F-35 Program Still Plagued By Many Major Problems, Official Says
© AP Photo / Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn FordIn this Sept. 10, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Air Force, an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet is directed out of a hangar at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
© AP Photo / Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn Ford
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The $1.7 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program remains mired in resolved problems with all US armed services many years behind schedule in deploying their planned operating capabilities and even testing and evaluation at least five years late, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chair Donald Norcross said.
All services declared their original [F-35] initial operating capability status many years later than planned," Norcross said on Wednesday.
"System Design and Development was completed years later than planned and the program has yet to finish Initial Operational Test and Evaluation activities, which is now on track to be nearly 5 years late."
Norcross said the F-35's Tech Refresh 3 (TR-3) program is designed to provide a new core processor, radar upgrade and cockpit display to modernize the aircraft but TR-3 too now faces additional major delays and unresolved problems too.
TR-3 and Block 4 development and fielding has slipped later than planned, and TR-3, which was just re-baselined last summer, is not meeting its new schedule and has overrun its estimated cost by nearly $550 million, he said.
"We have an existing F-35 propulsion system that was not designed to meet the power and thermal management specifications required to adequately support Block 4 capabilities, nor is the engine currently meeting the mission capability, cost, and maintenance enterprise metrics the services can afford and need long-term," Norcross said.
The full transition of the F-35 jet's old and much troubled ALIS logistical support program to the new ODIN maintenance system was promised by the F-35 program leadership to be fully fielded in December 2022 but that is now not occurring either, Norcross added.
US Air Force Faces Capability Gap of 400 Aircraft in Next 5 Years
US Air Force plans to "retire" some 646 aircraft over the next five years will leave its combat fleet 400 planes short in terms of capability, Norcross said.
"New to everyone this year is that the Air Force proposes over the next 5 years to retire 646 tactical fighter aircraft while only purchasing 246 new aircraft, leaving a significant capacity and capability gap of 400 aircraft," Norcross said on Wednesday.
The A-10 Thunderbolt force that has provided tactical ground support for the US Army for decades will be completely removed from the active USAF inventory by 2028 and the new F-15EX buy has been cut nearly in half at only 80 aircraft, Norcross said.
"[O]ne-half of the F-15E fleet, about 105 aircraft, will be retired without a plan to replace a similar quantity of aircraft; new F-35 aircraft purchases have been reduced by 42 aircraft," Norcorss said.
Also, a capable portion of the F-22 fleet that the US Air Force has neglected over the years is being retired as the Next Generation Air Dominance program is delayed years beyond original plans briefed to this committee, he added.