The independent program review from the OSD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) is an annual occurrence, and the process was executed with unfettered access to information and with the full cooperation of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO). There were no surprises in the report; all of the issues mentioned are well-known to the JPO, the U.S. services, international partners and our industry team.
Click here for the report’s section on the F-35 program (48 PDF pages), hosted by Defense-Aerospace.com)
Once again, the annual DOT&E report points out the progress being made by the program. This includes the U.S. Marine Corps declaring Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2015. The USMC declared IOC with Block 2B software because it provides increased initial warfighting capability. Marine F-35s have the necessary weapons to conduct close air support, air interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defense missions. Currently Marine F-35s can carry the following weapons internally in stealth mode – the AIM-120, GBU-32 JDAM, and GBU-12 Paveway II. When the developmental program is complete in the fall of 2017, all F-35 variants will be able to carry more than 18,000 pound of munitions internally and externally.
2015 ended with more than 150 operational (fleet and operational test) and 18 developmental test jets operating at 10 U.S. locations and the Italian Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. Together, the entire fleet has flown more than 48,000 hours.
The program delivered 45 aircraft in 2015 – the most aircraft delivered in one year in program history. These deliveries included the first international delivery from the Italian FACO, and bring the overall operational delivery total to 154. Along with Italy, Norway took its first delivery in 2015. Five partner nations - Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom - along with the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, now fly the F-35. Israel and Japan will take their first deliveries in 2016.
Pilot and maintainer training increased substantially in 2015. More than 250 pilots including the first two for Australia, Italy and Norway respectively entered training. More than 2,800 maintainers are qualified to service the jet, with a majority graduating from the F-35 Aircraft Training Center at Eglin AFB, Florida.
Although the DOT&E report is factually accurate, it does not fully address program efforts to resolve known technical challenges and schedule risks. It is the F-35 Joint Program Office’s responsibility to find developmental issues, resolve them and execute with the time and budget we have been given. Our government and industry team has a proven track record of overcoming technical challenges discovered during developmental and operational testing and fleet operations, and delivering on program commitments. A few recent examples of issues that are resolved include the F-35C tailhook, the F135 engine rub, and F-35B STOVL Auxiliary Air Inlet door. The F-35C has now “caught the wire” more than 200 times at sea, the engine rub fix is incorporated on the production line and delivered engines are being retrofitted, and the F‑35B has performed more than 1,000 vertical landings safely.
Currently, mission systems software and the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), are the program’s top technical risks. Disciplined systems engineering processes addressing the complexity of writing, testing and integrating mission systems and ALIS software have improved the delivery of capability, although challenges remain. There is more work to accomplish in both mission systems software and ALIS before the end of the development program.
Continuing on 2015’s results, Block 3i software was released for flight test in May 2015 to support the U.S. Air Force IOC declaration later in 2016. Coding for the final development software block (known as 3F) was completed in June 2015 and the software has been released for flight testing. Additional updates are planned throughout the year with 3F tracking for completion by the end of the System Development and Demonstration Program (SDD) in the fall of 2017 in order to support U.S. Navy IOC in 2018 and the start of IOT&E.
Throughout testing, interim software test builds are provided to both the developmental test and operational test teams allowing them to experience the software as early as possible to provide feedback to our teams. As of Dec. 31, the program completed 80 percent of SDD test points and is on track for completion in the fourth quarter of 2017.
At the completion of the F-35 SDD program, the objective is to deliver full Block 3F capabilities (Mission Systems, Weapons & Flight Envelope) for the Services and International customers. The F-35 program will continue to closely coordinate with the JSF Operational Test Team (JOTT) and DOT&E on key test planning and priorities to successfully meet key SDD program milestones and objectives.
The flight test program made significant progress in maturing the capability of the aircraft during 2015. For example, the program:
-- Completed the third F-35B sea trial aboard the USS Wasp and the second F-35C sea trial aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for a total of five sea trials since 2013.
-- Completed six-months of climatic response testing at the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin AFB, Florida. During these tests, the jet operated in ranges from 120 degrees to minus 40 degrees and various ranges of humidity and weather conditions.
