F-35 - News and Discussions

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Poland reaffirms interest in F-35
  • 29 MAY, 2019
  • SOURCE: FLIGHTGLOBAL.COM
  • BY: BARTOSZ GLOWACKI
  • WARSAW
Poland has deepened its interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35, with the country’s defence minister indicating that it intends to purchase 32 examples of the fifth-generation fighter.

Mariusz Blaszczak says it intends to acquire the A-model variant to replace its Soviet-era RAC MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-22 aircraft under the Harpia programme.

Asset Image

Lockheed Martin

"Fifth-generation fighters are already on the horizon. Today we sent a [letter of request], an offer inquiry, to our partners from the UnitedStates regarding the purchase of 32 F-35A aircraft, along with a logistics and training package.

“It is time to replace post-Soviet equipment with the most modern fighters,” wrote Blaszczak on Twitter.

Blaszczak says the acquisition of “state-of-the-art equipment” is a “priority” for the government.

In mid-May, deputy of defence minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz told the Polish parliament that the first 16-strong squadron of F-35As will be purchased under the scope of the current armed forces modernisation plan covering the 2017-2026 period; a second squadron will be acquired after 2026.

 

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F-35A maintenance program to help streamline aircraft's capabilities
By Ed Adamczyk
June 5, 2019

SSgt. Keagan Rosario, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit BOLT mission systems technician, performs pre-flight checks on an F-35A fighter plane on May 31, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos/U.S. Air Force/UPI

June 5 (UPI) -- Maintenance personnel of F-35A fighter planes have improved versatility under an innovative new program, the U.S. Air Force said.

Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, or BOLTs, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are currently deployed at Aviano Air Base in Italy and have made their 388th Fighter Wing the first to be qualified in six different aspects of F-35A maintenance, the Air Force announced on Wednesday.

The BOLT program combines maintenance-specific Air Force specialty codes, or job descriptions, into two career tracks. Maintainers in the air vehicle track are crew chiefs, fuels and low observable technicians. Airmen in the mission systems track focus on avionics, weapons and egress.

The reciprocal training allows a single person to inspect, as well as repair or maintain, critical elements of the plane, rather than a two-step, two-person process of inspection and maintenance.

"The BOLT Airmen who are here with us offer widespread benefit. They will allow us to deploy the same aircraft with a smaller number of Airmen than we would at home station," Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander, said in a news release. "This is a new way to train our Airmen to be more operationally focused and that ties directly to the primary mission sets of the F-35A."

The entire squadron, including planes, pilots and crew, and technicians, arrived in Italy on May 26. F-35A maintenance has become an experimental platform for the Air Force.

In March, a training exercise at Cannon AFB, N.M., involved the rapid refueling of a plane. The exercise demonstrated the capability of landing an F-35A, then refueling and rearming it to return to battle in minutes.

In March, another F-35A landed at Hill AFB after completing a mission, and was refueled while another pilot and crew took over the cockpit of the same plane.

 

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Navy's F-35C Stealth Fighters Won't Fly From Troubled New Ford Class Carriers For Years
Now, lawmakers want to make it illegal for the Navy to take delivery of the next carrier in the class if it can't deploy the jets.

By Joseph Trevithick
June 4, 2019

View attachment 7612

Members of Congress want to make it illegal for the U.S. Navy to accept delivery its next Ford-class aircraft carrier, the future USS John F. Kennedy, unless it can launch and recover F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. But the proposal highlights something that is perhaps more damning, that the USS Gerald R. Ford cannot deploy those stealthy aircraft in its present configuration. This just adds to the woes for the troubled first-in-class flattop two years after its delivery.

he House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces included the provision in a draft of the annual defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), for the upcoming 2020 Fiscal Year, which it released publicly on June 3, 2019. The ship that is due to become officially named the USS John F. Kennedy, and is also known by its hull number CVN-79, is already under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. Just on May 29, 2019, workers lowered the 588-ton island, which stands 72 feet tall, into position on the deck, a major milestone that means the ship is now more than 90 percent structurally complete, though much work remains to do. The Navy expects to commission the new carrier in 2024.

