Technical and performance problems with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter appear to be more numerous and more serious than anyone in the Department of Defense has been willing to concede publicly, according to a leaked Pentagon report obtained by the Star-Telegram.
The internal report marked "For Official Use Only" is written in carefully couched language, but clearly sounds alarms that some very large, troubling and costly to resolve technological and performance issues lie ahead for the already troubled and massively over budget F-35.
The Project on Government Oversight has posted a copy of the report on its web site.
In a prepared statement issued Tuesday, the company said: “The report is still currently under review by senior Department of Defense officials. We expect to work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and Defense Department to understand and address any concerns expressed in the report.”
The report prepared by a team of senior Pentagon technical, engineering and test experts found that “unsatisfactory progress” had been made in development and testing of the F-35 in nearly all of the air combat roles that it is designed to perform.
In ground attack roles the report cites concerns about “mission capability and survivability” and “certain classified survivability issues."
Although most of the really challenging flight testing of the F-35 in high speed, air combat regimes has yet to be performed, the Pentagon and military officials overseeing testing “expressed significant concerns with aircraft performance characteristics.”
The “Quick Look Review” report, 50-plus pages including numerous charts, illustrations and detailed projections, was prepared just since mid-October by a team headed by five senior Pentagon officials with expertise in weapons evaluation testing and engineering.
It was requested by Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of defense for weapons acquisition and development. Kendall asked for the report to assess the state of F-35 development so defense officials could decide whether and how many planes they should agree to buy while development was still under way.
The report essentially concludes that highly sophisticated design and modeling technology has failed in predicting and preventing problems with the design, production and performance of the aircraft and its critical combat systems.
In no case does the report state that any of the problems cannot be overcome or that the F-35 will be unable fulfill its intended missions, but it does strongly suggest the worst of the problems may not yet be known and that the fixes will take years and vast new sums of money.
The report authors say as a result of the combined issues the Pentagon should go very slowly in buying more jets.
"The combined impact of these issues results in a lack of confidence in the design stability...this lack of confidence, in conjunction with the concurrency driven consequences of the required fixes, supports serious reconsideration of procurement and production planning...The QLR team recommends that further decisions about F-35 concurrent production be event-driven."
Vice Admiral David Venlet discussed some of the report's conclusions about the problems created by concurrent development and production in a recent interview published by AOL Defense but did not hint at some of the detailed performance problems and the severity. Bloomberg first obtained a copy of the report and reported some of the issues.
Major areas of concern include:
* Worse than predicted buffeting of the aircraft in high speed and maneuvering modes with the most stringent testing in combat-like situations yet to be done. The result is already seen and predicted further accelerated wear and tear on the aircraft, cracks in the structural frame.
* The high tech helmet-mounted-display that is supposed to allow the pilot to be aware of potential threats and attack targets at night or in bad weather performs badly and its night vision capability is far less than existing systems used by pilots in existing aircraft. The buffeting of the aircraft in flight makes the helmet-mounted-display problems worse.
* The integrated power package that provides backup electrical power, controls much of the aircraft's avionics and the primary oxygen supply and cockpit pressurization has proven horribly unreliable.
* The tailhook arrester on the F-35C for carrier landings failed in every test to catch the arresting cables that yank jets to a halt. A new tailhook design is beign readied for testing early next year but the report suggests that the problem may lie with the basic design of the aircraft itself and fixing it could require a major redesign of the F-35C structure.