PARIS --- The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation released his annual report on January 31. This year, just 14 pages are devoted to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, but despite noting some limited progress, notably regarding aircraft availability, it repeated the same problems noted in previous years.
“The program is still carrying a large number of deficiencies, most of which were identified prior to the completion of SDD,” the report said.
Below is our selection of salient points, emphasized in bold typeface when of special significance.
-- The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program continues to carry 873 unresolved deficiencies
-- The current Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) process has not been able to keep pace with adding new increments of capability as planned.
-- Significant additional investments, well beyond the recent incremental upgrades to the signal generator channels and reprogramming tools, are required now for the USRL to support F-35 Block 4 MDL development.
-- Although the program released several new versions of ALIS in 2019 that improved ALIS usability, these improvements did not eliminate the major problems in ALIS design and implementation.
-- Cybersecurity testing to date during IOT&E continued to demonstrate that deficiencies and vulnerabilities identified during earlier testing periods have not been remedied.
-- Although the fleet-wide trend in aircraft availability showed modest improvement in 2019, it remains below the target value of 65 percent.
-- These reports do not include results from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or gun lethality testing, which were still not completed by the end of FY19.
-- As of September 17, 2019, the program had closed out 493 of the 536 capability requirements. The 43 remaining represent either unmet requirements that require formal revision of the SDD contract (i.e., will never be met)
-- Full closure of the SDD contract may take years to complete.
-- The program is still carrying a large number of deficiencies, most of which were identified prior to the completion of SDD. As of November 4, 2019, the program had 873 open deficiencies, 13 of which were designated Category I.
-- The program has not been able to address more of these deficiencies for several reasons, including new discoveries with the fielded configurations, contractual problems, and limitations in software development and test capacity.
-- For example, some software changes to add capabilities or fix deficiencies introduced stability problems or adversely affected other functionality
-- For all F-35 variants, structural and durability testing led to significant discoveries requiring repairs and modifications to production designs, some as late as Lot 12 aircraft, and retrofits to fielded aircraft.
-- The F-35A has gun-related structural problems and the F-35A/C are experiencing longeron (structural component) cracks. The effect on F-35 service life and the need for additional inspection requirements are still being determined.
-- Units flying newer F-35A aircraft discovered cracks in the outer mold-line coatings and the underlying chine longeron skin, near the gun muzzle, after aircraft returned from flights when the gun was employed.
-- Based on F-35A gun testing to date, DOT&E considers the accuracy of the gun, as installed in the F-35A, to be unacceptable.
-- F-35B and F-35C air-to-ground accuracy results to date with the gun pod have been consistent and meet the contract specifications. The results do not show the accuracy errors of the internal F-35A gun.
-- In order to be ready to support the planned Block 4 capability development timeline, the Block 4 hardware upgrades for the USRL should have already been on contract. However, as of this report, the requirements for the Block 4 software integration lab and USRL have yet to be fully defined.
-- Sovereign data management allows foreign partners and military sales customers to block, delay, or pass through all structured data, including propulsion data, and gives the ability to filter certain parts of propulsion messages based on sovereign data requirements.
-- For example, ALIS 3.6 was to include migration to Windows 10 and cybersecurity improvements, including fixes to cybersecurity deficiencies. DOT&E is not aware of how the program will incorporate these changes to support the many fielded systems.
-- The program is also planning a re-architecture of ALIS, frequently termed ALIS NEXT, through a combination of new applications and re-hosted software code from the current ALIS. The program undertook this planning while simultaneously supporting ALIS 3.1.1, preparing to release ALIS 3.5, and developing and testing the service packs that will follow.
-- ALIS NEXT will use a cloud-focused model and will be government-owned and managed.
-- Although the program released several new versions of ALIS in 2019 that improved ALIS usability, these improvements did not eliminate the major problems in ALIS design and implementation and are unlikely to significantly reduce technical debt or improve the user experience.
