Tests of how Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will perform in combat won’t begin until at least August 2018, a year later than planned, and more than 500 of the fighter jets may be built before the assessment is complete, according to the Pentagon’s test office.
“These aircraft will require a still-to-be-determined list of modifications” to be fully capable, Michel Gilmore, the U.S. Defense Department’s top weapons tester, said in his annual report on major programs. “However, these modifications may be unaffordable for the services as they consider the cost of upgrading these early lots of aircraft while the program continues to increase production rates in a fiscally constrained environment.”
The Defense Department plans a fleet of 2,443 F-35s for the U.S., plus hundreds more to be purchased by allies, including the U.K., Italy, Australia and Japan. The costliest U.S. weapons program, at a projected $391 billion, the F-35 is being produced even as it’s still being developed, a strategy a top Pentagon official once called “acquisition malpractice.”
Despite the plane’s many problems, “F-35 production rates have been allowed to steadily increase to large rates,” Gilmore said in his annual report to congressional defense committees.
The Pentagon wants to increase the number of F-35s purchased for the U.S. to 92 annually by 2020 from 38 last year. The number jumps to 120 a year when foreign sales are included. For this year, Congress added 11 aircraft to the 57 requested.
Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed’s chairman and chief executive officer, told analysts on a Jan. 26 earnings call that the company expects to increase F-35 deliveries to about 100 in 2018 from 45 last year.
Gilmore said the delay in testing stems from flaws in the “3F” software that gives the F-35 its full combat capability. Testing of the software isn’t likely to be completed until at least January 2018, or 15 months behind the October 2016 date set when the program was reorganized in 2012, he said. The F-35 is a flying computer, with more than 8 million lines of software code. (end of excerpt)
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