Entire weapons tester report highlights F-35 availability, software program complications

WASHINGTON — Lagging availability charges, flareups of new software package problems, and a stubborn amount of open deficiencies plagued the troubled and regularly delayed F-35 fighter in 2021, in accordance to a newly-discovered version of the Pentagon’s weapons tester’s report.

For the very first time, the Office environment of the Director, Operational Test and Analysis in January only produced to the general public an “uncontrolled” variation of its yearly report. Particulars about shortfalls in essential programs were being relegated to a “controlled” — but however unclassified — edition kept from the community.

The watchdog group Venture on Governing administration Oversight received, and last 7 days posted on-line, the managed report, which fleshes out some of the issues hinted at in the publicly introduced edition.

Dan Grazier, a armed service analyst for POGO and a vocal critic of the F-35 software, claimed in a March 11 interview the Pentagon’s secrecy on this report is troubling and undermines the efficiency of its tests office environment.

“The Pentagon did go to truly remarkable lengths to try to disguise these information,” Grazier stated. “That’s not the way this is meant to work.”

And in a March 9 write-up on POGO’s site, Grazier said the report reveals “stagnation and even backsliding” in some regions applied to measure the fleet’s reliability.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, method executive officer for the F-35 Joint Software Office, said in a March 8 roundtable with reporters, ahead of POGO posted the comprehensive report, that 2021 was “a really excellent 12 months for the system, irrespective of all of the chaos that appeared to surround it.”

He pointed to the 142 F-35s the method shipped in 2021, beating the goal of 139 fighters, as an example of progress — but acknowledged troubles remained with engine creation and the means to carry out critical simulation checks essential for a conclusion on whole-charge output.

Some of the F-35′s largest remaining difficulties highlighted by the total DOT&E report were:

  • The F-35′s availability is even now lagging, and a absence of spare parts and absolutely-purposeful engines has harm it.

The F-35 noticed a “program superior peak” in aircraft availability in January 2021, the managed edition of the report claimed, when it hit 70%. But for the duration of the yr, the report mentioned, availability prices “plateaued,” and in June commenced to slide ahead of hitting a small of 53% in September. Throughout fiscal 2021, the entire F-35 fleet averaged 61% availability, under its focus on of 65%. The F-35 has constantly stayed over 50% availability given that December 2018.

Of the common 39% unavailable at any supplied time, 15% were down for upkeep, 16% had been waiting around on spare pieces and a further 8% had been going through depot routine maintenance.

The report stated the progress the F-35 designed just before June was due to two things: an influx of new plane that did not need time in the depots, and a application work concentrating on rising the availability of spare parts.

That spare components increase did not previous, on the other hand, and the report stated the post-June decline was mainly for the reason that spare sections weren’t out there when they essential. In a newly-revealed passage, the DOT&E report claimed 15% of the F-35 fleet was sidelined owing to a deficiency of spare components in May 2021. By December, a total quarter of the fleet was down for that reason.

Grazier wrote on POGO’s website this has quite troubling implications for the military’s capacity to consistently maintain the F-35 completely ready to fly.

“What that implies is the F-35 did not quickly turn into a much more reputable plane in 2021,” Grazier wrote. “It indicates that it will take extraordinary energy to keep the fleet running even shut to the needed ranges and implies that those availability fees are not sustainable prolonged-phrase.”

Fick acknowledged the drop in F-35 mission able costs March 9 at the McAleese Defense Courses Meeting in Washington March 9, but pledged to deal with the root brings about of the challenges that led to that readiness decline, which include a shortage of F135 electricity modules.

Fick also explained at the celebration the F-35 system is having various actions to boost the overall health of the fleet, including trying to keep elements on the aircraft lengthier, making certain plenty of spare components are on hand when all those areas fall short, and bolstering repair capacity for a expanding fleet.

“No application is fantastic, and a system as intricate as the F-35 will usually have problems,” Fick said. “But none of these worries are insurmountable.”

The JPO declined to remark on data from the managed model of the report.

But that non-community version went into more depth on the scarcity of entirely useful F135 engines, worsened by a deficiency of depot restore ability, that further drove down availability prices. This was specifically felt by the F-35A, the report reported.

One particular 7 days in June, there ended up 38 F-35s down awaiting a operating motor. By the very last full 7 days of the fiscal year, there have been 52 F-35s ready for an motor.

The products and services attempt to regulate the scarcity of engines by giving fight-coded units the precedence to get spares more than examination and teaching units, the report claimed — but the shortage has yet hit deployed units as perfectly. The U.S. military’s 214 beat-coded F-35s averaged 70% availability during 2021, but that number dipped as minimal as 63% at a person point.

Right after highlighting the progress built in plane generation in the March 8 briefing, Fick acknowledged the propulsion facet was “not rather as excellent of a story.” The plan hoped to supply 159 engines very last year, but only made 152, all but four of which have been late.

