Costs to operate and support Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will balloon unless the deteriorating reliability of the Pentagon’s costliest program improves, according to an assessment from the Defense Department’s own testing office.
The aircraft and its parts aren’t as reliable as expected, and it’s taking longer to repair them than planned, according to the presentation by the director of operational testing for defense officials and congressional aides. About 20 percent of the jets must await spares in depots because suppliers can’t keep up with expanding production while fixing returned parts. (…/…)
The availability of spare parts for the 203 F-35s already assigned to bases “is getting worse, affecting fly rates” and pilot training, according to the presentation dated May 8 and obtained by Bloomberg News. Reliability metrics linked to “critical failures have worsened over the last year,” as improvement “has stagnated.” (…/…)
The testing office said in its latest assessment that the trend in aircraft availability for flight test or training missions “has been flat over the past two years” because initiatives to improve reliability “are still not translating into improved availability.” Just last week the Marine Corps temporarily grounded operational jets in Yuma, Arizona, over reliability concerns with the program’s key maintenance diagnostic system.
The fleetwide availability of F-35s to fly when needed is 52 percent, short of an interim goal of 60 percent as well as the 80 percent needed to start combat testing next year. (…/…)
Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cabiness, spokesman for the testing office, said the issues cited in the May 8 presentation persist, although some of the specific numbers cited have changed “as the program continues to work fixes and discovers new deficiencies” during the $55 billion development phase that’s scheduled to end early next year.
Cabiness said the newest reliability data, which the test office received after the May 8 briefing, indicates that “overall, the metrics worsened” for Air Force and Marine Corps models while improving for the Navy version. The Air Force is buying the largest number of F-35s. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Bloomberg website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The clearest sign of the F-35’s continuing inability to meet its reliability targets is that the F-35A variant, for example, is averaging 7.3 flight hours between critical failures, while the current target is 20 hours.)