Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Defense Department should give “serious reconsideration” to the rate at which it plans to buy the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter because the aircraft’s basic design has proven more unstable during testing than anticipated, according to a special internal report.
A team of Pentagon test, systems engineering and structural experts concluded in an Nov. 29 report there were “no fundamental design risks sufficient to preclude further production” of aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Still, it identified 13 current or likely test issues of varying severity, the combined impact of which “results in a lack of confidence” in the aircraft’s “design stability.” The issues include the Navy version’s tailhook for carrier landings, the system for dumping extra fuel on landing approach and excessive aircraft shaking during flight.
The instability has already resulted in more retrofits and changes than planned with “the most challenging portions of flight tests ahead,” said the 20-page “Quick Look” report prepared for acting Pentagon weapons buyer Frank Kendall. A stable aircraft design is less likely to require numerous, potential costly changes as test issue emerge.
“The program has been finding and expects to continue to find issues which will require consideration of potentially significant rework,” said the report. Data the team reviewed indicated a median of as much as two years between a glitch emerging, fix identified and retrofiting, for example.
The assessment, obtained by Bloomberg News, concluded that its lack of design confidence in conjunction with required fixes “supports serious reconsideration of procurement and production planning.”
The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s largest program, with plans to buy 2,443 jets for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It plans to concurrently produce as many as 472 aircraft in parallel to development testing; 58 are on contract today.
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