Finding A - Additional program management oversight is required by the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), as evidenced by the 61 nonconformities (violations of AS9100C, regulatory requirements, and DoD policies) that we documented during our inspection.
Finding B - The F135 critical safety item (CSI) program did not meet DoD CSI requirements, including requirements for parts identification, critical characteristic identification, part determination methodology, and supplier identification.
Finding C - The F-35 JPO did not establish F135 program quality goals and objectives that were mutually agreed upon by Pratt & Whitney for current contracts. Additionally, Pratt & Whitney metrics did not show improvement in quality assurance, process capability, and
Finding D - The F-35 JPO did not ensure that Pratt & Whitney proactively identified, elevated, tracked, and managed F135 program risks, in accordance with the F135 risk management plan.
Finding E - The F-35 JPO did not ensure that Pratt & Whitney’s supplier selection criteria and management of underperforming suppliers were sufficient.
Finding F -The F-35 JPO did not ensure that Pratt & Whitney demonstrated adequate software quality management practices. Pratt & Whitney had an outdated software development plan, requirements traceability issues, and a software quality assurance organization that did not perform required functions.
Finding G - Subcontract management procedures were still inadequate

JPO response: "The F-35 JPO disagreed with evaluating open variance requests, stating that the F135 program is still in development ...."


Also the GAO has reported the engine unreliable:

Bloomberg reported on GAO engine findings April 27:

F-35 Engines From United Technologies Called Unreliable

F-35 engines from United Technologies Corp. are proving so unreliable that U.S. plans to increase production of the fighter jet may be slowed, according to congressional auditors.
Data from flight tests evaluated by the Government Accountability Office show the reliability of engines from the company’s Pratt & Whitney unit is “very poor (less than half of what it should be) and has limited” progress for the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system, the watchdog agency said in a report sent to lawmakers this month.
The GAO cited the need to make design changes to the engines and then retrofit planes already built, along with continuing flaws in the plane’s software, in a report that warned the Defense Department’s “procurement plan may not be affordable.” The military plans to spend $391.1 billion for a fleet of 2,443 planes from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.


GAO: As for the short-takeoff/vertical landing B-engine, it is about 52 percent of where the engine was expected to be at this point.

An engine with very poor reliability and with significant performance restrictions, which the manufacturer said was mature six years ago! How could that be?

The F135 is established and mature, with production engines set for delivery later this year after more than 12,000 hours of testing. It is also based on the proven and highly successful F119 engine powering the F-22 aircraft, meaning testing and operational performance on that fielded engine has pushed the F135 engine even further along its path to maturity.
-- Pratt & Whitney, Sep 28, 2009


The engine is bad, but there are also...

. . .aircraft structure "issues"

Defense One, Mar 24, 2015: The structure of the Marine Corps F-35 is much different than the Air Force and Navy version. That’s because there is a massive fan positioned behind the cockpit that allows the jet to land vertically, like a helicopter. During testing, machines stress the aircraft to determine structural limits. “You try to break the airplane and figure out where it’s going to break first,” Bogdan said. The Air Force and Marine versions have not had any major issues throughout testing.

In 2005, it was discovered that the Marine version was 3,000 pounds overweight. To reduce weight, parts of the aircraft were redesigned and different materials were used. “We [reduced weight] a whole lot of ways,” Bogdan said. “Some of that, unfortunately, is coming back to bite us now.” A titanium bulkhead, a central piece to the aircraft structure that essentially holds the plane together, was replaced with a thinner aluminum version.

More bulkhead cracks recently have been found in durability testing.-- Bogdan (32:00) “What we thought was a good engineering judgment back then — turns out that we’ve got some issues now,” Bogdan has said -- DefenseOne, Mar 24, 2015. From another source: There are now so many patches [on the huge aluminum cast bulkhead] that programme officials are concerned it may be necessary to redesign the bulkhead for production aircraft, Bogdan says.


From DefenseNews: During repeated testing of the F-35B, program officials have discovered cracks in the jump-jet model after about 4,000 hours of flight time. (Each F-35 is projected to operate for 8,000 hours over its career.) In particular, bulkhead 496 — a major load-bearing part of the fuselage — has shown a propensity for cracking, Bogdan said. --More history and information on the F-35B 496 bulkhead problem here. There are other structural problems that have to be addressed in the retrofit program. Of the hundreds of retrofit engineering changes listed in the current budget here (p. 932), these structural problems stand out:

STOVL FS 496 Bulkhead Trunnion (seen above)
Bulkhead - FS 450
Bulkhead - FS 472
Bulkhead - FS 518 (Upper)
Bulkhead - FS 556
Limited Life STOVL Mid Fairing Longeron
Short Life Parts: Keel Beam RH
Limited Life STOVL STA 3/9 Aft Rib
STOVL Forward Root Rib (L6/U6)
STOVL Short Life Parts: Aft Mid Keel
STOVL BL 0.0 Web Fwd Upper Engine Mount Support
STOVL Thrust Mount Shear Webs
Life Limited 402 Frame
STOVL Main Landing Gear
STOVL Nose Landing Gear
STOVL FS 503 Frame/IPP Shear Web Durability Test Failure
STOVL Right Hand(RH)and Left Hand(LH)Rear Spar Lower Flange Fatigue Cracks

This has all been foreseen.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Jan 6, 2011: "In short, two of the JSF variants, the Air Force version and the Navy’s carrier based version, are proceeding satisfactorily. By comparison, the Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing variant is experiencing significant testing problems. These issues may lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion – changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either. As a result, I am placing the STOVL variant on the equivalent of a two-year probation. If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be cancelled. --NOTE: This two-year probation was lifted a year later by SecDef Panetta, although the problems were not fixed.


. . .overall performance
We won't have a final definitive look at F-35 performance until the completion of development scheduled for 2019, but let's look at what the Marines intend to take into the field in 2015. In fact F-35 performance overall is inadequate for a modern fighter plane. The lift fan 1.27 meters in diameter on the centerline of the aircraft behind the pilot resulted in a fat aircraft with two bomb bays instead of just one on the centerline. This made the aircraft wider, draggy, slower, and less maneuverable. In short, the F-35 can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.


Its weight, fat body and small wings limit its ability to climb rapidly, and its turns are currently limited to three G's by the engine restrictions, about a third of what a fighter should be capable of in normal operations.(Bogdan has claimed between 4.5 and 5.5 Gs.) Other restrictions include half-stick roll-rate maximum and no rudder input allowed. The plane is inadequate for close air support and also for aerial combat. It can't fire its gun. Currently the plane, called the Lightning II, can't fly near lightning or it will explode. Wing drop concerns are still not resolved after six years, and may only be mitigated or solved at the expense of combat maneuverability and stealth, and buffet and transonic roll off (TRO) (when lift is unexpectedly lost on a portion of one wing) continue to be a concern. Basically the F-35 is a weak performer. General Hostage, Air Combat Command: "If I don't keep the F-22 viable, then frankly the F-35 will be irrelevant". Hostage again:
“In many ways, [F-35] won’t have the some of the capabilities of our current platforms.”. . .and again: " The F-35 is not compelling unless it’s there in numbers. Because it can’t turn and run away, it’s got to have support from other F-35s. So I’m going to need eight F-35s to go after a target that I might only need two Raptors to go after."

According to the recent released FY2015 SAR (Selected Acquisition Report), pp. 14-16, for the current "F-35" all of the plane's Demonstrated Performance characteristics are "TBD" -- To Be Determined. The Marine Corps’ F-35B will enter service only with untested Block 2B software, which is supposed to allow pilots fire a pair of AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles, AMRAAMs, or drop a pair of satellite-guided bombs or laser-guided weapons — not the armament of choice for close-in missions. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pilots will have to wait until 2022 to fire the U.S. military’s top close-air-support bomb after the Small Diameter Bomb II enters service in 2017, JSF officials explained.The Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) is an upgrade from previous precision-guided air-dropped weapons because of its ability to track and hit moving targets from up to 40 miles. However, the F-35 will not have the software package required to operate the bomb loaded onto the fifth generation fighter until 2022, officials said. Finally, another restriction is a limit of Mach 0.8-0.9 at low altitude because the F-35 cannot dissipate its heat. Its competitors are limited to about Mach 1.2, so if there is a low-altitude engagement, “can’t run” becomes a serious threat to its survival.A plane’s ability to move is measured by how many “Gs”—units of gravitational force—it can function under. The steeper the climb, the tighter the turn, the more Gs the plane pulls. The F-35B was supposed to be capable of 7 Gs. But for now, it will be able to pull between 4.5 and 5.5 Gs, Bogdan said. “would likely need significant support from other fourth-generation and fifth-generation combat systems to counter modern, existing threats, unless air superiority is somehow otherwise assured and the threat is cooperative.”

The Block 2B software that the Marines say will make their planes combat capable will, in fact, “provide limited capability to conduct combat” according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, Dr. J. Michael Gilmore. F-35s equipped with Block 2B “would likely need significant support from other fourth-generation and fifth-generation combat systems to counter modern, existing threats, unless air superiority is somehow otherwise assured and the threat is cooperative.”

The US Air Force is already looking to upgrade its radar, avionics and engine because – a year before its IOC
- the current aircraft already cannot match “rapid technology development by potential adversaries.”
--defense aerospace

F-35B landing

Warning: The F-35 program is planning to conduct preliminary ship tests in May, part of many to come, on the Marine Corps F-35. These routine trials can be expected to bring an excess of over-blown media hype from Lockheed Martin and its fan-writers. Example: "F-35 jump jet gears up for crucial at-sea tests - NavyTimes.com" However any commercial PR releases and photo ops should not be confused with the reports from the Pentagon's test czar (DOT&E), an independent agency, which will be issued later. Also these ship tests should not be confused with F-35 operational tests which are scheduled to start January 2018.

. . .and performance limits must be specified

The Department of Defense requires Airworthiness Certification which verifies that a specific air vehicle can be safely maintained and operated within its described flight envelope. Airworthiness determines the property of an air system configuration to safely attain, sustain and terminate flight in accordance with approved usage limits. --acqnotes .. The Marine Corps comes under the Navy in this regard, and the Navy also has airworthiness requirements according to NAVAIRINST 13034.10 AIR-4.0P.

A flight clearance is a formal document that provides assurance of airworthiness/safety of flight and ensures risk has been identified and accepted at the appropriate level, within acceptable bounds for the intended mission....the airworthiness process relies on sound configuration management and control processes, whic h are key tenets of managing and maintaining a flight clearance. A Flight Clearance authorizes flight in a specific configuration to specified limits....The airworthiness process addresses only a small part of the overall risk management. The process ensures that technical risk has been evaluated for given aircraft configuration/flight envelope to ensure that deployment of the system meets accepted standards loss of life, damage to non-program property, and potential damage to the environment.

Since this is a joint program, with planes being manufactured for other countries, individuals from other nations also get involved in air worthiness such as these two from the UK.

“We won't declare IOC unless we meet all of our targets,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 25.