-- ALIS remains inefficient and cumbersome to use, still requires the use of numerous workarounds, retains problems with data accuracy and integrity, and requires excessive time from support personnel.
-- Not all JSF cyber tests in 2019 were completed in accordance with their individual, DOT&E-approved test plans.
-- Cybersecurity testing to date during IOT&E continued to demonstrate that vulnerabilities identified during earlier testing periods still have not been remedied.
-- More testing is needed to assess the cybersecurity of the air vehicle. Actual on-aircraft or appropriate hardware- and software-in-the-loop facilities are imperative to enable operationally representative air vehicle cyber testing.
-- Cybersecurity testing to date identified vulnerabilities that must be addressed to ensure secure ALIS, Training System, USRL, and air vehicle operations.
-- According to the JPO, the air vehicle is capable of operating for up to 30 days without connectivity to ALIS via the SOU.
-- The whole U.S. [F-35] fleet can be broken down into three distinct sub-fleets: the combat-coded fleet of aircraft which are slated into units that can deploy for combat operations; the training fleet for new F-35 pilot accession; and the test fleet for operational testing and tactics development.
The combat‑coded fleet represented roughly a third of the whole U.S. fleet over the period, and demonstrated significantly higher availability than the other two fleets. The combat‑coded fleet still fell short of the 65 percent monthly availability goal over the 12 months ending September 2019, but did achieve the goal each month for the last 3 months of FY19.
-- Low utilization rates continue to prevent the Services from achieving their full programmed fly rates, which are the basis of flying hour projections and sustainment cost models. For the 12 months ending September 2019, the average monthly utilization rate for the whole U.S. fleet was 18.1 flight hours per tail per month for the F-35A, 15.3 for the F-35B, and 23.8 for the F-35C. This compares to Service bed-down plans from 2013, which expected F-35A and F-35C units to execute 25 flight hours per tail per month and F-35B units to execute 20 flight hours per tail per month to achieve Service goals.
-- For three of the four specification threats, the F-35 variants meet JSF contract specification requirements to enable safe ejection of the pilot in the event of an engagement.
-- For two of the four specification threats, the F-35A and F-35C variants meet JSF contract specification requirements to return safely to the Forward Line of Troops following an engagement. The F-35B met the requirements for only one of the four threats.
Lockheed has not issued an official response to the DOT&E report. However, it did provide a response to the Australian blog Defence Connect, as follows:
A Lockheed Martin spokesperson told Defence Connect, "The F-35 continues to mature and is the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter in the world. The warfighter identifies the F-35 capabilities as game changing, transforming the way our men and women in uniform conduct operations.”
"Last year, Lockheed Martin delivered 134 aircraft, exceeding our commitment of 131, while continuing to drive down unit costs and cost per flying hour. Reliability continues to improve, with the global fleet averaging greater than 65 per cent mission capable rates and operational units consistently performing near 75 per cent. Soon we will deliver our 500th aircraft, train the 1,000th F-35 pilot and surpass 250,000 flight hours."
"The F-35 enterprise has made significant progress regarding the F-35 gun since the data used for the DOT&E report. In the F-35A integral gun, we have implemented software updates and installed a field gun alignment aid to ensure proper gun barrel position. We tested this in December and the results were improved accuracy."
"It should be noted that the B and C models carry a LO belly gun pod mounted on centerline and had no barrel alignment issues. As for the software on all variants, conversion conditions and algorithms were reviewed. Updated conversions have been implemented in the software and the corrected software has been delivered to the field.”
"It remains the warfighter’s choice when to update to the newest software. This software provides improved precision, further highlighting the value of agile software implementation. We knew the complexity of incorporating a gun on a high-performance aircraft would be a challenge, but we are confident in the steps we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made."
This has been Lockheed’s standard response since the DOT&E first began to report on the F-35: “We are aware of the issues raised by DOT&E, and they have long been fixed,” which is invariably not the case.
Click here for the full report (14 PDF pages), on the DOT&E website.