(Reuters) – A new U.S. Defense Department report warns that ongoing software, maintenance and reliability problems with Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter could delay the Marine Corps’ plans to start using its F-35 jets by mid-2015.
The latest report by the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, provides a detailed critique of the F-35’s technical challenges, and focuses heavily on what it calls the “unacceptable” performance of the plane’s software, according to a 25-page draft obtained by Reuters.
The report forecast a possible 13-month delay in completing testing of the Block 2B software needed for the Marine Corps to clear the jets for initial combat use next year, a priority given the high cost of maintaining current aging warplanes.
The report, due to be sent to Congress this week, said the aircraft is proving less reliable and harder to maintain than expected, and remains vulnerable to propellant fires sparked by missile strikes.
Gilmore’s report acknowledged the F-35’s progress in 2013 on flight testing, despite government furloughs and two fleet-wide groundings. But it said the program was still struggling to integrate the plane’s “mission systems,” or sensors, weapons and other equipment needed for use in military operations.
The current software generated too many nuisance warnings and resulted in poor sensor performance. Further work on software had been slowed by testing required to validate earlier fixes, the report said.
It said Lockheed had delivered F-35 jets with 50 percent or less of the software capabilities required by its production contracts with the Pentagon.
The computer-based logistics system known as ALIS was fielded with “serious deficiencies” and remained behind schedule, which affected servicing of existing jets needed for flight testing, the report said. It said the ALIS diagnostic system failed to meet even basic requirements.
But the most immediate concern involved the Block 2B version of the software that must be completed in order for the Marines to start using the jets from July 2015.
“Initial results with the new increment of Block 2B software indicate deficiencies still exist in fusion, radar, electronic warfare, navigation, electro-optical target system, distributed aperture system, helmet-mounted display system, and datalink,” the report said, noting the problems could delay efforts to complete Block 2B development and flight test.
Full article: Exclusive: Pentagon report faults F-35 on software, reliability (Reuters)