The Defense Department still isn’t meeting its F-35 readiness goalsWASHINGTON — The F-35 joint strike fighter is still struggling to meet its mission capable rate goals, with current figures well below the military’s target, the Pentagon’s outgoing acquisition chief told reporters on Jan. 19.The Lockheed Martin-made F-35′s mission capable rate — which describes the percentage of aircraft that can meet at least one of its assigned missions — currently sits at 69 percent, falling short of the military’s longstanding 80 percent goal, said Ellen Lord, whose time as the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment ended Jan. 20 at noon after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president.When looking at fully mission capable aircraft able to perform all of the F-35′s assigned missions, “we’re currently at 36 percent fully mission capable, and we are striving to be at 50 percent for the fleet,” she added.Lord attributed the low percentage of fully mission capable jets to ongoing issues with the F-35′s canopy and the F135 engine’s power module.Although she did not elaborate, the program has grappled with a longstanding problem with “transparency delamination,” where outer layers of the canopy begin to peel away from the base. In 2019, an F-35 joint program office spokesman told Defense News that the department was working with canopy supplier GKN Aerospace to improve the design and increase the supply of canopy transparencies.Although the F-35′s mission capable rate has improved in recent years, the latest figures presented by Lord show that progress be stagnating.In testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee in July, Lord noted that the mission capable rate for the F-35 increased from about 60 percent in January 2020 to nearly 70 percent in June of that year. Full mission capable rates improved from below 40 percent to nearly 50 percent over the same time period, she wrote.A similar jump had been documented in Lord’s testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in November 2019, where she wrote that mission capable rates for combat-coded squadrons had increased from 55 percent in October 2018 to 73 percent in September 2019.It’s not always easy to chart the trajectory of whether the F-35′s readiness is improving due to a host of factors.Although Pentagon officials like Lord have, at times, provided updates about the jet’s mission capable rates, it is often unclear whether the numbers cited reflect a single point in time — an especially good month where more F-35s are ready to fly, for example — or a sustained trend. Officials also sometimes talk specifically about “operational” or “combat-coded” squadrons, which leaves out a lot of the early model F-35s used by training and test squadrons, which are more prone to breaking down and needing repairs.Other times, the department has made mission capable rate data inaccessible to the public. In a November report on aircraft readiness, the Government Accountability Office reported that mission capable rates of all three F-35 variants had been moving upwards since fiscal 2018, but did not provide specific figures because the Defense Department designated such information as sensitive.Between fiscal years 2012 through 2019, the F-35A was able to meet mission capable rate goals in two years, the GAO reported. The F-35B hit its objective in only one year from fiscal 2013 to 2019, and the F-35C met its target two years over the same period.The GAO noted that spare parts shortages had contributed to the F-35 not being able to meet readiness objectives.“Specifically, the F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter requirements,” the GAO stated. “Several factors contributed to these parts shortages, including F-35 parts breaking more often than expected, and DOD’s limited capability to repair parts when they break.”
The U.S. Air Force Just Admitted The F-35 Stealth Fighter Has Failedhttps://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2021/02/23/the-us-air-force-just-admitted-the-f-35-stealth-fighter-has-failed/
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force could be in the market for a brand-new, advanced, fourth-generation fighter jet as it looks to replace its oldest F-16s, the service’s top general said Wednesday.The Air Force has started a study that will describe its preferred mix of fighters and other tactical aircraft that will be used to help build the fiscal year 2023 budget. That result could include a brand new “four-and-a half or fifth-gen minus” fighter with capabilities that fall somewhere in between the 1970s era F-16 and stealthy fifth-generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35 joint strike fighter, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown.“If we have the capability to do something even more capable for cheaper and faster, why not? Let’s not just buy off the shelf, let’s actually take a look at something else out there that we can build,” Brown told reporters during a Defense Writers Group roundtable.Brown’s comments are the first time an Air Force official has spoken about introducing another fourth-generation aircraft into the service’s fighter inventory. In January, former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper disclosed that the service’s ongoing study will also weigh whether to buy new-build F-16s from Lockheed Martin.“As you look at the new F-16 production line in South Carolina, that system has some wonderful upgraded capabilities that are worth thinking about as part of our capacity solution,” Roper told Aviation Week.But Brown said he is still yet to be convinced that the F-16 is the right option.“I don’t know that it actually would be the F-16. Actually, I want to be able to build something new and different that’s not the F-16 — that has some of those capabilities, but gets there faster and features a digital approach,” he said. “I realize that folks have alluded that it will be a particular airplane. But I’m open to looking at other platforms to see what that right force mix is.”So what capabilities would this new clean-sheet aircraft have?At the top of the list, Brown said, is an open mission systems with a computing system powerful enough that software code can be updated very quickly.Brown also pointed to the approach the Air Force has taken with Boeing’s T-7A Red Hawk trainer and its secretive future fighter, known as Next Generation Air Dominance. Both aircraft have been designed using digital engineering practices, which have allowed the service to model the lifecycle of various designs and rapidly get full-scale demonstrators ready for flight tests.“And so the question is, what is the son of NGAD?” he said.The ongoing study will include modeling, simulation and analysis aimed at nailing down the right mix of aircraft, what capabilities they each have and how many of each type are needed in order to ensure the Air Force can be successful in future conflicts.Although the Air Force is currently conducting the study without input from outside organizations, Brown said he would like to involve the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, an influential organization inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense that often pushes against service budget decisions and advocates lower-cost solutions.“I can make a recommendation, but I don’t actually have the final vote because, again, I have to work with OSD and with the Congress. But that’s why the analysis to me is important and a dialogue is important,” he said.Investing in another fighter type could be a hard sell for the Air Force to make to Congress, particularly with several fighters already in production.The Air Force has not officially deviated from plans to buy 1,763 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jets from Lockheed over its program of record, although internal documents from the Air Force’s future warfighting cell have indicated a plan to curb orders at 1,050 jets, Aviation Week reported in December.Last year, the service placed its first order for Boeing F-15EX jets to replacing aging F-15C/Ds, and could buy more than 144 of the new planes. The first F-15EX completed its inaugural flight earlier this month.Meanwhile, Lockheed’s F-16 line has pivoted to international sales since its move to Greenville, South Carolina, in 2019.