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Full weapons tester report highlights F-35 availability, software problems

Full weapons tester report highlights F-35 availability, software problems

WASHINGTON — Lagging availability charges, flareups of new software complications, and a stubborn amount of open up deficiencies plagued the troubled and consistently delayed F-35 fighter in 2021, in accordance to a newly-disclosed edition of the Pentagon’s weapons tester’s report.

For the first time, the Office environment of the Director, Operational Test and Analysis in January only launched to the public an “uncontrolled” edition of its once-a-year report. Details about shortfalls in vital packages were being relegated to a “controlled” — but nevertheless unclassified — edition kept from the community.

The watchdog team Venture on Governing administration Oversight acquired, and very last 7 days posted on line, the managed report, which fleshes out some of the issues hinted at in the publicly introduced model.

Dan Grazier, a army analyst for POGO and a vocal critic of the F-35 software, mentioned in a March 11 interview the Pentagon’s secrecy on this report is troubling and undermines the performance of its screening place of work.

“The Pentagon did go to actually extraordinary lengths to try to cover these details,” Grazier claimed. “That’s not the way this is supposed to do the job.”

And in a March 9 publish on POGO’s weblog, Grazier said the report reveals “stagnation and even backsliding” in some regions employed to measure the fleet’s reliability.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, software executive officer for the F-35 Joint System Place of work, explained in a March 8 roundtable with reporters, before POGO posted the complete report, that 2021 was “a really superior yr for the software, even with all of the chaos that appeared to encompass it.”

He pointed to the 142 F-35s the system delivered in 2021, beating the purpose of 139 fighters, as an instance of development — but acknowledged challenges remained with engine manufacturing and the skill to execute essential simulation assessments needed for a choice on comprehensive-fee output.

Some of the F-35′s major remaining complications highlighted by the entire DOT&E report were:

  • The F-35′s availability is even now lagging, and a deficiency of spare components and completely-purposeful engines has hurt it.

The F-35 observed a “program substantial peak” in aircraft availability in January 2021, the managed edition of the report said, when it hit 70%. But through the yr, the report reported, availability charges “plateaued,” and in June started to slide ahead of hitting a very low of 53% in September. During fiscal 2021, the whole F-35 fleet averaged 61% availability, beneath its target of 65%. The F-35 has persistently stayed previously mentioned 50% availability considering that December 2018.

Of the common 39% unavailable at any specified time, 15% had been down for maintenance, 16% had been ready on spare areas and yet another 8% ended up undergoing depot maintenance.

The report stated the progress the F-35 designed in advance of June was because of to two aspects: an influx of new aircraft that didn’t demand time in the depots, and a software effort concentrating on expanding the availability of spare elements.

That spare components increase didn’t very last, nevertheless, and the report said the article-June decline was largely simply because spare pieces weren’t obtainable when they necessary. In a newly-revealed passage, the DOT&E report explained 15% of the F-35 fleet was sidelined owing to a deficiency of spare elements in May 2021. By December, a complete quarter of the fleet was down for that purpose.

Grazier wrote on POGO’s internet site this has extremely troubling implications for the military’s potential to regularly keep the F-35 prepared to fly.

“What that suggests is the F-35 did not instantly turn out to be a far more dependable aircraft in 2021,” Grazier wrote. “It suggests that it takes amazing effort to keep the fleet operating even close to the necessary concentrations and suggests that those people availability costs are not sustainable extended-phrase.”

Fick acknowledged the drop in F-35 mission able rates March 9 at the McAleese Protection Packages Meeting in Washington March 9, but pledged to tackle the root leads to of the problems that led to that readiness decrease, which include a shortage of F135 electricity modules.

Fick also explained at the occasion the F-35 system is having a number of steps to enhance the well being of the fleet, like keeping sections on the aircraft for a longer time, ensuring adequate spare sections are on hand when those people areas are unsuccessful, and bolstering repair service ability for a developing fleet.

“No program is best, and a application as intricate as the F-35 will usually have challenges,” Fick said. “But none of these challenges are insurmountable.”

The JPO declined to remark on information and facts from the managed version of the report.

But that non-general public version went into additional depth on the lack of totally purposeful F135 engines, worsened by a lack of depot repair service capability, that even further drove down availability prices. This was especially felt by the F-35A, the report said.

A person 7 days in June, there ended up 38 F-35s down awaiting a doing the job engine. By the last comprehensive 7 days of the fiscal calendar year, there were being 52 F-35s waiting around for an motor.

The companies try out to control the scarcity of engines by providing combat-coded units the priority to get spares in excess of examination and coaching units, the report claimed — but the scarcity has nonetheless hit deployed models as very well. The U.S. military’s 214 battle-coded F-35s averaged 70% availability all over 2021, but that number dipped as minimal as 63% at just one stage.

Right after highlighting the progress created in aircraft manufacturing in the March 8 briefing, Fick acknowledged the propulsion facet was “not quite as wonderful of a tale.” The method hoped to produce 159 engines final yr, but only developed 152, all but 4 of which were late.