"This section would require the Secretary of the Navy to ensure that the aircraft carrier to be designated CVN-79 is capable of deploying with the F-35 prior to accepting delivery," the draft NDAA text states bluntly. It is important to note that there is no guarantee that it will be in any final version of the bill that goes to a full vote later this year or that it will become law.


But the more important thing here is that this is an admission that the Ford herself, which the Navy officially took delivery of in May 2017, cannot, at present, can't deploy the F-35C at all. The service declared initial operational capability with this carrier-based version of the Joint Strike Fighter in February 2019 and the jets are supposed to make their first operational deployment aboard the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson in 2021.

The Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee's language doesn't say why this is the case, though Congressional staffers blamed it on previously legislated cost-cutting efforts, which legislators are also looking to repeal. In 2016, Congress demanded the Navy deliver reports on how it could try to keep the final bill for Ford, as well as the price tags of the other upcoming ships in the class, under control. The goal was to put a cap of no more than $11 billion on Kennedy's ultimate cost, which it reportedly has already exceeded.

But "CVN-79 will not be able to deploy with F-35s when it’s delivered to the Navy as a direct result of that cost cap," Seapower and Projection Forces committee staffer told reporters, according to USNI News. "So when that cost cap was imposed, the Navy traded that capability off and chose to build that back in on the back end."
The assertion is that these funding shortfalls have delays efforts to fix a host of issues on the Ford. When it comes to the lack of F-35 capability specifically, the most likely culprits are the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). These electrically-powered and electronically-controlled systems are supposed to give the Ford-class more control over the finer aspects of the launch and recovery process. The Navy claims this will improve sortie generation rates, reduce wear and tear on aircraft, and increase reliability and safety across the board.


The War Zone has explored on multiple occasions how both systems, in practice, have chronically underperformed. The problems have been so persistent, that the Ford has been unable to meet its performance targets for launching and recovering aircraft even after the Navy lowered the bar with a "re-baselined reliability growth curve."
These issues are well known at this point and President Donald Trump has now railed against the troubled catapults, in particular, on more than one occasion. During a recent trip to Japan, he claimed that may order the Navy to return to using steam catapults in future carriers. In an Email to The War Zone, Naval Sea Systems Command declined to comment on whether this was true or if it was even exploring alternative options for any future Ford-class ships.

Difficulties with EMALS and AAG have also resulted in delays in creating so-called "launch and recovery bulletins" that define the parameters for launching and recovering certain aircraft in certain configurations. As of February 2019, the Ford could only deploy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or EA-18G Growlers with certain loadouts, though the Navy expected to have this issue resolved by the end of the year.

View attachment 7613
An F-35C, at right, along with an F/A-18E Super Hornet, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln during tests in 2018.

It's not clear when the Navy expects to even start validating the launch and recovery bulletins for the F-35C. In 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog, warned that Ford-class carriers might not have the ability to deploy with the Joint Strike Fighters until 2027 at the very earliest. The report also noted that, at the time, the Navy had not included the F-35C is in land-based testing of the AAG at all.

In that same report, GAO had expressed concerns about the regular delivery of spare parts for the jets to the carrier, especially replacement engines, to ensure adequate F-35C mission capable rates, something that remains an issue for the jets, in general. The Navy says that its new CMV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor will be able to sufficiently replace the aging C-2 Greyhound in the Carry Onboard Delivery (COD) role, including carrying the F-35's engine.

Of course, the EMALS, AAG, and its inability to deploy the F-35C are just some of Ford's many woes. Just recently, the Navy admitted that not all of the ship's advanced weapon elevators, which bring ordnance and other equipment up to the main deck, would be working by the time it returned to the fleet following a scheduled maintenance availability. The maintenance availability had already been extended due to a separate propulsion system issue. Ford is now not expected to return to whatever kind of duty it is capable of until at least October 2019.


As it stands now, two years after the Navy received the ship, only a pair of Ford's 11 AWEs are working. It's unclear when they all might get certified for regular use. The Navy is now planning to build a land-based test facility for the elevators, but that won't become operational until sometime in 2020. The elevators are absolutely critical to the ship's ability to fight. In January 2019, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer had said Trump should fire him if the elevator issue didn't get resolved by the end of the summer.

All of these issues – and there are many more – can only call into question Ford's utility in any capacity, including non-combat training and test missions. Members of Congress are clearly increasingly worried that the next ship in the class will be similarly limited. Just on June 4, 2019, Raytheon announced the completion of the final developmental test of the carrier's integrated combat management system.

These persistent problems also come in the aftermath of a brief, but acrimonious battle between legislators and the Navy, along with the Pentagon and the White House, about the timeline for retiring Nimitz-class carriers. The Trump Administration has now backtracked completely on its still puzzling proposal to retire the USS Harry S. Truman prematurely and Congress is looking to prevent any reversal of that decision, but at a certain point, the existing flattops will begin to age out. The Navy already needs a functional replacement for the now decommissioned one-of-a-kind USS Enterprise.

If the Navy can't start making real progress on the Ford program's troubles, the service risks real operational shortfalls regardless of whether or not ships can deploy the F-35C.

 

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Missing Japanese F-35A pilot's death confirmed by Ministry of Defense
June 07, 2019

View attachment 7622

TOKYO -- The pilot who went missing after the F-35A stealth fighter he was flying crashed into the Pacific Ocean just off of Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan has been confirmed to have died, Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya said at a June 7 press conference.

Maj. Akinori Hosomi
of the 3rd Air Wing's 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron was classified missing following the aircraft's crash into the sea after taking off from Japan Air Self-Defense Force's (JASDF) Misawa Base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, on April 9, 2019.

At a June 7 press conference held after a Cabinet meeting, Iwaya confirmed that Maj. Hosomi had died. He said that body parts discovered among the aircraft's dispersed wreckage were confirmed to be Maj. Hosomi's remains on June 5.

The JASDF's investigation into the crash continues, with a potential human element and other variables being raised as possible causes for the accident. JASDF intends to continue flying its remaining F35-A stealth fighters once safety measures in response to the cause have been established.

Iwaya said, "It is a source of immense regret to lose such an excellent pilot. We offer our heartfelt sympathies to the family."

(Japanese original by Naritake Machida, City News Department)

 

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U.S., Italian F-35As integrate for first time in Astral Knight exercise
By Ed Adamczyk
JUNE 7, 2019

View attachment 7669
Senior Airman Christopher Kuhn, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, salutes Lt. Col. Max Cover, 421st Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II fighter pilot, during "Astral Knight 2019" multinational exercises at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on June 3, 2019.
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos/U.S. Air Force/UPI


June 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force announced the completion of a large air-and-missile defense exercise, involving F-35A fighter planes, in Europe.

"Astral Knight 2019" was the first involvement of the planes in a large-scale multinational exercise. It focused on simulated defense of several key areas of terrain from cruise-missile and aircraft strikes. U.S. military forces worked closely with NATO coalition forces of Croatia, Italy and Slovenia at various locations across Europe, conducting operational and cyber scenarios.

The fifth-generation F-35A Lightning IIs and personnel were brought from Hill AFB, Utah, to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in May for exercises and to train with other Europe-based aircraft. The squadron includes the 388th and Reserve 419th and 421st Fighter Wings of the U.S. Air Force.
In a four-day exercise ending on Thursday, the Air Force flew eight sorties per day. For the first time, U.S. Air Force F-35As integrated operationally with Italian air force F-35As. They communicated with each other over the Multifunction Advanced Data Link, a system unique to the plane's platform.

"It's truly rewarding to see that we can leverage all the capabilities of the F-35A, which we have all been working toward," said Lt. Col. Brad Klemesrud, 421st Fighter Wing Squadron deputy commander. "In an exercise this large and complex, you get the opportunity to see how theory meets reality and put into practice what's only been on paper."

The exercise, deemed a success, also tested the capabilities of maintenance teams.
"This is the first overseas location that the 421st AMU's [Aircraft Mantenance Unit] F-35As has gone to," said MSgt. John Ott, 421st AMU F-35A expediter. "Our duties include daily servicing and inspections, as well as logistics and coordination control to receive support on our aircraft and maintainers 24/7."

 

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360-degree Video Takes Viewer On An F-35 Walkaround With A Test pilot, Shows How He Can See Through The Airframe
Using Augmented Reality, the footage shows how an F-35 pilot can see through the aircraft, along with many other interesting things.
June 7, 2019
Stefano D'Urso
View attachment 7780

On June 3, 2019, Lockheed Martin published an interesting 360-degree video walkaround of the F-35, hosted by Tony “Brick” Wilson, the test pilot that conducted the first F-35C carrier landing. In this video, recorded around a Royal Norwegian Air Force’s F-35 in Fort Worth, Wilson explains some of the most important systems, adding also some less known insights.

As pointed out in the video, the fifth-generation fighter is defined not only by stealth, but also by sensor fusion and data sharing. Stealth, in turn, is provided by reduced radar detection, infra-red signature masking, visual masking and radio signal reduction.

The first system showed by the test pilot is the EOTS, the most important sensor along with the AN/APG-81 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. EOTS stands for Electro-Optical Targeting System and is composed by two subsystems, TFLIR (Targeting Forward Looking Infra-Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System).

Interestingly, on Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and official F-35 websites EOTS and DAS are described as separate systems, with TFLIR being one of the cameras used by EOTS (the others are a CCD-TV camera and a laser). This seems to be confirmed also by the systems having two separate official designations, AAQ-40 EOTS and AAQ-37 DAS. Those systems, together with the APG-81 radar, allow the pilot to locate, track and target enemy aircrafts, ground vehicles or any other target in both day and night and in all weather conditions.

EOTS, or TFLIR (Targeting Forward Looking InfraRed) as called in the video, is the equivalent of the traditional targeting pods carried externally by legacy fighters. In this case, the system is developed by Lockheed Martin from the Sniper XR (Extended Range) targeting pod and integrated into the airframe, mounted under the nose as a compact solution that minimizes radar signature, or Radar Cross Section, and aerodynamic drag. The pilot can use it to visually acquire the target and employ weapons autonomously in the Laser Targeting mode or even detect targets lased by other aircrafts or troops on the ground in the Laser Spot Track mode. As stated by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is scheduled to receive a new version of the EOTS: “Advanced EOTS, an evolutionary electro-optical targeting system, is available for the F-35’s Block 4 development. Designed to replace EOTS, Advanced EOTS incorporates a wide range of enhancements and upgrades, including short-wave infrared, high-definition television, an infrared marker and improved image detector resolution. These enhancements increase F-35 pilots’ recognition and detection ranges, enabling greater overall targeting performance.”


The other and most innovative subsystem is the Distributed Aperture System, a network of six cameras around the aircraft that provide 360 degree field of view to the pilot, giving him also the ability to see through the aircraft structure, thanks to the imagery projected onto the helmet’s visor. The DAS, produced by Northrop Grumman, is designed to operate as Missile Approach Warning Sensor (MAWS), InfraRed Search and Track (IRST) sensor and Navigation Forward-Looking InfraRed (NAVFLIR). Using simpler terms, the system can warn the pilot of incoming aircraft and missile threats, provide day/night vision and additional target designation and fire control capability. During testing the system was able to detect, track and target five ballistic rockets fired in rapid succession and even detect and locate tanks that were firing during a live fire military exercise. Like EOTS, DAS is receiving an upgrade that will further enhance its capabilities.

The helmet, now at his 3rd generation, is an integrated part of the aircraft and an additional sensor for the pilot. The images, generated by two projectors and then displayed on the inner visor, can include DAS imagery, flight critical info (like speed, direction and altitude), tactical info (like targets, friendly aircrafts, navigation waypoints) and night vision. The possibility to use night vision without losing the listed imageries and symbology is one the biggest innovations introduced by this helmet. Until today, as pointed out by Wilson, during night operations US pilots had to choose between NVGs (Night Vision Googles) and JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) because NVGs need to be mounted a few centimetres in front of the eye and would interfere with the visor, leaving no space to project the symbology. Some of the few helmets that today can use both night vision and HMD symbology are the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) and the Scorpion HMCS (Helmet Mounted Cueing System). The latter, already in use by A-10 pilots and ANG F-16 pilots, is scheduled to be integrated on the F-22 to take full advantage of the off-boresight targeting and launch capability of the AIM-9X air-to-air missile.