. . .problems with weak close air support
Close Air Support (CAS) is using airpower to save the lives of soldiers engaged in close combat but the F-35 falls short in three key areas compared to the A-10 Thunderbolt it is supposed to replace:survivability,lethality (weapons load) and loiter time. F-35 Will Not Reach Full Close-Air-Support Potential Until 2022 --The Marine Corps’ F-35B will enter service only with untested Block 2B software, which is supposed to allow pilots fire a pair of AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles, AMRAAMs, or drop a pair of satellite-guided bombs or laser-guided weapons — not the armament of choice for close-in missions. F-35 pilots will have to wait until 2022 to fire the U.S. military’s top close-air-support bomb after the Small Diameter Bomb II enters service in 2017, JSF officials explained.The Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) is an upgrade from previous precision-guided air-dropped weapons because of its ability to track and hit moving targets from up to 40 miles. However, the F-35 will not have the software package required to operate the bomb loaded onto the fifth generation fighter until 2022, officials said.--DODBuzz

Combat capable? It has just been revealed that the F-5B cannot fit the required number of small diameter bombs in its tiny bomb bays necessitated by the STOVL vertical fan. --news: The Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb dropped by F-15E is the most widely used weapon so far in Iraq-Syria (Sep 2014). There are plans to redesign the F-35B in 2022 to fit eight (not four) Raytheon’s GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb II. The GBU-53 would be a good portion of the concept of operations that makes the F-35B combat capable, and now it won't have a full load for many years. The current status, from Inside Defense, Feb 28:

In response to questions from Inside the Air Force, F-35 spokesman Joe DellaVedova confirmed the weapons bay does not currently meet the requirements to house the planned Small Diameter Bomb II load and is being redesigned and modified in line with the scheduled rollout of Block 4 [software] capabilities. According to DellaVedova, the JSF program has been aware of the issue for some time and expects to award Lockheed a contract later this year to complete the design changes. The F-35 is designed to carry eight precision-attack small diameter bombs internally and 16 externally on its wings, and the program office has not publicly acknowledged the issue.

On March 19 it wasn't such a big deal requiring "a contract later this year." Can't they get their story straight? But it doesn't really matter because the 2022 date still applies.

Meanwhile, [the JPO] said, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) B-model of the aircraft would be able to accommodate the Raytheon GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb Increment II (SDB II)."SDB II will fit in the F-35B," Rear Adm Mahr said. "We have to move one hydraulic line and one wire bundle about a half-inch each to make it fit". He noted that SDB II was still in development and would not even be ready for integration until Block IV of the F-35 programme was complete.--Janes

Another weapons delay-- the F-35B will be fitted with a gun pod which some day (possibly in 2017) will be able to shoot 220 rounds at 3,300 rounds per minute, or for about four seconds. Of course the project office knew all about this shortcoming also, as reported by Defense News.

Since 2005, [JPO's] DellaVedova said, the GAU-22 gun was planned to go operational with the block 3F software. That software is scheduled to go online in 2017, with low-rate initial production lot 9. "Delivering the gun capability in 3F software is well known to the military services, International Partners and our foreign military sales (FMS) customers."

Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's head of test and evaluation, testified on April 14 that the difference between the block 2B's ability and that of the A-10 is dramatic:--AFTimes

An F-35B, assuming a 250-mile flight into a close air support mission, would have just 20 to 30 minutes time on station to provide close air support, and would only be able to employ two air-to-surface weapons while in a standoff position outside of an engagement zone. By comparison, an A-10 would have 90 minutes in an engagement zone and could employ four air-to-surface weapons, along with its internal gun.
Because the F-35's software is limited in its ability to identify targets, the pilot would have to be in constant voice contact with a forward air controller. An A-10 could autonomously acquire and identify targets, and pass along information digitally.
The F-35's ability to receive a "nine line" – the critical targeting information sent by a joint terminal attack controller to a pilot – has so far been inaccurate. The A-10, along with the AV-8B Harrier and F-16, receive digital nine line codes.
The F-35's fuel burn is about 180 percent faster than the A-10 and 60 percent higher than the F-16. This means mission planners would need more tanker support for an F-35 to stay on the target longer.


. . .the F-35 can't fight at long range either

Even with its radar off, an F-35 could struggle to hide from enemy planes -— to say nothing of enemy forces on the ground. Consider all those long-wavelength, low-band radars that Russia, China and Iran are building right next to potential hotspots in Europe, East Asia and the Middle East. ..These giant arrays can detect tiny objects at great distances. Tehran insists its Ghadir radar can spot jets more than 300 miles away. Russian arms-dealer Rosoboronexport claims the Rezonans-NE can detect stealth planes nearly 750 miles distant. Using these radars, earthbound spotters could point warplanes toward incoming F-35s, even if the planes’ pilots can’t find the JSFs with their own radars or heat sensors. “You’re not invisible,” Sprey says of anyone flying the F-35. . .the AIM-120 only comes in one flavor?—?on-board active radar guidance. This gives Russian or Chinese pilots more ways to kill their opponents. Radar jammed? Fire a heat-seeker. IR sensor on the fritz? Let your next missile try to follow your opponent’s own electronic signals. --WarIsBoring

. . .Air-to air combat? Also not so good.

F-35 inability to carry enough air-to-air missiles is a huge concern for Air Force officials. “The biggest issue is that they will not have a large enough air-to-air load [of weapons] to be on the leading edge,” said a senior Air Force official. Further, new Russian and Chinese jammers are able to jam the AIM-120’s radar, and service officials expect that it will take many more missiles to hit a target than they had expected. “Even with my six AIM-120’s in the F-22 [Raptor, the stealth fighter now in service], sometimes it is not enough,” said a senior Air Force official. --TheDailyBeast

. . .Dogfighting? Forget it.

Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight - New stealth fighter is dead meat in an air battle -- Test pilot reveals stealth fighter’s vulnerability, by David Axe. AvWeek: “People all need to look at what F-35 really is. A stealth A-7 bomb truck, capable of first-night suppression of enemy air defenses, with limited self-escort."--aviator quote. The report is here.

. . .weapons carriage has decreased

wpns 2001 wpns 2003 wpns 2005

Internal/External weapons carriage shown above/below line for 2001-2003-2005.
There has been a progressive slippage in capabilities planned for each production Block of the design, following the progressive stripping of many weapons clearances out of the SDD and into production phase spiral development as described here. The last slide is 2005 SDD Threshold Weapons. Since then the GBU-39/B SDB has been reinstated, and the external fuel tank and WCMD deleted.

. . .testing is delayed
The F-35 test program has been significantly delayed by late deliveries of the plane's eight million lines of software and the discovery of many design problems. Forty percent of the development flight testing remains, including all of the mission systems testing. In 2014 testing was further delayed by the June 23 catastrophic engine failure which grounded the whole fleet. The recent Pentagon test report says the engine failure created a “debt of flight sciences testing” which has further delayed the program. Due to the AOL, numerous test points needed for the Block 2B fleet release and Marine Corps IOC were blocked and cannot be attempted until the restrictions are lifted. It has taken nearly six months to apply an engineering "work-around" to the twenty test planes to enable them to resume testing, but other planes have apparently not been jury-rigged to permit full flight performance (more on engine here). Other engineering changes have been deferred as well, according to the recent Pentagon test report. Generally weapons testing has been delayed because of software delivery delays. --from the recent DOT&E test report: Read for yourself.

Progress in weapons integration, in particular the completion of planned weapon delivery accuracy (WDA) events, has been very limited in 2014 compared to that planned by the program. Multiple deficiencies in mission systems, aircraft grounding, and subsequent flight restrictions caused by the June engine failure all contributed to the limited progress.

The F-35 test and evaluation program is currently scheduled to end in April 2019 according to the SAR. Good luck on that, there is a lot of development testing, and all the operational test and evaluation, left to do. What will they reveal? More failures, that's for sure, because the more rigorous testing is yet to come. Still, there are many unresolved deficienncies even now. From the recent DOTE test report:

In June [2014], the Program Office and the Services completed a review of nearly 1,500 deficiency reports accumulated since the beginning of testing to adjudicate the status of all capability deficiencies associated with Block 2B fleet release/Marine Corps IOC. The review showed that 1,151 reports were not yet fully resolved, 151 of which were assessed as “mission critical” with no acceptable workaround for Block 2B fleet release.

. . .stealth is exaggerated
The F-35 is touted as a fifth generation stealth fighter, but that's hyperbole and marketing.The F-35 can be spotted by low-frequency radar a hundred miles away, as all aircraft can be. Any stealth capability that the plane had when it was conceived twenty years ago has been countered by advances in radar and infrared detection developments, assisted by the theft of all the F-35 design specifications. Operational tests to evaluate its supposed stealth have not been done. F-35 stealth is optimized against X-band radar only, and only from the front, but now we see the emergence of radars operating in very-high-frequency bands that can detect stealthy aircraft at long range, and the F-35 is vulnerable from the side and rear. Also, a Chinese manufacturer last year showcased a so-called counter-stealth VHF active, electronically scanned array radar at the Zhuhai air show, as reported by Amy Butler at Aviation Week. Also Russia has the S-400 missile which is effective against F-35, as reported here. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert, recently said: “You know that stealth may be overrated. I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.” The Navy has been non-supportive of the F-35. One commentator: "It's not just Greenert, it's across the naval aviation community: They're just not that into the F-35."

The F-35 was designed from the outset to be less stealthy against X-band radar, but as soon as F-35 maneuvers, it becomes instantly unstealthy. Against X-band radars, it is only stealthy, or Low Observable (LO), from front and rear. Against S-band radar, it is stealthy from narrow front aspect, while only limited reduction is achieved from direct front against L-band radar. Against ground-based X-band radars, its side RCS will likely be similar to that of conventional fighter. Against non-X-band VHF radars, with wavelengths in 1-3 meter range, F-35 is not stealthy. --DefenseIssues

Growler F35 Kill

Growler was apparently able to get a kill of an F-22

Admiral Shoemaker, the Navy air boss: "Well, if you combine stealth with some of our other platforms like the [EA-18G] Growler in particular and if you look back in our history there is not many of what we call stealth platforms that would go anywhere unaccompanied. We provide an advanced airborne electronic attack in almost every case. Because we look at contingency ops and things like that." General Hostage, the recently retired Commander of the USAF Air Combat Command and an F-22 pilot agrees: "People focus on stealth as the determining factor or delineator of the fifth generation. It isn’t." More on that here. A major problem with "stealth" is that only about one-sixth of the plane's armament capacity can be carried internally which reduces its potential combat capability by 83 percent. But fighters are expected to fight, and the future of air combat won't require either stealth nor maneuverability (which the F-35 doesn't have). Combat will be beyond visual range, so all that's needed are platforms for electronic warfare, sensing and weapons delivery beyond visual range (BVR), according to the Air Force's Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh: "If you get to the end game where you're in a visual fight, you've already screwed up," he said."...That's not where air combat is going. This fight takes place outside the visual range now. Any training you do outside visual range you can do in the virtual constructive world." ....No need for flight training! Then why do they claim that all these prototypes are necessary for training? .....Finally, for you free-thinkers, think about a new way of detection and a sort of air-launched radio-controlled IEDs against expensive "stealth" aircraft, missiles and bombs as described by M&S here.


