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December 13, 2011

Internal Pentagon report finds major problems with F-35 performance and components

F-35 CF-2 departs Fort Worth 5-16-11Technical 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.

- Bob Cox


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Lee Gaillard

It would seem that the F-35's equivalent of the V-22 Osprey's 'Blue Ribbon Panel' has now spoken.

It would also seem that shutting down the production line for 18 months (or to an absolute minimum V-22 equivalent) would be in order until they wring out one or two airframes; see exactly what needs to be redesigned (!); redesign said bulkheads, arrestor hook assemblies, helmets, software, (the list goes on); install redesigned parts; ...and recommence testing. Keep the line work force busy by DISmantling already built F-35s and beginning to correct faulty systems already installed.

Talk about a mess. Remember back in the late '50s when they had to ship a whole batch of brand new F3H Demons down the Mississippi and dump them because the intended Westinghouse engine turned out to be underpowered but McDonnell had begun full-scale production anyway?

Design, test prototype, make and test design corrections, THEN initiate production. LRIP is a ploy for running up expenses to the level where a program is too expensive to cancel. Obviously, in the long run it saves no time (witness current chaos) and costs much MORE money.

Here we go again.

Lon Williams

One major item that gets over looked in these "sky is falling" articles - the aircraft is built to a spec supplied by the Governemnt! Also the sheer size and scope of the F-35 Program has never been done before and building this jet the old fashion way would take decades longer. All parties concerned signed up to the risk of a concurrent build/test program. The arm chair experts who have zero insight on the F-35 let alone the good results coming from flight test have no business commenting on the status of the program and how to fix it! The flight test jets today are higly instrumented so there is no need to dismantle test aircraft to see what is failing. We have structural "drop test" airframes for that. Finally, I'm not familar with underpowered aircraft built in the late "50's" that were dumped into the Misssissippi river. That statement alone disqualifies anyone from commenting on 5th Generation aircraft technology.

Lee Gaillard

I regret that Mr. Williams is "not familiar with underpowered aircraft built in the late "50's" that were dumped into the Mississippi river" and that he uses that unfamiliarity to disqualify my comment on the F-35 mess.

If he will read more carefully, he will see that they were not dumped IN the Mississippi...just shipped DOWN it and then dumped, used for scrap, or as ground maintenance trainers...since they could not fly.

To verify what I said regarding the F3H-1N Demon and the disastrous choice of the Westinghouse J-40 jet engine, he can check any number of sources, starting with p.106 of Cox's St. Louis Aviation (see photo of F3Hs being trucked to their barge and the accompanying caption), or go to the Memphis Commercial Appeal website ("Memphis Photos") and see the Jan. 5, 1956 photo of a barge full of ..."12 Navy Demon jets...brought from St. Louis by water because the engines are not powerful enough to fly," or R.F. Dorr's website article in the Jan 23, 2006 Air Force Times, where he describes the same fate for the Demon. Etc., etc., etc.

Now that Mr. Williams is aware that this actually happened, I feel sure that he can pick up on it and find even more such citations if he wishes.

Frank Johnson

Well, anyone who thinks this plane has been a 5 year project is also sorely off and doesn't know that this has been well under way since the mid-80s. The issue is hiring kids to design an airplane and relying on their input into a computer to spit out the perfect fighter. Sorry, you have to actually have people who know how things work, not how to say how they work, in order to build something like this. It all comes back to textbook engineers. Good in principle, not in real life. I'd be willing to bet half the engineers who worked on this plane were under 25 when they were hired and started providing inputs. I'd also be willing to be half of them also don't know how to check their oil in their own car. If you can't think through the process of doing that, you certainly shouldn't be providing design input on a plane like this. Baby steps.

Henry Merbler

Since costs are extreme and going higher on a program that USA Government chooses to keep it may be timely to consider an R & D prgm to replace the production pgm. This may stretch the dollars before the prgm breaks the bank

Janice Hunter

The military doesn't need this overpriced mess anyway.

If the plane is dangerous to the crew members, we should not buy any of them.

Our soldiers have the right to have as safe and reliable equipment as we can give them.


Well, Lon, I guess we shouldn't learn from past mistakes.

We should have learned from the F-111, do-everything, triservice, fighter-interceptor-bomber fiasco of the 1960's. We should have learned from the V-22 semi-helicopter, triservice, rube goldberg fiasco of the 1980's, 1990's, and 2000's.

There comes a time to cut your losses and develop a new solution. I suggest restarting the F-22 production line to produce about 200 F-22's for the stealth-ground-attack mission, and purchasing 1200 or more new F-18's for the secure-ground-attack mission.

Let's not be INSANE about it.


anyone know what kind of executive bonuses, if any, have been paid out to date?

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