National Security

Pentagon Tester Says F-35 ‘Not On A Path Toward Success’

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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The Pentagon’s top tester expressed concerns about the F-35’s path to full combat readiness a week after the Air Force said the jet meets the minimum requirements for battle testing, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

“In fact the program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver,” Michael Gilmore, director of operational testing at the Department of Defense, said in an Aug. 9 memo.

The F-35 jets are supposed to be fully operational by 2018, but that may not happen, Gilmore said. “Achieving full combat capability with the Joint Strike Fighter is at substantial risk” of not occurring within that timeline. (RELATED: Here’s Everything You Need To Know About The Air Force’s Rollout Of The F-35 Fighter)

The F-35 achieved Initial Operational Capability, a critical step in the development process, Aug. 2. The fighter “reached the point of initial combat capability, so that’s what we said we were going to have by now and we’ve got it,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told reporters at a Singapore news conference last week. “But ‘initial ’means initial and over the next several years it’s going to continue to develop, and the word ‘develop’ is an important word too.

“If you go back over the entire history of the F-35 there is no question that over that history it’s taken longer and it has cost more money than originally anticipated but that is part and parcel of a development program.”

The F-35 program office said the issues brought up in the memo, including the advanced, but buggy, 3F software targeting system, were already known to the program developers. The memo contained “absolutely no surprises,” and “all of the issues mentioned are well-known,” Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 program office, told Bloomberg News.

The Air Force completed a series of weapons tests earlier this week using the current iteration of the 3F software. Firing the weapons during the test required “the full capability of the F-35 — multiple sensors, navigation, weapons envelope, mission planning, data links and inter-agency range scheduling — all working in sequence to put steel on target,” Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, executive officer of the F-35 program, said in a statement.

“This testing has moved us that much closer to delivering the full F-35 capability to warfighters within the next two years,” Bogdan said.

The 3F software may “not quite up to where we wanted to be, but there’s workarounds,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, chief of the Air Combat Command, told Defense News in July.

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