Senior Airman Devante Williams/Air Force

The F-35 Has a Scary List of Bugs

The Pentagon’s top testing official has weighed and measured the F-35 and found it wanting.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive military program in the world, is even more broken than previously thought. The jet can’t tell old parts from new ones, randomly prevents user logins into the logistics information system, and trying to eject out of it will likely result in serious neck injury and maybe death. A Pentagon office is warning that the plane is being rushed into service.

The Pentagon’s office of testing and evaluation on Monday released a report detailing major problems, or “deficiencies” with the aircraft. The report follows the release of a December memo by Michael Gilmore, the Department of Defense's director for Operational Test and Evaluation, or OT&E. The report goes on to question the logic of pushing other governments to purchase large blocks of the aircraft until the issues are fixed.

The Air Force is currently scheduled to announce their version of the plane is ready to begin flying, known as “initial operating capability,” in August or December at the latest. That follows the Marines declaring their version flight ready last summer. After that, the next F-35 milestone is the initial operational test & evaluation phase, scheduled for 2017, in which program watchers test of the plane is operationally capable but also effective. That 2017 projection is unrealistic unless the Air Force takes some serious shortcuts in testing, according to the new report.

So what’s wrong with the F-35?  Below are some of the report’s key findings.

The Version That the Marines Are Using Is Very Buggy

The Marines rushed to finish testing their version of the aircraft in May of 2015 in order to declare initial operating capability by July. The report describes serious problems with the computer software, (the Block 2B version of the software) in the Marines’ F-35 variant. Those software problems include “in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment result[ing] in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to respond to threats, and a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack.”  

After the report came out Monday, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, of the F-35 program executive office, issued a statement to cast the report’s findings in a rather more flattering light. “Once again, the annual DOT&E report points out the progress being made by the program,” the statement read, as though responding to a different report altogether. “This includes the U.S. Marine Corps declaring Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2015. The USMC declared IOC with Block 2B software because it provides increased initial warfighting capability. Marine F-35s have the necessary weapons to conduct close air support, air interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defense missions.”

That means that the $90 to $180 million Joint Strike Fighter shares many—if not necessarily all—of the same close air support capabilities as the $18.8 million A-10.

ALIS Is Still Terrible, Perhaps Even Getting Worse

In a 60 Minutes segment, reporter David Martin in 2014 made famous problems with one of the  F-35’s key computers, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, the internal diagnostic system on the plane that was supposed to keep track of the health of virtually every part. The system was heavily resistant to human overrides. After the segment aired, the Joint Program Office claimed that the override issues had been fixed.

Unfortunately, ALIS’s various updates have left many of the old problems intact and added new ones, according to the report. “Each new version of software, while adding some new capability, failed to resolve all the deficiencies identified in earlier releases,” it states.  

The program executive office acknowledges software bugs remain “the program’s top technical risks … There is more work to accomplish in both mission systems software and ALIS before the end of the development program.”

Lockouts, Confusion, etc.

What forms do these bugs take and what can they do the plane? Here a few of the more alarming finds:

  • The F-35 doesn’t know its new parts from old parts. The computerized maintenance management System, or CMMS, “incorrectly authorizes older/inappropriate replacement parts.”

  • The F-35 fails to detect  if it’s been flying too fast or what effect that might have. “The Integrated Exceedance Management System, designed to assess and report whether the aircraft exceeded limitations during flight, failed to function properly.”

  • The plane “randomly prevented user logins” into ALIS.
  • The plane doesn’t know how broken broken parts are: “The maintenance action severity code functionality...designed to automatically assign severity codes to work orders as maintenance personnel create them—did not work correctly.”
  • The plane’s crews need to phone Lockheed Martin tech support because the plane can’t handle the data it needs to process in order to run missions. “Managing data loads associated with mission planning required extensive contractor support.”

The F-35 Will Kill You If You Try and Eject From It

Even more terrifying than flying an F-35 is trying to get out of one by ejecting from it.The entire ejector system is incredibly flawed, as Defense News has pointed out previously.

Pilots under 136 pounds aren’t allowed to fly any F-35 variant. Pilots under 165 pounds have a 1-in-4 chance of death and 100 percent chance of serious neck injury upon ejecting, according to the testing office.

“The testing showed that the ejection seat rotates backwards after ejection. This results in the pilot’s neck becoming extended, as the head moves behind the shoulders in a ‘chin up’ position. When the parachute inflates and begins to extract the pilot from the seat (with great force), a ‘whiplash’ action occurs. The rotation of the seat and resulting extension of the neck are greater for lighter weight pilots,” the report states. Ouch.

It’s a lot to fix. Yet the program executive office insisted that they could remain on schedule to reach operational test & evaluation by the end of the summer of 2017. “Although the DOT&E report is factually accurate, it does not fully address program efforts to resolve known technical challenges and schedule risks. It is the F-35 Joint Program Office’s responsibility to find developmental issues, resolve them and execute with the time and budget we have been given,” Bogdan stated.

Stop Block Buy

Perhaps the most important item on the report’s to-do list is to stop pushing the so-called block buy program wherein partner governments agree to buy a larger number of planes up front, in a “block,” rather than incrementally. The testing office saw that as a possible recipe for huge numbers of faulty aircraft and bugs becoming harder and more expensive to fix.

Block buy, defense companies like to argue, is one means for pushing down the per unit cost on the incredibly expensive planes, helping the program push out 450 for the United States and partner nations between 2018 and 2020. But the savings realized through block buy might be illusionary, according to the testing office.

“Is it premature to commit to the ‘block buy’ given that significant discoveries requiring correction before F-35’s are used in combat are occurring, and will continue to occur, throughout the remaining developmental and operational testing?” the report asks.

Governments wishing to lock in those savings have to agree to the block buy this year. In light of the new report, they may be asking some similar questions in the months ahead.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.