Fick mentioned none of the late engines led to late shipping and delivery of a generation aircraft, but the system is doing the job with Pratt & Whitney to get its motor deliveries back again on program. Fick claimed the COVID pandemic — notably greater fees of absenteeism — experienced a massive outcome on the program’s ability to produce engines on time.

  • Its program applications aren’t remaining tested thoroughly for concealed bugs — and, in at minimum just one situation, a program that was performing good received broken when a new functionality was included elsewhere.

The F-35 program’s developmental examination teams have not been funded sufficient to do the appropriate tests, knowledge examination or regression exams on new software program just before it’s delivered, the report explained.

In a passage omitted from the community model, the report reported abilities for the Goal-120 Sophisticated Medium-Selection Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, that had been working on an earlier edition of software broke when the enhancement group attempted to add capabilities for a further weapon.

The F-35′s technique to computer software progress in the Block 4 modernization work, named Steady Capability Advancement and Shipping and delivery, or C2D2, aims to build, take a look at and roll out program updates made up of smaller batches of new capabilities or fixes to deficiencies each 6 months, instead of getting decades to build and produce all the essential abilities at as soon as.

But this method has “proven unsustainable,” the report mentioned, and the F-35 Joint Program Place of work prolonged that timeline of updates from each individual six months to as soon as a calendar year.

This course of action of incremental updates “often introduced stability difficulties,” or led to challenges with other abilities, the report mentioned. This meant operational take a look at models and industry models in several conditions have been the ones to come across the problems — from time to time important operational deficiencies — with the software updates. Past calendar year, operational examination teams identified issues with the F-35′s weapons, fusion communications and navigation, cybersecurity and focusing on procedures.

Grazier reported this demonstrates the challenge with fielding an plane whose layout isn’t complete.

“If you’re likely to have a computer software-driven design and style, you superior make absolutely sure that original software is the 95% solution,” Grazier said. “Even with straightforward packages, when you start off creating alterations in software in one particular position, you are very likely creating problems someplace else that ended up unanticipated. So you greater make certain that your authentic edition is really close to what you need — particularly ahead of you commence constructing hundreds and hundreds of them.”

Fick reported that thanks to a holdup of funding in fiscal 2021, the system had to quickly suspend most of the program’s Block 4 enhancement, apart from for essential components this kind of as electronic warfare configurations. The arrival of cash in 2022 authorized the program to resume “the lion’s share” of Block 4 development, Fick mentioned.

JPO spokeswoman Laura Seal said in a March 16 e-mail the business office “has shipped numerous new abilities and sustainment enhancements utilizing the C2D2 agile assemble.”

“The JPO has taken comments from our testers and customers and used it to enhance the way we supply computer software,” Seal stated. “To this conclude, the F-35 organization has manufactured significant progress in transforming into an agile shipping and delivery business. Eventually, the F-35 method delivers software package on a warfighter-applicable timeline and our warfighters come to a decision to consider the program centered on their review of the added benefits of incorporating this application into their fleets.

  • The quantity of deficiencies has barely budged, mainly because new problems retain popping up.

Last calendar year, the DOT&E report tallied the variety of open F-35 deficiencies at 871, 10 of which have been Classification 1 deficiencies, the most really serious.

That enhanced in fiscal 2021 — but not by a great deal. The F-35 experienced 845 open deficiencies, including six Class 1 deficiencies, at the close of the fiscal 12 months. That amount was not shared with the public until eventually POGO produced the managed model of the report.

The report stated F-35 method is performing on addressing difficulties that have been recognized throughout the technique progress and demonstration process. But the number of deficiencies is not shrinking significantly due to the fact new challenges go on to be located.

By March 1, in accordance to the most current figures from the JPO, that range had developed yet again to 873 complete open deficiencies. That involves five Group 1B deficiencies, which can severely have an affect on mission readiness and continue to keep a mission from being completed, though there are no open up 1A deficiencies that pose a risk to the pilot’s lifestyle or a decline of the aircraft.

Seal reported most of the new deficiency experiences stem from difficulties that emerged in new abilities extra to the F-35. The JPO shut 171 deficiency stories in 2021, she claimed.

“Warfighters have assessed that suitable mitigations exist for the remaining deficiencies,” Seal claimed. “Deficiency resolution is an ongoing effort, and deficiencies are settled in concert with warfighters’ prioritization and useful resource allocation.”

She also stated the possible results of open up deficiencies on missions or operations are documented in pilot manuals and training elements.

But Grazier said that the continual discovery of new complications indicates 2021′s decrease to 845 open up deficiencies shouldn’t be noticed as a signal of achievement.

“It appears like they are creating advancements, but seriously it is one particular phase forward and two-thirds of a action back again,” Grazier mentioned.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Protection Information. He formerly documented for Military.com, masking the Pentagon, exclusive functions and air warfare. Ahead of that, he covered U.S. Air Pressure leadership, personnel and functions for Air Drive Situations.