Fick explained none of the late engines led to late shipping and delivery of a creation plane, but the system is doing work with Pratt & Whitney to get its engine deliveries back on routine. Fick stated the COVID pandemic — specifically better prices of absenteeism — had a huge effect on the program’s ability to produce engines on time.

  • Its computer software applications aren’t currently being analyzed properly for concealed bugs — and, in at least one particular circumstance, a program that was doing work wonderful bought damaged when a new capacity was added elsewhere.

The F-35 program’s developmental check teams have not been funded ample to do the right tests, knowledge assessment or regression tests on new software program ahead of it is sent, the report reported.

In a passage omitted from the public variation, the report explained abilities for the Purpose-120 Advanced Medium-Variety Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, that had been doing the job on an before version of application broke when the advancement team experimented with to insert abilities for an additional weapon.

The F-35′s technique to software package improvement in the Block 4 modernization energy, named Steady Functionality Improvement and Shipping, or C2D2, aims to create, exam and roll out software package updates made up of modest batches of new capabilities or fixes to deficiencies just about every six months, in its place of using many years to establish and deliver all the necessary capabilities at as soon as.

But this technique has “proven unsustainable,” the report stated, and the F-35 Joint Plan Business extended that timeline of updates from every six months to the moment a year.

This procedure of incremental updates “often released steadiness difficulties,” or led to complications with other capabilities, the report stated. This meant operational take a look at units and field units in many situations ended up the types to discover the issues — occasionally important operational deficiencies — with the computer software updates. Past yr, operational test groups identified challenges with the F-35′s weapons, fusion communications and navigation, cybersecurity and concentrating on procedures.

Grazier explained this demonstrates the trouble with fielding an plane whose structure is not comprehensive.

“If you’re going to have a computer software-pushed structure, you improved make sure that initial software package is the 95% answer,” Grazier mentioned. “Even with easy plans, when you start producing changes in software in 1 put, you are very likely generating problems someplace else that have been unanticipated. So you better make sure that your first variation is pretty close to what you will need — particularly right before you start out creating hundreds and hundreds of them.”

Fick explained that thanks to a holdup of funding in fiscal 2021, the method experienced to temporarily suspend most of the program’s Block 4 improvement, other than for important things these kinds of as electronic warfare configurations. The arrival of cash in 2022 authorized the software to resume “the lion’s share” of Block 4 advancement, Fick said.

JPO spokeswoman Laura Seal explained in a March 16 email the business “has sent a lot of new abilities and sustainment enhancements utilizing the C2D2 agile assemble.”

“The JPO has taken feed-back from our testers and shoppers and utilised it to boost the way we supply software,” Seal explained. “To this conclusion, the F-35 organization has built important development in reworking into an agile supply enterprise. Finally, the F-35 plan provides computer software on a warfighter-relevant timeline and our warfighters make a decision to acquire the application based mostly on their assessment of the rewards of incorporating this computer software into their fleets.

  • The amount of deficiencies has scarcely budged, due to the fact new issues preserve popping up.

Final 12 months, the DOT&E report tallied the amount of open up F-35 deficiencies at 871, 10 of which were being Class 1 deficiencies, the most severe.

That improved in fiscal 2021 — but not by a great deal. The F-35 had 845 open deficiencies, including 6 Category 1 deficiencies, at the stop of the fiscal year. That variety was not shared with the public until eventually POGO released the managed variation of the report.

The report said F-35 method is doing the job on addressing issues that have been identified in the course of the method improvement and demonstration method. But the amount of deficiencies isn’t shrinking significantly simply because new troubles keep on to be located.

By March 1, in accordance to the hottest figures from the JPO, that number had developed all over again to 873 full open deficiencies. That features 5 Category 1B deficiencies, which can seriously have an impact on mission readiness and preserve a mission from being achieved, though there are no open up 1A deficiencies that pose a danger to the pilot’s lifetime or a reduction of the plane.

Seal claimed most of the new deficiency experiences stem from difficulties that emerged in new capabilities added to the F-35. The JPO shut 171 deficiency stories in 2021, she explained.

“Warfighters have assessed that appropriate mitigations exist for the remaining deficiencies,” Seal explained. “Deficiency resolution is an ongoing hard work, and deficiencies are resolved in concert with warfighters’ prioritization and useful resource allocation.”

She also reported the probable consequences of open up deficiencies on missions or operations are documented in pilot manuals and instruction materials.

But Grazier explained that the continual discovery of new troubles means 2021′s decrease to 845 open deficiencies shouldn’t be found as a signal of success.

“It sounds like they’re making improvements, but genuinely it is a single action ahead and two-thirds of a step back again,” Grazier reported.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Protection Information. He beforehand documented for Armed forces.com, covering the Pentagon, specific operations and air warfare. Ahead of that, he included U.S. Air Power management, staff and functions for Air Power Moments.