EA-18G Growler


. . .the sensor fusion doesn't fuse
Sensors built in to the plane's surfaces are supposed to provide display images on the pilot's helmet but test results to date have been poor. In his 2014 annual report, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation described the sensors this way:

Fusion of information from own-ship sensors, as well as fusion of information from off-board sensors is still deficient. The Distributed Aperture System continues to exhibit high false-alarm rates and false target tracks, and poor stability performance, even in later versions of software.. . The test team discovered deficiencies, particularly in the stability of the new display management computer for the helmet, and suspended further testing until software that fixes the deficiencies in the helmet system.

And in 2015 data fusion is still a problem as reported by Aviation Week:

Test pilots have reported problems when targets on the display have more than one symbol—a sign the system has not “fused” the inputs on that particular target. Or in some cases, not all wingmen are seeing everything the other pilots in their formation are viewing on the displays. “We think before we release this to the Marines, there need to be some improvements,” says Air Force Col. Roderick Cregier, the F-35 program director at Edwards.

How important is sensor fusion? Since the F-35 isn't much good at traditional fighter roles, it's paramount. Here's Colonel (Ret) Art "Turbo" Tomassetti who might correctly be called the father of the F-35B; he's now employed by Lockheed.--CodeOneMagazine

Q: "What impact will the F-35 have on US Marine Corps operations?"
Tomasetti: "The F-35 will have a significant impact on the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in bringing fifth generation capabilities and flexibility. It will be an important node in a networked battlespace by gathering and disseminating information, which can increase the overall situational awareness for Marines on the ground as well as for Marines and other friendly forces in the air."

The F-35‘s "important node in a networked battlespace" highly sensitive sensors suffer a basic problem right now: They often aren’t sure what they are detecting. That results in a high rate of false alarms. This is after thirteen years of development.

Wait, it gets worse.

Unfortunately, when two planes look at the same object, they do so from different angles, and the sensors can’t combine that data into a single cohesive image. That means that pilots are stuck with tactical displays that offer a vague sense of where the enemy is, but not if there’s one combatant or several. Engineers, naval experts and a team from John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Lab have all now been recruited to help solve the problem and fix the F-35’s software. Until then, however, pilots are instructed to fly with some sensors disabled and only fly in pairs-- BreakingNews



. . .the software is late and ineffective
The F-35 is a new-type electronic airplane with many computers and eight million lines of software code on the plane, thirty million lines overall, but operational tests of software have been curtailed. The Block 2B software that the Marines say will make their planes "combat capable" will, in fact, “provide limited capability to conduct combat” according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, Dr. J. Michael Gilmore. It is clear is that the plane will finish with deficiencies remaining that will affect operational units, according to the Pentagon's chief tester. F-35s equipped with Block 2B “would likely need significant support from other fourth-generation and fifth-generation combat systems to counter modern, existing threats, unless air superiority is somehow otherwise assured and the threat is cooperative.”

Bloomberg: Flawed software will hobble the first of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters to be called combat-ready, limiting the plane’s ability to drop bombs, share data with other aircraft and track enemy radar. Lockheed Martin Corp is likely to lose some incentive fees due to delays in final delivery of the 2B software it is developing for the F-35 fighter jet, according to the Air Force general who runs the $391 billion program, as reported by Reuters. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program’s manager, told reporters that the deficiencies will be fixed later this year Bloomberg Meanwhile, Bogdan said the intent is to debug the most serious deficiencies and then the Marine Corps will declare the initial combat capability for its version of the F-35 despite remaining limitations that pilots will have to work around.--here.

**Pilots deployed in combat will have to work around the remaining limitations.**

patch cartoon

There are eight million lines of software code on the F-35 which control flight systems (partially tested) and mission systems (untested).

The Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, has stated that the Air Force IOC date of August 2016 is too early to expect full combat capability. The most important date, Welsh said, is when the F-35A will reach full operational capability, meaning the jet will be able to use all of its weapons and fly in full combat with its complete software suite. This is not expected until after its most advanced software version, block 3F, begins to come online in 2017 [but more likely in 2018 or 2019]. So will the F-35B be effective at anything in 2015? Problems with the code are causing navigation system inaccuracies, false alarms from sensors, and false target tracks.
-- No Way, José.

. . .the $400,000 helmet is untested


F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System

Before any pilot steps into the cockpit of the new F-35 he will need to be fitted with a custom-made $400,000 flight helmet. Packed with electronics and sensors, the 2.25kg carbon fibre-shelled Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) pumps observational data into the helmet, turning the visor into a display screen that sits millimetres from the pilot's face. It takes a four-hour sitting, spread over two days, to custom fit a helmet. The optics package on the display visor must be lined up to within two millimeters of the exact centre of each of the pilots' pupils. The F-35's fancy helmet-mounted display system is supposed to show pilots an almost 360-degree view that includes panel controls and threat information.

But like the plane, it hasn't been fully tested. When the last version of the helmet was delivered in September 2014, the test team discovered deficiencies, particularly in the stability of the new display management computer for the helmet, and suspended further testing until software that fixes the deficiencies in the helmet system can be provided to the major contractor and included in an updated load of mission systems software. Performance is seriously degraded if this fancy helmet system doesn't work. The F-35 pilot’s head is down in the fuselage, as in a bomber so the pilot won’t be able to see what’s behind him if the helmet is not working, and he won’t be able to see below him because the aircraft is too wide.


