Major F35 flaws are being hidden so they can claim development phase is done

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) obtained a document showing how F-35 officials are recategorizing—rather than fixing—major design flaws to be able to claim they have completed the program’s development phase without having to pay overruns for badly needed fixes.

Major flaws include
* pilots cannot confirm a weapon’s target data before firing
* damage to the plane caused by the tailhook on the Air Force’s variant

These have potentially serious implications for safety and combat effectiveness.

Category I deficiencies “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or result in a production line stoppage.”

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that, as of January 2018, the F-35 program still had 111 of the problems that may cause death or severe injury or major damage to the weapon system.

The F-35 program still had 855 of the significant flaws that could impair the F-35 from being able to complete its missions.

In January, 2018 the F-35 still had just short of 1,000 category I and category II flaws. This is after 17 years of development.

F35 officials made paperwork fixes to make these serious deficiencies appear acceptable, it seems that much of that work is being ignored in the name of political expediency and protecting F-35 funding.

The Board downgraded 19 serious (Category I) deficiencies to the less-serious Category II, including 10 with no plan in place to correct the known design flaws.

The F-35 will not automatically send an emergency signal when the pilot ejects. Hours could pass before anyone knows the pilot had a problem, let alone that they ejected and crashed. This was downgraded from high Category I to high Category II without a plan to fix it.

These cumulative F-35 deficiencies add significantly to the maintenance burden the services are already facing—and is one of many reasons the F-35 program still only has a 26% fully mission-capable rate. Only one in four F-35s are ready for missions.

POGO also obtained a copy of the Pentagon’s previously unreleased plan to control costs that shows the proposed savings may quickly be overwhelmed by the program’s rising costs.

After 17 years in development, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) F-35 program is approaching its full-rate production decision, when it will commit to producing 77 aircraft or more per year over the next 12 years. With estimated total acquisition costs of over $406 billion for the entire program, this upcoming milestone will require DOD to commit more of these resources to producing the F-35 Lightning II—also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

The project is over 8 years behind the original schedule and development alone was $20 billion over budget. The purchase prices are over budget and the maintenance costs are over budget.

The military services will also incur substantial sustainment costs once they acquire the F-35 aircraft. In October 2017, the GAO found that DOD did not have insight into the program’s total sustainment costs, estimated at over $1.1 trillion over a 60-year life cycle.

The F-35 program office saw little improvement in reliability and maintainability over the past year.

Policy states that identifying and correcting deficiencies early is less costly than resolving deficiencies later in the acquisition process. If the critical deficiencies are not resolved before moving to production, the F-35 program faces additional concurrency costs to fix fielded aircraft—which are currently estimated at $1.4 billion.

Lockheed Martin is funded to deliver 90 deficiency-ridden F-35s this year. That figure is hardly “low” when it represents 56% of the expected 160 aircraft per year to be delivered in the full-rate production runs currently scheduled to begin in 2023.

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