Lockheed Martin’s F-35 achieved its first international deployment and the U.S. Air Force declared its first squadron ready for war in 2016, but the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) also suffered key setbacks last year.
The world’s most expensive fighter program continues to grapple with technological challenges. The latest version of the JSF’s internal logistics system is delayed by several months, and operational test pilots are still seeing stability issues with the warfighting software. The Joint Program Office (JPO) has righted a quality issue with the avionics cooling lines that temporarily grounded 15 operational aircraft, but Lockheed is now racing to fix the 42 in-production aircraft that were affected. Further, the services are dealing with fallout from two aircraft fires this year and recent issues identified in testing.
At the same time, tensions are high between Lockheed and the Pentagon. After failing to come to an agreement on the long-awaited ninth batch of aircraft, the government in a rare move unilaterally issued a contract valued at $6.1 billion for 57 jets. The two parties are still working on a handshake agreement for Lot 10, which they had hoped to reach this fall. Meanwhile, although many of the international partners will move forward with a three-year bulk purchase of the aircraft starting in 2018, the U.S. military will not.
JSF’s Ongoing Woes
-- Tensions run high between Lockheed and the JPO over Lot 9 and 10 contract negotiations
-- Known challenges with ALIS, final 3F software persist
-- New problems cropped up with weapons integration
-- Services still dealing with fallout from two separate aircraft fires
Designing the world’s most advanced fighter does not come cheap. The JPO is racing to finish the F-35’s development phase—already at $14 billion since the 2011 program restructuring—but the Pentagon is preparing for a delay of up to seven months past the planned completion date and projecting additional cost growth of $530 million.
And the $14 billion is only a fraction of the full bill: A July 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service pegged the research and development cost at $59.2 billion in fiscal 2012 dollars since the program’s inception.
Here we look at the F-35’s remaining challenges. (end of excerpt)
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