. . .missing mission data load
A critical risk to Magic F-35 "combat capability" identified in the recent test report is the availability of "mission data load" software, which works in conjunction with software permanently loaded in the aircraft system and contains information to operate sensors – for example, the data needed to identify hostile radars. Mission data load development and testing is a critical path to combat capability for Block 2B and Block 3F. Accuracy of threat identification and location depend on how well the mission data loads are optimized to perform in ambiguous operational environments. There are serious deficiencies with hardware and software used to develop data files.from BreakingDefense:

Full integration of the threats and the aircraft software won’t occur until close to Full Operational Capability [2017?], in part because it takes time for pilots, intelligence analysts and the plane’s builder — Lockheed Martin — to figure out exactly what the sensors are capable of and how the software should be redesigned to do the best job of taking the sensors information and the threat information and helping them work together.

The data load information must come from the Eglin Reprogramming Center, which according to Gilmore (16:50) has been resisting efforts to reform. Shortfalls were identified two years ago but not fixed, and now there are new shortfalls requiring corrective action. But the recent DOTE test report puts some blame on Lockheed:

Mission data lab equipment was held by the major contractor at their Fort Worth facility for three years past the planned delivery to the USRL [US Reprogramming Laboratory] to support mission systems software development for production aircraft, reducing productivity at the USRL. The USRL did not receive sufficient documentation of the equipment and software tools that were delivered by the program; this has hampered their training and slowed development.

Here's how the Center works:

Eglin Reprogramming Center

. . .insufficient maintenance capability
The plane's radical new logistic system "ALIS" (Autonomic Logistics Information System - owned by Lockheed) includes on-board computers providing high-speed data download which is supposed to provide increased aircraft availability. The GAO has reported in September 2014 that the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), described by one official as "the brains of the aircraft" that helps manage diagnostics, maintenance and supply-chain issues, failed to meet basic requirements like identifying faults and failures. The system doesn't work, and has to be over-ridden by the pilot or the plane won't fly. The squadron logistics standard operating unit is not yet available. This new electronic plane has eight million lines of code, and ALIS isn't up to it. FlightGlobal, Mar 24: Finally, Lockheed’s autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) is not ready to support a growing fleet of operational and test aircraft, Bogdan says. His nominal boss, Stackley, has said that ALIS is "evolving" from what it initially was.--testimony, (43:25) It will take a few years to resolve the ALIS deficiencies, and until then F-35B maintainers must use workarounds to inspect and repair the aircraft.. .But this is nothing new. General Bogdan, September 2012:
"If we don't get ALIS right, we don't fly airplanes. It is that simple. It is that critical to the program."

The system is not yet mature and it has to be shrunk in size to make it more transportable. “We squeezed racks into a two-man deployable ALIS,” Bogdan said. “The software had to be modified.” Maintainers have to start training 90 days in advance of IOC,
and ALIS will miss that deadline by about a month. --NationalDefenseMagazine, March 27.
Maintainers at Eglin AFB reported a false positive rate of about 80%. The person Bogdan supposedly reports to, Navy Assistant Secretary Sean Stackley: “The operations and sustainment plan for the program is evolving and being developed frankly to do better than what you’re hearing from maintainers today on the flight line."--FlightGlobal, April 25.
On a lighterr side, therre is no spell-checck on ALIS inputs, so if there is a typographical error the input is not searchable. --Rep Turner, (42:20)




ALIS, like the rest of the system, is still in development . .

This just in, April 28: Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $142,683,533 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002) to continue development of the Joint Strike Fighter Autonomics Logistics Information System Standard Operating Unit Version 2 capability development effort. This modification includes the incorporation of sub-squadron reporting, dynamic routing, and decentralized maintenance capabilities. . .
. . combat capable? No way, José


. . .difficult skin care
The F-35's "stealth" comes from its shape and also its special paint. Fourth generation aircraft have aluminum bodies but stealth aircraft have composite bodies with special radar absorbing coating that requires several hours to apply. To meet the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s strict radar cross-section and weight requirements, stealth coatings must be applied to extremely precise thickness tolerances, as reported here. For each hour of flight, the F-35 requires 9-12 man hours of maintenance. The special care checking for damage on an F-35 requires two to three hours to collect information using the current piece of equipment which weighs 1,200 pounds as reported here. Reportedly they plan to have a few lighter, improved systems in a couple of years. For details on the difficulty of skin care with a similar plane, the F-22, go here.

. . . . .and this skin care can't be done in the field



And what's in that skin? we don't know, but there is this about the surface composition of a previous stealth plane ,an F117 that crashed:
...an Air Force paper, delivered at a NASA conference in 1994, that said that some of the materials that may have burned – beryllium, radar absorbent material, depleted uranium, thermal plastic and a graphite used for reinforcement – posed serious health risks.

. . .poor prototype reliability
The F-35 pre-production prototypes are unreliable. The GAO has reported in September 2014 that, based on tests from the Air Force and Marine Corps versions of the F-35, parts are being replaced on average 15 to 16 times more frequently than what the Joint Program Office assumes. The GAO cites a $4,800 sensor on the plane that needs to be replaced 60 to 129 times more often than originally anticipated. The Marine Corps B model, a more complex machine, is the worst of the three variants in low reliability. “The A and C models today are very close to where they're supposed to be,” Bogdan said. “We still got some work to do on the B model.” from the recent F-35 test report--
F-35B door and propulsion problems, first displayed in the FY11 Annual Report and updated each year:

structure: Inadequate life on door locks, excessive wear and fatigue due to the buffet environment, inadequate seal design.
propulsion: Lift fan drive shaft is undergoing a second redesign. Original design was inadequate due to shaft stretch requirements to accommodate thermal growth, tolerances, and maneuver deflections. First redesign failed qualification testing.-- Lift fan clutch has experienced higher than expected drag heating during conventional (up and away) flight during early testing. -- Roll post nozzle bay temperatures exceed current actuator capability; insulation is needed to prevent possible actuator failure during vertical lift operations. -- Vanes between stages of the lift fan experience excessive vibration/fl utter during mode 4 flight when temperature is below 5oF or above 107oF degrees and speed is greater than 130 knots calibrated airspeed.


. . .lots of retrofit of too many prototypes
It is intended that the F-35B will be declared combat capable with many uncorrected deficiencies uncovered during testing to date, with more rigorous testing yet to come. In fact there are 146 priority deficiency engineering changes which are scheduled for retrofit on potentially 848 domestic aircraft (and many foreign planes) at a cost of over a billion dollars, as well as software/hardware updates costing over two hundred million dollars through FY2019. The deficiency and update programs will be ongoing beyond FY2019. In March 2014 the Pentagon indicated a lack of confidence that even ten Marine F-35Bs would be IOC ready given that most of the 40-plus Marine F-35Bs will require many engineering modifications by then, followed by nearly two hundred other prototypes requiring retrofit. And they want to "ramp-up" for even more.
To see the details on the 146 F-35B engineering changes which must be applied to ten aircraft go here. Changes include to the lift fan driveshaft and the huge 496 bulkhead. How are they doing? As of March 24, 2015, only two of the ten aircraft had been upgraded according to General Bogdan.It's no wonder, given the extent of them, that the planes probably won't be upgraded for the scheduled IOC.

In the the GAO report from April (p. 12) there is a figure of $1.7 billion to fix already delivered aircrafts but with continued production it will cost more

With complex and challenging developmental testing remaining and engine reliability challenges ahead, DOD still plans to increase procurement rates by nearly threefold over the next 5 years. This same highly concurrent strategy has already proven to have negatively impacted the program. According to program reports, $1.7 billion could be incurred in costs associated with retrofits to already delivered aircraft. This cost will likely increase, as more aircraft are purchased and delivered before development ends.


. . .difficult basing
Marine Corps commandant General Joseph Dunford told a House defense appropriations subcommittee in late February that a shipboard detachment of four to eight F-35Bs [in]full-spectrum capability against the most critical and prohibitive threats.”

The Corps' new short take-off, vertical landing attack plane is good at playing in the dirt. It can operate from ships, any type of airfield, abandoned or primitive runways, highways, and other open areas. "The F-35B will have an unmatched expeditionary capability, and the Marine Corps intends to capitalize on that," said Maj. Paul Greenberg, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. "The aircraft can even operate from unimproved surfaces where we utilize our own expeditionary runway matting."--MC Times

No way, José. It's a fantasy. Play in the dirt? The Marine Corps STOVL - short takeoff, vertical land -- propels tons of hot gas downward with 18,000lbf of thrust at 1700ºF and high velocity (Mach #1) when in vertical land mode, which melts asphalt, spalls concrete and softens steel. [spall: To break up into chips or fragments.] A special landing matting is required on hard surfaces, and how that might work under austere conditions must yet be tested. The heavy plane must be resupplied with fuel somehow, and its complicated computers and machinery must be maintained. Anyhow the F-35 requires special hangars with its own peculiar power and air requirements, which means that it cannot be used in austere locations. Without access to high tech, well stocked bases with large pools of highly skilled maintenance techs backed by civilian experts, the F-35 availability is going to plummet. Throw in actual combat conditions (deferred maintenance, combat damage, insufficient spare parts, challenging conditions, etc.) and availability is going to be in the 30% range (it's currently only 37%).


Although full production of the F-35 is not scheduled until 2019,
hangars for the jet have been in the works for more than four years.

Is a Marine Corps aircraft used only from established airfields prepared with special matting useful?
No way, José" --A sample comment from here:

The F-35 is also a very smart aircraft. If the quality of the 270v DC provided from the converter, or the 28v DC E&F safety power circuit is not the perfect voltage, amperage or harmonics at the aircraft plug, the aircraft will not accept the power and will not turn on when the ground crew hits the external power switch. Nobody likes it when that happens.

These are Marines, how about from the latest amphibious assault ship, the USS America? Nope, the ship was designed without a well deck to embark beach landing craft and their assorted tanks and vehicles, instead being focused on aviation operations, but it cannot handle the F-35B. Service officials have yet to come up with an answer for the deck heat issue.

. . .and asea

news report
Navy Builds Ship For F-35, Ship Needs Months Of Upgrades To Handle F-35
..The $6.8 billion aircraft carrier ($3.4 billion unit cost) — and that is what it is, an aircraft carrier, not a amphibious assault ship — was commissioned last fall to great fanfare, yet now we learn it will be heading in to dry dock for almost a year.
..Why, you ask? Is there a defect with the ship’s weapon systems? A propulsion or hull issue? Hardly, the class was actually based on the latest Wasp Class vessels, which in itself is troubling considering the America Class's much higher cost.
..Instead it will receive myriad patchwork upgrades aimed at allowing it to operate the F-35B. Yep, you read that correctly, the same aircraft, along with the MV-22 Osprey, that the ship was specifically designed to accommodate, can't operate from its decks. --FoxTrotAlpha


. . .missing tactics
With the Magic F-35 still in development and prior to operational test and evaluation, there has been no development of tactics and procedures for employment. There is more to being "combat capable" than the plane and its support. It also must include successful operational doctrine and training developed through a rigorous test and evaluation process. The Magic F-35 development program includes operational test and evaluation beginning in 2018. In fact, the Marines don't have tactics yet -- they are devloping them. from the Washington Post, Apr 20:

Marine Corps fighter pilots are refining a new plan for air-to-air combat as they integrate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter with older jets, and it will mirror aspects of how the Air Force adapted its fleet to the F-22 Raptor. . .“It’s not something you can to overnight,” Adams said. “It’s going to take time to get everyone used to the new terminology and the new tactics, and then train with them.”

