According to the Pentagon’s key weapons tester, Robert Behler, the new-generation F-35 jet is still failing to meet full combat readiness targets and, despite some headway on reliability issues, all three versions of the fighter break down “more often than planned”, Bloomberg reported.
“The operational suitability of the F-35 fleet remains at a level below service expectations”, Behler said in prepared remarks on Wednesday, addressing two House Armed Services Committee panels.
Nevertheless, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Programme Manager Greg Ulmer retorted after the hearing that he doesn’t “necessarily agree” with Behler’s conclusions.
“If you look lot-over-lot, reliability and maintainability is significantly better for the airplanes delivering off the line”, he said, while admitting that there were some issues that they “are going after”.
Just weeks earlier, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin announced that they had fulfilled the largest contract in the programme’s history – a deal valued at $34 billion for 478 additional aircraft.
Despite the manufacturer not having completed all of its due testing, new F-35s worth roughly $27 billion have been placed on contract. For the time being, 458 jets have been crossed out of a list of overall 3,500 planes to be purchased by the US and its allies from as far afield as Australia and Poland. The Pentagon’s approval for full-fledged production, which has now been delayed, is slated for 2020.