Lockheed’s F-35 at risk of costly fixes – Congress watchdog says
April 26, 2022 - The U.S. and allies buying F-35 fighter jets could face added costs as problems emerge during long-delayed combat simulation tests, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Completion of combat testing is legally required before the Pentagon approves full-rate production. The more aircraft produced before testing is complete, the more it will cost to retrofit them.
The GAO concludes that delays in developing the F-35 simulator for essential software testing have impeded reaching the full-rate milestone.
There are 24 million individual lines of code in the F-35 system alone. The F-35 operating software is released in blocks, adding additional capabilities from one block to the next.
The F-35’s Block 4 software upgrade cost has risen by $741 million since 2020 to about $15 billion and will stretch to 2029, three years later than planned. Block 4 will enable some F-35As to be dual-capable, meaning that they will have the ability to deliver B61-12 nuclear weapons.
The Block 4 software upgrade also increases the flexibility of the F-35 with more missiles, longer ranges and artificial intelligence -- such as flying the XQ-58A “Valkyrie” uncrewed combat aircraft. The increased processing power will also benefit electronic warfare capabilities in jamming enemy radar and transmissions.
The GAO also criticised engine contractor Pratt & Whitney for delivering “nearly all” F-35 engines late in 2021, delivering just six of the 152 on time.
The Pentagon also continues to grapple with five previously undisclosed deficiencies with the aircraft’s onboard system to prevent fuel tank fires and the engines, rudder and electronic combat system, the GAO said.
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