PARIS --- Barely a week after the US Air Force declared Aug. 3 that its F-35A fighter was ready for combat, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester warned the aircraft is “not effective and not suitable across the required mission areas and against currently fielded threats.”
In an Aug. 9 memo, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), J. Michael Gilmore, detailed the aircraft’s faults, recounted the program’s lack of progress, and warned it is fast running out of money, which will compromise attempts to fix it in time for the Operational Test & Evaluation, presently scheduled to begin sometime in 2018.
The memo, first disclosed on Aug. 24 by Bloomberg News, was addressed to Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition; Deborah Lee James, the Air Force Secretary, and General David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff.
The US Air Force and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) shrugged off this latest warning as they have previous ones, by claiming the report mentions deficiencies that are, or are being, fixed.
Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the chief of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), told Aviation Week that “There were absolutely no surprises in the recent memo from the OSD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation…..Specific to the memo, the JPO has been and is currently acting on all the recommendations.”
JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova told Bloomberg that “there were absolutely no surprises” in the memo as “all of the issues mentioned are well-known” and being resolved.
This has been the stock response by the Joint Program Office to Gilmore’s reports, even as he has repeatedly warned that “many significant deficiencies remain, and more are being identified by operational test and fielded units.”
This shows that, failing a clear understanding of the magnitude of the problems reported by Gilmore, JPO at least has a clear P.R. line.
To date, only extracts of Gilmore’s memo have been made public.
We have obtained a copy of the report (see link at bottom), and we reproduce below, verbatim, the memo’s introduction, in which we have highlighted the most significant points in bold characters.
Further links are also provided to several official US Air Force statements on the F-35A’s Initial Operational Capability.
Achieving Full Combat Capability with the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is at Substantial Risk
While the Air Force recently declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with "basic" Block 3i capabilities, most of the limitations and deficiencies for the F-35A with Block 3i discussed in my FY15 Annual Report and Congressional testimonies remain and will adversely affect mission effectiveness and suitability.
In fact, the program is actually not on a path toward success, but instead on a path toward failing to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion by the scheduled end of System Development and Demonstration (SDD) in 2018.
If Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) were conducted today on the aircraft in the Block 3i configuration - with which the Air Force recently declared IOC -the system would likely be evaluated as not effective and not suitable across the required mission areas and against currently fielded threats.
If used in combat, the F-35 in the Block 3i configuration, which is equivalent in capabilities to Block 2B, will need support to locate and avoid modem threats, acquire targets, and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to outstanding performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage available (i.e., two bombs and two air-to-air missiles).
Unresolved Block 3i deficiencies in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment continue to result in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to effectively respond to threats, and, in some cases, a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack. Although the program recently addressed some of the Block 3i deficiencies, many significant deficiencies remain and more are being identified by operational test and fielded units, many of which must be corrected if the program is going to provide the expected "full warfighting capability" described in the Operational Requirements Document (ORD).
Although the F-35 program reached an interim milestone with the Air Force IOC declaration, it is not on track to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities by the planned end of SDD in 2018. In fact, it is running out of time and money to complete the planned flight testing and implement the required fixes and modifications. Flight test is making progress, but has fallen far behind the planned rate to complete SDD within the remaining time and funding. The final, most complex, required Block 3F capabilities are just now being added to the mission systems software builds and new problems requiring fixes and regression testing continue to be discovered at a substantial rate.
Also, despite needing to continue developmental testing at full capacity for at least another year to complete the planned testing of the new capabilities and attempted fixes for the hundreds of remaining deficiencies, the program is already beginning to reduce the number of test personnel and defer required fixes to beyond SDD due to funding constraints.
Also, progress toward meeting several key requirements to start IOT&E has stagnated because the required modifications for the operational test aircraft and essential upgrades to the U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL) for mission data are still not on contract, some of which will take at least two years to complete after the contracts are signed.
Whether the F-35 will achieve operational effectiveness and suitability relative to its full set of approved requirements will not be known until the IOT&E of the F-35 system, including properly modified test aircraft equipped with Block 3F software, the full complement of weapons, and the Autonomic Logistics Information System, is conducted, beginning sometime in 2018, at the earliest.
This assessment of the capability of the F-35A in the Block 3i configuration, and challenges the program faces to complete SDD, is based on observations and data from developmental testing, limited operational test activities and fielded operations. The assessment of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is based on observations and data from deployment demonstrations with ALIS hardware in the Standard Operating Unit (SOU), Version 2 (V2) configuration supporting Block 2B and Block 3i aircraft, cybersecurity testing and program office projections for completing development of the remaining required capabilities for ALIS.
Additionally, this assessment is fully consistent with the findings contained in the Air Force’s own IOC Readiness Assessment (IRA) report. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the D&OTE’s Aug. 9 memo on the F-35A Initial Operating Capability
Links to official statements on the F-35A’s Initial Operating Capability by:
-- Statement by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
-- The Department of Defense
-- The US Air Force Air Combat Command