What is a Joint Strike Fighter Plane
Joint Strike Fighter: The F-35 has "only" 873 defects
Due to numerous development problems, it took a while to ramp up production of the F-35 Lightning II. Last year, however, the final assembly lines in Fort Worth, Texas, Cameri (Italy) and Nagoya (Japan) delivered 134 aircraft to the nine countries that currently have the fifth-generation stealth fighter in service. From June 2019 to March 2020 alone, the number climbed from 400 to 500, of which 354 F-35A, 108 F-35B with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities and 38 F-35C for use on aircraft carriers. The anniversary aircraft, an F-35A, went to the "Green Mountain Boys" of the Vermont Air National Guard (158th Fighter Wing) based in South Burlington.
Over 3200 F-35s are to be built
The Joint Strike Fighter program now has a total of 23 bases worldwide with F-35 units - from Amendola in southern Italy and Cheongju in South Korea to Nevatim in Israel, Örland in Norway and Yuma in Arizona. Around 1,000 pilots and 9,000 maintenance technicians have now been trained on the fighter jet, which will form the backbone of more than a dozen air forces for decades to come. The previous program planning adds up to more than 3200 machines. These are by no means all firmly ordered. However, possible cancellations should be compensated for by further export sales. Lockheed Martin participates in the ongoing combat aircraft competitions in Switzerland, Finland and Canada, among others.
Eight of the previous users have declared their Lightning II to be ready for use for the time being, although the criteria for this were very different. More armed forces such as the Royal Australian Air Force, which has so far taken over 22 F-35A's, will join this year. The F-35 has also been used in combat over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The total number of flying hours worldwide (including the test program) was around 268,000 at the beginning of March.
Full series approval not yet given
So the program is really in motion: with further increases in production to 141 aircraft this year, 160 in 2021 and 170 in 2022. Accordingly, the unit costs for pre-series production lots 12, 13 and 14 should be around 13 percent to 77.9 million dollars ( 71 million euros) for the F-35A, to 101.3 million dollars (92 million euros) for the F-35B and to 94.4 million dollars (86 million euros) for the F-35C.
So good news for customers, but on the flip side, there is still a whole list of issues the JSF program is struggling with. The approval for full series production, which would also allow multi-year contracts, is still pending. According to the Pentagon, the so-called Milestone C will probably not be reached until January 2021, with a delay of up to 13 months.
Elaborate troop trials
The reason for this is that the IOT&E phase (initial operational test and evaluation) that began in December 2018 has still not been completed. Most flight attempts have now been completed despite the poor availability of the test fleet. But complex scenarios, for example regarding the actual advantages of the low detectability on the battlefield, can only be played through in complex simulations. To do this, an F-35 data model has to be integrated into the so-called Joint Simulation Environment, which takes significantly longer than expected.
Long list of shortcomings
The formal testing and certification of the troop tests is the responsibility of Robert Behler, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation of the Pentagon. His department is notorious for detailing the ongoing problems with the F-35. The 2019 annual report on the JSF again comprises 14 tightly printed pages and begins with the sentence: "The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program still has 873 unsolved problems ..." (13 of which are Category I). The points raised in the report include:
- Persistent problems (4700 defects) with the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which is essential for the F-35 to operate. Instead of constant software patchwork, a completely new development approach should help.
- The life tests of the F-35B have to be repeated because the structure has since been redesigned and the rather bad results are no longer relevant.
- Existing F-35s require certain parts such as bulkheads to be treated with a laser shot peening process to slow down fatigue.
- On the F-35A, cracks appear on a longitudinal belt in the area of the on-board cannon, the effects of which are still being examined. The precision of the cannon is still unacceptable.
- The cybersecurity of the F-35 needs to be improved.
- The reliability is still below the required values. The maintenance effort is very high and has not decreased over time as expected.
So there is still a lot to be done to improve the F-35 and to integrate new capabilities, for example to expand the currently very limited selection of weapons. Here the report is cautious: "The current process of continuous skill development and provision (C2D2) could not keep pace with the new skill gains as planned. Software changes ... often led to stability problems and impaired other functions. Because of this Inadequacies and a large number of planned new capabilities, DOT & E considers the current master plan ... to be a high risk. "
The customers of the Joint Strike Fighter
Royal Australian Air Force
Requirement: 100 x F-35A First delivery: December 2014 Initial operational readiness: December 2020 planned
Requirement: 34 x F-35A First delivery: from 2023
Requirement: 27 x F-35A
First delivery: from 2021
Royal Air Force (Great Britain)
Requirements: 138 x F-35B
First delivery: July 19, 2012 (first F-35 for an export customer)
Initial operational readiness: January 2019
Cheil ha-Avir (Israel)
Requirement: 50 x F-35A
First delivery: June 22nd, 2016
Initial operational readiness: December 2017
Aeronautica Militare Italiana
Requirements: 60 x F-35A, 30 x F-35B
First delivery: December 3, 2015 (Cameri final assembly line)
Initial operational readiness: November 2018
Koku Jieitai (Japan)
Requirements: 105 x F-35A, 42 x F-35B
First delivery: September 23, 2016
Initial operational readiness: March 2019
Royal Canadian Air Force (Canada)
Requirements: 88 x F-35A
Comments: Canada has participated in the F-35 program from the start but has not yet made a formal procurement decision. Rather, a fighter competition is currently underway, with candidates including the Boeing F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, the F-35A and the Saab Gripen.
Koninglijke Luchtmacht (Netherlands)
Requirements: 46 x F-35A
First delivery: July 15, 2013 (first F-35A for export customers)
Initial operational readiness: planned for the end of 2021
Requirements: 52 x F-35A
First delivery: September 22nd, 2015
Initial operational readiness: November 2019
Siły Powietrzne (Poland)
Requirement: 32 x F-35A
First delivery: from 2024
Comments: Order confirmed on January 31, 2020
Dae Han Min Guk Gong Gun (South Korea)
Requirement: 40 x F-35A
First delivery: March 28, 2018
Türk Hava Kuvetleri
Requirement: 100 x F-35A
First delivery: June 21, 2018
Remarks: On July 17, 2019, the Pentagon announced that it would remove Turkey from the JSF program for purchasing Russian air defense systems. F-35A that have already been delivered will remain in the USA.
US Air Force
Requirements: 1763 x F-35A
First delivery: May 2011
Initial operational readiness: August 2016
US Marine Corps
Requirements: 353 x F-35B, 67 x F-35C
First delivery: November 16, 2012 (arrival in Yuma)
Initial availability: July 2015
Requirement: 273 x F-35
First delivery: June 24, 2013
Initial operational readiness: February 2019
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