By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
A 55-page report this weekend made public a laundry list of flaws currently dragging on the F-35 fighter program and is complicated by a production plan called “Concurrency” that allows Lockheed Martin to churn out the jets while testing continues. Structural cracks, electrical gremlins and a “classified” problem are among those mentioned in the report. The program, already projected to cost one trillion dollars over the next 50 years, could now face another billion dollars in fixes. And aging fighters waiting to be replaced by the F-35 may have to hold the line years longer than originally expected.
The F-35 schedule has been adjusted twice since 2010 and it appears current delays could push the jet’s combat-ready date beyond 2018. Part of the problem appears to be a reliance on computer modeling that failed to predict problems found in testing. Those problems have produced more than 700 design changes even as jets begin rolling off the production line. And one version of the jet could be cancelled within two years if fixes aren’t found and implemented before then. In the current economic climate, the dollars and sense (intentional) of the program are growing more complicated. Boeing has offered design improvements for its F-15 and F-18 fighters as a sort of competitive plan B, just in case the F-35’s hurdles are hit with funding cuts that make some insurmountable. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has opted to cut F-35 orders this year and next year together by more than 20 percent.