Documents recently obtained by Defense News reveal that the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is troubled with more than a dozen issues that could either put the lives of pilots at risk or jeopardize a mission outright.
The report reveals that as the F-35 aircraft went into operational testing in the fall of 2018, it did so with at least 13 issues that were deemed as category 1 deficiencies, which are described as possibly causing death, severe injury or illness, loss or damage to the aircraft or that critically restrict the pilot’s ability to be ready for combat, among other shortfalls.
Those deficiencies include: cabin pressure spikes giving pilots ear and sinus pain, supersonic flight in excess of Mach 1.2 causing structural damage to both the F-35B and F-35C variants, sea search mode of the F-35 aircraft only illuminating a slice of the sea’s surface and night vision camera making it difficult for pilots to see the horizon or land on aircraft carriers.
Also notable are the fighter jet’s issues with cold weather. “In very cold conditions — defined as at or near minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit — the F-35 will erroneously report that one of its batteries have failed, sometimes prompting missions to be aborted,” reads the report.
The cold weather battery issue arose in February 2018, when several F-35 jets were conducting flights out of Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base. Defense News’ reporting of the setback notes that officials discovered that the issue was the “result of extreme cold entering the plane when the doors to the jet’s nose landing gear were open.”
Officials say that the cold weather effectively overwhelmed the battery heater blanket, which was unable to continue to heat the plane’s 28-volt battery as fast as intended. Although the battery itself never actually shut down, the inability of the device to function at maximum power ultimately triggered the aircraft’s system to send a warning to the pilot.
Though Greg Ulmer, vice president of Lockheed’s F-35 aircraft production business, told Military.com that a software update has already been issued to resolve the cold weather matter, the same cannot be said for all of the problems faced by the program.
Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the Pentagon’s F-35 program executive, told Defense News that eight of the category 1 deficiencies are expected to remain as the aircraft goes into full-rate production.
In addition to the 13 listed deficiencies, officials with the US Department of Defense found another four category 1 problems that were linked to weapons interfaces. However, according to Winter, the issues are “not catastrophic.”
“If they were, they’d have to stop test. There’s nothing like that,” the official told Defense News. “They will be straightforward software fixes, we just need to get to them.”
When it comes to cost, Winter told the outlet that steps are being taken to make sure prices can be minimized as much as possible. He noted that expenses are being recorded and that he hopes Lockheed Martin may cover some costs.
This latest report of the US’ F-35 program comes as the Business Insider’s Ryan Pickrell named the program the worst weapons project that the US military is currently working on. Other projects that made the list include the USS Zumwalt, the littoral combat ship project and the $13 billion aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford.