F-35’s Latest Hurdle Could Send It Back To Contracting Purgatory

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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The timeline for a new American stealth fighter jet, the most expensive weapons system in the world, is getting longer. A top Air Force official said the Department of Defense is considering what it would take to redesign a potentially-fatal safety system in the F-35.

Reports of fatal technology deficiencies, engine failures and budget squabbles continue to slow down development of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

The Air Force has not announced that the ejection seat needs to be replaced, but Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch told DefenseNews Friday that they may seek new sub-contractors to redesign the F-35’s ejection seat system, which causes potentially fatal whiplash when deployed. (RELATED: Report: The F-35’s Pilot Eject System Could KILL You And Definitely Will Maim You)

“We believe it is prudent to look at what it would take to qualify the ACES 5 seat as a potential risk mitigation step if additional things happen as we go through the testing of the Martin-Baker seat,” Bunch said Friday. “We believe it’s prudent to determine what it would cost, how much [impact on] the schedule, what the timeline would be, if something else happened and we wanted to go a different way.”

In Oct. 2015, an internal safety investigation revealed that pilots weighing less than 136 pounds could have their necks snapped they ejected during takeoff or landing, and pilots who weighed less than 200 pounds would also be “at serious risk.”

Full roll out of the F-35, which will replace most second and third generation fighters in the Air Force, is still several years out, according to Col. David Chace, systems management office chief for the F-35. “Right now we’re looking at delivering the first increment of modernization to the F-35 in late 2020 or early 2021,” Chace told Product Design and Development.

Now more than five years behind schedule, Chace expects Lockheed’s F-35 to be at initial operational capacity this fall.(RELATED: Entire F-35 Fleet Quietly Grounded Ahead Of July 4 Holiday)

While Congress plans to purchase more F-35 fighters through the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, President Obama is set to veto the bill for a variety of reasons.

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