-- Completed F-35A 3F software high angle of attack and performance testing and continued envelope expansion for all variant 3F software.
-- Achieved aerial refueling certification with the Australian tanker (KC-30A) and Italian tanker (KC-767), including night operations.
-- Completed GAU-22 25mm ground gun fire testing and began airborne testing on the F-35A.
-- To date, completed 90 weapon separations - GBU-12, GBU-31, GBU-32, AIM-120, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, U.K. Paveway IV, and first F-35 AIM-9X. This includes 18 for 18 successful live fires of AMRAAM, JDAM, and GBU-12s.
-- To date, completed 17 Weapon Delivery Accuracy events (GBU-12, GBU-31, GBU-32, and AIM-120)
-- To date, successfully verified F-35 low observable stealth signature 146 times with both flight test and operational jets.
These accomplishments prove the basic design of the F-35 is sound and test results reinforce our confidence in the ultimate performance the U.S. and its partners and allies value greatly.
As a reminder, the F-35 program is still in its developmental phase. This is the time when issues are expected to be discovered and solutions are implemented to maximize the F-35’s capability for the warfighter. While the development program is 80 percent complete, we recognize there are known deficiencies that must be corrected and there remains the potential for future findings. Our commitment to overcoming challenges is unwavering.
The Joint Program Office will continue to work with the F-35 enterprise to make corrections and improvements as quickly as possible. At the completion of the F-35 development program, the objective is to deliver full Block 3F capabilities (Mission Systems, Weapons & Flight Envelope) for the Services and International customers. We thank the DOT&E for their assistance as we remain focused on developing, delivering and sustaining the world’s finest multi-role 5th generation aircraft.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Interestingly, the Joint Program Office has this year released its response before the OT&E report is made public, instead of ignoring it for weeks as in previous years.
It also is worth noting that this year’s report includes 48 pages on the F-35, over one-third more than the previous year’s 34 pages and more than double of the 2013 report’s 20 pages, the clear implication being that each year there are more issues to cover than previously.
While Lt Gen Bogdan claims “There were no surprises in the report,” this is not factually true, as it contains many new issues that are not yet in the public domain. These include:
-- continuing issues with the ejection seat:
-- problems with heat management of the weapons bays;
-- vibrations, stresses and other bomb bay problems are out of the flight parameters of the AIM-120 missile and Small Diameter Bombs;
-- Mechanical rubbing between the gun motor drive and wall of the gun bay require structural modifications to the bay;
-- Fleet aircraft are limited to 3 Gs when fully fueled
-- Under certain fl ight conditions, air enters the siphon fuel transfer line and causes the pressure in the siphon fuel tank to exceed allowable limits in all variants;
-- The program completed the final weight assessment of the air vehicles for contract specification compliance; all versions are within a few hundred pounds of contractual not-to-exceed limits;
-- Refueling from tanker wing pods was prohibited due to response anomalies from the hose and reel assemblies and the F-35B aircraft with the air refueling receptacle deployed;
-- For the F-35A, the airspeed at which the weapons bay doors can be open in flight (550 knots or 1.2 Mach) is less than the maximum aircraft speed allowable (700 knots or 1.6 Mach).
-- For the F-35A, the airspeed at which countermeasures can be used is also less than the maximum speed allowable, again restricting tactical options in scenarios where F-35A pilots are conducting defensive maneuvers;
-- Although over three years have already been lost to inaction, the Program Office still does not plan to put Block 3F upgrades to the USRL on contract until late in 2016.
-- New cracks were discovered in various components of all versions;
-- Verification, Validation, and Accreditation (VV&A) activity completely stalled in 2015 and did not come close to making the necessary progress towards even the reduced set of Block 2B requirements.
-- Low availability rates are preventing the fleet of fielded operational F-35 aircraft from achieving planned, Service-funded flying hour goals.
-- A deficiency in the air vehicle’s maintenance vehicle interface (MVI)—the hardware used to upload aircraft data files—corrupted the aircraft software files during the upload process.)