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The F-35B Lighting II variant of the Joint Strike Fighter sits on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina in this handout photo taken August 19, 2013. Picture taken August 19, 2013.  REUTERS/Sgt. Tyler L. Main/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout  (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX12XXX The F-35B Lighting II variant of the Joint Strike Fighter sits on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina in this handout photo taken August 19, 2013. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Sgt. Tyler L. Main/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX12XXX  

GROUNDED: More F-35 problems delay new jet

Giuseppe Macri
Tech Editor

A new Pentagon report on the progress of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter highlights major concerns about the jet’s reliability and technical deficiency – problems that could delay implementation into the Marine Corp’s fleet that was initially scheduled for mid 2015.

According to the report, Lockheed Martin delivered the jets with only about 50 percent of the software capabilities required under its Pentagon contract, which outlines the largest and most expensive weapons-development program ever undertaken. It has taken more than 10 years.

The jet’s ALIS computer logistics system, the “information infrastructure for the F-35,” according to Lockheed’s website, was given an “unacceptable” performance rating after it failed to meet the most basic of requirements.

“Initial results with the new increment of Block 2B software indicate deficiencies still exist in fusion, radar, electronic warfare, navigation, electro-optical target system, distributed aperture system, helmet-mounted display system, and datalink,” chief Pentagon weapons tester Michael Gilmore wrote in the 25-page report obtained by Reuters and delivered to Congress last week.

F-35s will eventually support a host of capabilities never before implemented in a single fighter model, including supersonic speed, stealth-based radar evasion, and short vertical takeoff and landing abilities. Test pilots are already pushing the F-35′s flight envelope daily at  Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland and Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The program, which calls for the development of three different F-35 models and began in 2001, is already 70 percent over budget with a price of $392 billion for 2,457 units. The initial cost estimate of $81 million per jet has since gone up to $161 million. Projections through 2037 estimate the program could cost $12.6 billion yearly, according to the Government Accountability Office.

This latest batch of technical glitches could take until November of 2015 to correct, pushing flight-ready status for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fleets back to July 2016 at the earliest. Member nations of NATO have also expressed interest in acquiring the F-35.

Lockheed Martin is already in trouble this week after The Center for International Policy published a study saying the company “greatly exaggerated” its claim that the Joint Strike program sustains 125,000 jobs in 46 states — a claim it made to convince Congress to continue funding the program. According to the study, the actual number of jobs created is roughly half that cited by Lockheed.

More than 100 F-35s have been built at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant.

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