Lockheed and Martin F-35C fighter pilots have detected a flaw in their Generation III helmet heads up display's (HUDs) LED systems, causing a pernicious green glow in daytime skies, hindering their night-time flying capabilities when approaching aircraft carrier lights, Military.com reported Tuesday.
"There are some complexities with the green glow that we deal with right now, but we only do it with experienced pilots," Cmdr. Tommy "Bo" Locke of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 125 told defense reporters aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln Monday.
"In that really dark environment, you can't get the display down low enough where you can still process the image on the display, and once you bring the display up high enough where you can that information it conflicts with the outside world."
The US Navy is working on a software upgrade solution to dim the green aura, but only the best F-35C pilots can safely land their planes on carriers at night. One proposal was to use organic LED (OLED), which will be ready for field testing "sometime early next year," Locke stated.
The costly $400,000 helmet was reportedly affected by the glitch in 2012. Previous software upgrades have been unable to sort out the problem.
A June 2018 Government Accountability Office report showed that, as of January 2018, "the F-35 program had 966 open deficiencies-111 category 1 and 855 category 2," it stated. Category 1 deficiencies are "those that could jeopardize safety, security, or another critical requirement," while Category 2 deficiencies "are those that could impede or constrain successful mission accomplishment," the report continues.
The latest malfunction in F-35 technologies follows a laundry list of technical difficulties.
The GAO report notes that the plane's estimated acquisition cost, including development and procurement funding, is over $406 billion, making it the Department of Defense's most expensive program.
It also noted in 2016 that block buying, a process where the Pentagon forces buyers to acquire F-35s in bulk rather than individually, "could present oversight challenges for Congress." Block buying has often been attributed for long-term maintenance and upgrade disasters, where buyers must upgrade an entire fleet with costly software and hardware. The report mentions that when GAO recommended ceasing this purchase strategy, the Pentagon refused.
The GAO report also found that, from April 2014 to August 2017, 21 incidences were recorded on "hose and drogue" refueling probes, which broke off while in mid-flight, restricting aerial refueling operations. Additionally, all F-35 variants can only land 10 times before requiring new tires. Newer model tires have been added to the F-35B and will undergo rigorous testing in late 2018.
The F-35s Life Support Systems (LSS) has also struggled with a potentially deadly problem: not providing oxygen during flights. From May to August 2017, six occurrences were reported where pilots began suffocating in the cockpit. To date, no specific cause has been identified.
In October 2015, flight testers noticed that the Martin-Baker US16E ejection seats used in F-35s were snapping the necks of test pilot dummies ejecting during lower cruise speeds, Defence News reported. The US military imposed a weight restriction of 136 or more pounds on fighter pilots operating the plane.
Rep. Jackie Speier, House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations member, slammed the Pentagon for rushing field testing at the expense of servicemen. "This is yet another example of the kind of procurement malpractice we should be avoiding," she stated.
The GAO uses eight metrics to assess fighter pilot readiness and performance, but F-35 variants only met three of them, remaining unchanged since 2017. Out of the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C, all variants could successfully complete missions of average durations, but only the F-35 A and C had adequate time between design-controlled failures, in addition to maintenance man hours per flight hour. Only the F-35C required satisfactory time to repair, with the A and B variants falling short.
Let's Go for a Death Ride
The F35's Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is tasked with monitoring the plane's health, but is heavily resistant to human overrides, making it lethal if hacked. However, subsequent software updates have failed to fully resolve the problem, according to the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation office.
"This is a juicy, juicy target for a hacker," CBS correspondent David Martin told 60 minutes in June 2014. "If your adversary can hack into all that software that's running [the mission], then they've essentially defeated the plane," he noted, citing HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In a follow-up to the problematic discovery, a DOT&E report stated, "each new version of software, while adding some new capability, failed to resolve all the deficiencies identified in earlier releases."