The Pentagon's top weapons tester has never been shy about hammering Lockheed Martin's F-35. In an Oct. 14 memo to the Defense Secretary, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore once again slammed the program for continued schedule delays, insufficient testing progress, and ongoing challenges with major systems. He "very strongly" recommended DOD restructure the program.
The full 8-page document surfaces as Gilmore turns up the heat on the F-35 program. In the memo, Gilmore repeated his claim that the F-35 “clearly” will not be able to finish its development phase - called System Development and Demonstration (SDD) – and begin operational testing as planned in August 2017. The full flight envelope, weapons clearances and verified mission data file for the aircraft’s final warfighting software load, Block 3F, will not be available before May 2018, DOT&E states in the memo.
In fact, Gilmore believes IOT&E likely won’t start until late 2018 or early 2019, unless DOD decides to start the test phase without “significant aspects” of full 3F capability, a DOT&E spokesman recently told Aviation Week.
The program office is more optimistic. Top officials have acknowledged the F-35 will not be ready for its final test phase until 2018 at the earliest, but Joint Program Office (JPO) chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan anticipates IOT&E will begin early that year.
The JPO estimates the program will need an additional $530 million to complete the $57 billion SDD program, primarily to pay for new requirements and unforeseen delays, according to spokesman Joe DellaVedova.
“Most of this needed funding will come from other F-35 JPO funding sources to minimize the impact on the U.S. Services and DoD overall budget requirements,” DellaVedova says. “No additional funding will be required from the International Partners.”
Unless the F-35 program’s current plans are revised and additional resources provided, DOT&E says it is “unlikely” that the low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 10 F-35s delivered in fiscal 2018 will have full combat capability, according to the DOT&E spokesman. This projection is significant for the Air Force, particularly, as Secretary Deborah Lee James recently certified to the congressional defense committees in compliance with the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act that the F-35As delivered in FY18 would indeed have their full warfighting capability.
But for now, the Air Force is not worried.
“The Air Force considered multiple factors and inputs from various entities before certification,” says Air Force spokesman Capt. Michael Hertzog. “With some additional risk today, we believe Block 3F with full hardware, software, and weapons capabilities planned will be available to support LRIP 10 aircraft.”
James Drew contributed to this report.