After thirteen years of development, in January 2015, the Pentagon test and evaluation department reported that:

. . .overall unsuitability is less than desired

"Overall suitability continues to be less than desired by the Services, and relies heavily on contractor support and unacceptable workarounds, but has shown some improvement in CY14. Aircraft availability was flat over most of the past year, maintaining an average for the fleet of 37 percent for the 12-month rolling period ending in September" (which was the same low availability rate as the previous year.)The flight operations will not be representative of combat operations. . . Maintenance activity will be limited. . .These limitations are not representative of deployed combat operations."



Who said that?
Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation did, here. Almost daily we read reports of a test pilot said this, and somebody from Lockheed said that, etc. but there is one person charged by law with responsibility for test and evaluation of new systems and that is the Director for Operational Test and Evaluation who said in the last test report that "Overall suitability continues to be less than desired."

Title 10 U.S. Code, Section 139 “There is a Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.” “Operational test and evaluation means -- the field test, under realistic combat conditions, of any item of (or key component of) weapons, equipment, or munitions for use in combat by typical military users; and the evaluation of the results of such test.”

Dr. Gilmore

Dr. J. Michael Gilmore was sworn in as Director, Operational Test and Evaluation on September 23, 2009.
A Presidential appointee confirmed by the United States Senate, he serves as the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense
on operational and live fire test and evaluation of Department of Defense weapon systems.
Dr. Gilmore's confirmation hearing he pledged to work to “assure that all systems undergo rigorous operational test and evaluation
in order to determine whether they are operationally effective, suitable, and survivable.”
In October 2014, Dr. Gilmore said: "The aircraft's mission systems have yet to be tested in the F-35."

NOTE: Mission systems are critical enablers of F-35’s combat effectiveness employing next generation sensors with fused information from on - board and off - board systems (i.e. electronic warfare, communication navigation identification, electro-optical target system, electro-optical distributed aperture system, radar, and data links

And how about those F-35B sea trials going on?

The flight operations will not be representative of combat operations. . . Maintenance activity will be limited. . .These limitations are not representative of deployed combat operations. -- Michael Gilmore, DOT&E


F-35 Prototypes Combat Capable? No Way, José

Given all this, given the engine design problems and retrofit engineering changes, plus other shortcomings especially the software and the weapons problems, plus the lack of operational testing, we should not believe that the F-35 is combat capable in July 2015 no matter what the Pentagon claims. In fact considering all its failures, with zero chance of adequate performance at a reasonable cost, the program should be terminated not expanded especially given the problems at the Fort Worth plant.

The Pentagon has already thrown in the towel. Jan 28 news report: Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall says the 2016 request will include funds to begin development of new separate jet fighters for the Air Force and Navy with a more high-tech engine, according to the Wall Street Journal. How about the F-35? It is not combat capable, “The Plane is a Broker of Information." So let's call it: Broker Capable. And the Marines are recognizing reality--

Marine officials recently have somewhat softened their stance on a July IOC, suggesting that it is not a hard deadline.“We won't declare IOC unless we meet all of our targets,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 25. --NationalDefenseMagazine, March 27

Finally, a Pentagon IOC declaration of F-35 deployability in July would encourage F-35B attendance at UK air shows that month, which were stymied last year because of the June 23 engine failure. It would be a certain mistake to attempt 6,000 mile over-water flights with immature, faulty aircraft with faulty engines.

tell it to the marines

Hold him to it....

“We won't declare IOC unless we meet all of our targets,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 25. And on April 8: "We're hell-bent on getting this airplane into service correctly. We're not going to declare IOC unless they're ready and they can do all the things that they've said they can do."--Reuters

LtGen Davis

That's what the man said. Let's hold him to it because the targets haven't been met and the prototype fighter can't yet meet all the system requirements, i.e. the F-35B is incapable of deploying and performing its assigned missions, including conducting CAS [Close Air Support], Offensive and Defensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Assault Support Escort, and Armed Reconnaissance in concert with Marine Air Ground Task Force resources as required. Specifically, IOC requires "support and sustainment elements shall include spares, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs and devices, and Autonomic Logistic Information System V2", and that's not available. The 2013 report to Congress stated: "Should capability delivery experience changes or delays, this estimate will be revised appropriately" -- and that should be done, changing at least to the IOC threshold date of December 2015. Top three reasons? -- engine, retrofit, software (esp. ALIS) ...plus the law says don't do it.



It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. --Mark Twain


Bonus: For some little-known facts on the JSF program go here, and don't miss laws, faulty engine and retrofit.

--Don Bacon, LtCol (ret), B.S.and M.S.in Mechanical Engineering, Army veteran, is a graduate of the DOD project management school with multiple project manager office assignments, who has seen the deleterious effects of the military "can-do" attitude when it overcomes good judgment (and the law) as with the F-35.
--Please send any corrections, ideas, facts, jokes and/or comments to: smedleybutlersociety (at) msn (dot) com
--All material in this document and linked documents may be copied and published in whole or in part with or without attribution.