The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) recently released a scathing assessment of the F-35 program as part of his annual report. Buried inside 48 pages of highly technical language is a gripping story of mismanagement, delayed tests, serious safety issues, a software nightmare, and maintenance problems crippling half the fleet at any given time.
The report makes clear just how far the F-35 program still has to go in the development process. Some of the technical challenges facing the program will take years to correct, and as a result, the F-35’s operationally demonstrated suitability for combat will not be known until 2022 at the earliest. While rumors that the program office would ask for a block buy of nearly 500 aircraft in the FY 2017 budget proposal did not pan out, officials have indicated they may make such a request next year. The DOT&E report clearly shows any such block commitments before 2022 are premature.
The report’s candor about the airplane’s problems is unique among the DoD’s other reports about the performance of the F-35. It only exists because Congress created an independent operational testing office in 1983 to report only to the Secretary of Defense and Congress. Without this office, significant F-35 problems might never be revealed until failure in actual combat.
As damning as this report is, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office quickly issued a statement disagreeing with the report’s emphasis—but acknowledging that every word of it is “factually accurate.”
Officials Continue Putting Off Key Tests Needed to Prove Combat Capability
Flight Controls Impact Maneuverability
Serious Safety Concerns Remain
Significant Logistics Software Problems
Deferring Cyber Security Testing Leaves F-35 Vulnerable
Maintenance Problems Keep F-35s Grounded
Simulation Facility Failure Threatens Testing Program
Impending Air Force IOC: Aircraft Would Be Combat-Ready in Name Only
Concurrency Tax: Extra Costs for Few Aircraft
Block Buy Purchase Discussions Are Wildly Premature