If the F-35 isn’t ready for prime time, what’s the rush? The answer can be summed up in one word: politics. The decision to approve the Marines’ version of the plane for Initial Operating Capability (IOC) before the end of this year and the recent proposal to fund over 450 planes in the next several years are designed to make the F-35 program “too big to fail.” Once production reaches a certain tipping point, it will become even harder for members of Congress, independent experts, or taxpayers to slow down or exert control over the program.And so it begins.
What needs to be fixed before the F-35 is determined to be adequate to join the active force? Let’s start with the engine. On June 23 of last year an F-35’s engine caught on fire while the plane was taxiing on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Now, nearly a year later, a new report from the Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board attributed the fire to a catastrophic failure of the engine. So far, no long-term solution has been found to the problems identified by the accident investigation board. An April report by the Government Accountability Office has described the reliability of the engine as “very poor (less than half of what it should be).”
Problems have also plagued the plane’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which is needed to keep the F-35 up and running. As Mandy Smithberger of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight puts it, “ALIS is the core to making sure the F-35 functions.” A report last year by the Pentagon’s independent testing office noted that the system had been “fielded with deficiencies.” In April, F-35 maintainers told members of the House Armed Services committee that 80 percent of the problems identified by ALIS were “false positives.” In addition, as Smithberger has noted, the rush to deployment means that there will be no careful assessment of how changes in ALIS affect other aspects of the aircraft’s performance.
There have also been serious problems with the helmet that is supposed to serve as an F-35 pilot’s eyes in the sky. Until the helmet is working to full capacity, the ability of an F-35 to drop bombs accurately or recognize enemy fighters will be impaired. And in April, the Pentagon’s office of independent testing noted that in the event of a failure of the helmet, a pilot would not be able to see what is happening below or behind the plane.
Declaring planes ready before they can actually meet basic performance standards is not a responsible approach to fielding an aircraft.
Lonely voices crying in the wilderness were soon joined by others (like myself) once it became apparent that this plane was RAPING the budget and NOT delivering as promised.
For the USMC this is a pivotal moment.
We could blame an aviation Commandant for the clusterfuck that is the F-35 and the decision to push forward anyway.
What do we say if that guy is gone and supposedly credible members of leadership continue on with his plan?
The USMC is facing a moment of truth. Either it is credible as the nation's premier fighting force and a trusted guardian of not only the defense but also the budget given to it by the taxpayer....or its just like every other government bureaucracy....
Leadership should have a care though. When it was just minor blogs saying that this plane has no clothes that's one thing. When the influential "The Hill" Blog says the same then the gig is up!