Maj. Will Andreotta, F-35 Lightning II “Heritage Flight Team” pilot from Luke Air Force Base, Az., prepares to exit the cockpit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 20, 2016. The aircraft is here to perform a fly-over during the U.S. Air Force Tattoo at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., Sept. 22, 2016. InternationalIndiaAfricaThe Pentagon has acknowledged that only around half of its fleet of F-35 fighter jets is mission-capable, well below the target of 65%, at the House Armed Service Committee’s aviation subcommittee’s hearings. The US fleet of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning fighters comprises more than 540 jets with only 53.1% of them being mission-capable, which means they can fly at least some of their required missions, according to Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Schmidt, the program manager. The percentage of the Pentagon’s F-35s capable of flying all their missions is far less, standing somewhere at 30%. According to Schmidt’s written testimony to the House Armed Service Committee, “this is unacceptable.””I think if we look at that, it’s a very complex aircraft, it has multiple roles, multiple capabilities which provide so rather than building a separate fighter jet for the Navy and a separate one for the Air Force and a separate one for the Marines, I can basically use the F-35 as the basic one with modifications, there are variants, three different variants A – for the air airport, B – which is Marine Corps, which provides a short landing and takeoff capability, and C – for landing and maneuvering within an aircraft carrier – on a moving boat (…) We were trying to combine so many features in it, making one perfect jet, that it just makes it more difficult overall,” Earl Rasmussen, a retired Lieutenant Colonel with over 20 years in the US Army and international consultant, told Sputnik.
Long Repair Time, Problems With Engine & Chinese Inputs in F-35
Meanwhile, the wonder-fighter’s readiness rates have seen a drop from 2020, when the fleet’s average full mission-capable rate stood at about 39%, the US mainstream press notes, citing the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). Likewise, the partial capability rate stood at 69% in 2020. The US media wonders whether the latest readiness rates represent a temporary dip or the beginning of a long-term trend.In addition, six “must-fix” deficiencies remain in the training flight simulator for the F-35, as GAO Contracting and National Security Acquisitions Director Jon Ludwigson revealed during the Wednesday hearing.MilitaryUS Watchdog Tells Congress F-35 Training Simulator Still Has Six ‘Must Fix’ Problems29 March, 22:27 GMTThe F-35 program office also continues to face delays in implementing a massive upgrade initiative known as Block 4, which includes new electronic warfare capabilities, advanced AN/APG-85 radars and other features to enable the F-35 fleet to keep up with new threats and operational challenges.However, prior to Block 4 improvements, the fighter should receive a set of important hardware and software upgrades known as Technology Refresh 3 that provides new processing capabilities and other attributes. However, the TR-3 integration is moving slower than expected, too.Other problems surfaced during the Wednesday hearing include long depot repair times and Pratt & Whitney engine power modules needing urgent repair or replacement.
"I'm imagining software development is a big concern and a big complexity because of the operations, the software is probably very complex and being integrated across things," Rasmussen said. "So, I'm sure the software development is speeded in the complexity which has driven up the cost, and it may have contributed to who knows as far as breaking down things like that or crashes and stuff… because it has some of the most advanced avionics, and you’re controlling this. I don't know if the computers go out, I'm not sure if it actually can be, how stable it would be in the air."
MilitaryUS Navy Blames Rookie Pilot for Disastrous F-35 Crash That Saw Jet Plummet Into South China Sea22 February, 04:15 GMTWhat’s more, on September 7, 2022, it was confirmed that the Pentagon put the deliveries of F-35 fighters on pause after it turned out that magnets used in its Honeywell-supplied turbo-machine pumps had been bought from Chinese sources. In addition, more very significant components embedded into the F-35 have long been sourced from Taiwan, according to The Diplomat. The media did not rule out that further Chinese inputs into the F-35 could be discovered in the future, as US firms sometimes try to hide the Chinese origins of their products. On top of that, inputs of rare earth minerals from China are still very important for US manufacturers, the media noted, citing this factor as an additional risk to the F-35 program.Given all of the above, the US F-35 warplane fleet is expected to reach full tactical capability in 2028, 27 years after the program began, as per Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rob Wittman R-Va., who expressed outrage over the lack of progress during the hearing.WorldCostliest Weapon in US History: F-35 Facing Scrutiny Again But Somehow it’s Russia & China’s ‘Fault’3 June 2021, 19:50 GMT
Is the ‘Most Advanced Fighter Jet’ Worth the Money?
The F-35 is largely considered to be “the most advanced fighter jet that’s available” in the West, according to Rasmussen: it is intended to perform different roles in combat, including attack and surveillance capabilities. However, the program has been mired in controversy since its inception as far as cost goes.
"It was initially only expected to be 200 billion when initially the program started it went up to 435 billion, then to a trillion," the retired Lieutenant Colonel remarked. "And the latest I heard could be approaching 1.5 trillion lifecycle costs."
The F-35 fighter has already become the priciest weapons system in American history. The F-35’s estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year anticipated life cycle have steadily increased since 2012, from $1.11 trillion to $1.3 trillion, despite purported efforts to reduce the costs. The warplane’s total projected cost for now is $1.7 trillion, which includes $1.3 trillion in estimated operations and sustainment.On April 22, 2021, the US GAO issued a report calling the F-35 the “most ambitious and costly weapon system in history” and calling for “enhanced attention to and oversight of F-35 affordability.” The crux of the matter is that the Pentagon planned to get nearly 2,500 F-35 fighter jets, meaning enormous military spending to operate and sustain the aircraft over their utility lifecycle.Against this backdrop, poor capability rates, repeated delays and test problems associated with what is positioned as one of the most capable warplanes raises questions and concerns among US lawmakers.In particular, during the hearing Rob Wittman questioned the US Air Force’s fighter acquisition plan, stressing that the service “has yet to figure out how they will buy 1,763 F-35A aircraft after acknowledging their major operating cost assumption of $4.1 million per aircraft per year is unachievable.”AnalysisWhy Bloated US Military Spending Can’t Ensure Its Dominance Over Russia, China10 March, 16:43 GMTThe Biden administration’s new hefty military spending plan does not seem to be a way out, as hard-line conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats refer to soaring inflation and a looming recession and warn the government against excessive spending.In March 2021, Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the F-35 a “rathole” stressing that he “want[s] to stop throwing money down” that project.
"If this program continues to fail to significantly control and reduce actual and projected sustainment costs, we may need to invest in other, more affordable programs and backfill an operational shortfall of potentially over 800 tactical fighters," warned Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) tactical air and land subcommittee in April 2021.
Despite US congressmen fretting and fuming over the F-35 program’s failures, they do not seem eager to axe the project altogether. What’s behind this? Speaking to Sputnik earlier this month, an international military analysts cited the fact that the US lobby culture plays a big role in the distribution of military funds, while Joe Biden and his administration are accepting this state of affairs and even playing into the lobbyists’ hands.
"Lobbyist structures create such a paradox that despite the fact that the US military budget is the largest in the world and unprecedented for the United States itself, its effectiveness is much lower than the military budgets of Russia and China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iran," Alexey Leonkov, military expert and an editor at the magazine Arsenal Otechestva, told Sputnik on March 10.
Given this, one cannot rule out that the F-35 controversial saga may turn into an endless story, which appears to be particularly embarrassing amid Washington’s attempts to provoke Russia and China over Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively.