WASHINGTON --- Lockheed Martin completed only about 10 percent of its planned test flights of the F-35 joint strike fighter last year because of delays in production of the test aircraft, according to a Pentagon report.
Only 16 of 168 planned flights were completed in fiscal 2009, the second year of flight testing, according to Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of weapons testing. The program called for 5,000 sorties to prove the aircraft’s flying capabilities, electronics and software.
Some additional test flights have been completed since that time, but overall the program continues to be far behind schedule.
The testing backlog is one reason Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delayed the program, cutting planned purchases of the plane by 122 in fiscal years 2011 through 2015. More than $2.8 billion that was budgeted to buy the military’s next-generation fighter would instead be used to continue its development, according to a 2011 budget document.
The development phase must now be extended by at least one year, to October 2015, according to Gilmore, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office’s defense unit.
The F-35 assessment is in the annual report of testing of major weapons systems sent to Congress on Friday and scheduled for release later this week.
The program entered fiscal 2009 at "significant risk" of not meeting its goals, and that risk will increase through 2012 because flight testing hasn’t kept pace "due to the failure to deliver test aircraft," according to Gilmore’s report.
"Even assuming all the success that management plans" in the remaining roughly 4,970 flight tests, Lockheed will need a "minimum schedule addition" of one year to complete development, Gilmore wrote. (end of excerpt)
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