Calls for more comprehensive testing of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Programme

The US Defense Department’s Director of Combat Testing, Michael Gilmore has called for the incoming Trump administration to “rigorously and comprehensively review” Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet, which has historically been plagued with software bugs and issues.

In a recent open letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, Gilmore said the Defense Department’s F-35 program office “has no plan to adequately fix and verify hundreds of these deficiencies using flight testing within its currently planned schedule and resources.

Software deficiencies should ground the jet

Gilmore also directly referenced the software issues in his annual report.

The military services have “designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as ‘critical to correct’” in the final software version, designed to give the jet its full combat capability.

“But less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections” so far, Gilmore wrote.

Costly fighter jet programme

President-elect Donald Trump criticised the fighter jet programme in a tweet back in December, saying: “The F-35 programme and cost is out of control.”

Lockheed Martin’s stock price took a hit and the firm’s Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson recently met with Trump to discuss to a new contract deal that would cut the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also released a January 2017 statement saying:

“According to a company press release, the CEO of Lockheed Martin gave President-elect Trump her personal commitment to aggressively drive down the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in light of concerns he raised about the program.

“These comments were surprising given that I have been recently informed the F-35’s system development and demonstration phase has been delayed another seven months, another costly stumble that will cost the American taxpayer at least US$500 million. This is yet another troubling sign for a program that has already nearly doubled in cost, taken nearly two decades to field, and has long been the poster child for acquisition malpractice.”

The US Department of Defense’s office of independent cost analysis has estimated that it will cost up to US$1.12 billion to extend F-35’s development phase to as late as 2020.

Software-driven aircraft

Both US Republicans and Democrats have criticised the F-35 programme’s cost long before Trump took up the issue.

The 15-year-old programme, which would see the most advanced software-driven plane in the sky, has been affected by various delays and has never flown in combat.

The plane’s advanced design allows pilots to immediately share data with one another and their commanders. Other technical functions include: being able to penetrate enemy territory without being detected by radar; and its specialised helmet display, which gives pilots a 360˚ view of their surroundings.

Each plane comes with a more than US$100 million price tag, though Lockheed and analysts expect the price to drop as more planes are built and the programme matures.

 

Edited from sources by Cecilia Rehn.

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