View attachment 7779
DAS imagery projected onto the helmet’s visor, as viewed by the pilot. (Screenshot from Youtube video)

The walkaround continues with a description of the weapon stations. The F-35A has an internal four-barrel 25mm GAU-22/A cannon and two weapons bays, each capable of carrying an air-to-air weapon and an air-to-surface weapon, up to 2000 pounds warheads, or two air-to-air weapons. In the so-called “Beast Mode”, when stealth is not required, the F-35 can use 3 weapon stations under each wing: the inner station for loads up to 5000 pounds, the mid-board station for loads up to 2000 pounds and the outer station only for air-to-air missiles.

The last important avionic system featured is the MADL (Multi-Function Advanced DataLink), a secure datalink that allows F-35s to communicate among each other or with other platforms using the same technology, like the B-2 bomber and ships equipped with the AEGIS Combat System. As stated by Wilson, MADL increases the capabilities of a formation of F-35s, sharing sensors and data from each aircraft to create greater Situational Awareness, as done by the F-22s in Syria. The F-35 also has Link-16 datalink to communicate with other legacy platforms that are not equipped with MADL, performing the function of “enhancers” of previous generation platforms.

 

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Lockheed nabs $1.8B for F-35 Block 4 software development, testing
June 10, 2019
By Allen Cone
View attachment 7822
An F-35A Lightning II receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 28th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron on, May 12 at an undisclosed location. Photo by Senior Airman Keifer Bowes/U.S. Air Force | License Photo

June 10 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.8 billion contract for design and development of the F-35 Lightning II Phase 2.3 Pre-Modernization for the U.S. military's F-35s, as well as and those of non-Defense Department participants.

Lockheed is expected to continue development of Block 4 upgrades to software on the F-35, the Pentagon announced Friday.

The company last November was awarded a similar $130.4 million contract for the second phase of development on the incremental software modernization program. The upgrade program was slated to start this year, following completion of Block 3F upgrade installations.

Lockheed has been working to develop the Block 4 upgrade at the same time it has continued to correct mostly minor bugs causing software and firmware deficiencies in Block 3F.

The Block 4 upgrade includes some 50 improvements, among them new weapons technology, increases to the aircraft's recognition and detection ranges, and expected greater targeting performance.

Work on the new contract will be performed at the company's plant in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed by August 2026.

The contract combines purchases for the Air Force of $732.5 million, the Navy of $371.5 million, the Marine Corps of $346 million and non-U.S. DoD participants of $358 million.

Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation funds from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as non-U.S. DoD participant funds, in the amount of $99 million have been obligated at the time of award, with none of it expiring at the end of the current fiscal year.

Joint foreign partners on the F-35 program are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

The F-35A is planned to replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F-35C is to replace the F/A-18C for the U.S. Navy, the F-35B will take over for F/A-18B and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The average F-35 unit cost in fiscal year 2019 for the Defense Department was $108.78 million, according to a Pentagon report in March.

 

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Spatial disorientation likely cause of Japanese F-35 crash, review says
June 10, 2019
By Clyde Hughes

View attachment 7825
A U.S. Air Force F-35A is seen at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on April 24. File Photo by U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski

June 10 (UPI) -- A pilot's spatial disorientation likely caused the crash of a Japanese F-35 fighter jet this spring, Japan's defense minister said after the release of a preliminary report.

Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters the pilot, Maj. Akinori Hosomi, 41, is thought to have lost his bearings during an exercise in April with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force and showed no signs of ejecting before the crash. Japan had grounded its fleet of 13 F-35As after the crash.

The ministry said the pilot, who had accumulated 3,200 flight hours, appeared to fly the fighter directly into the ocean during the night training exercise.

The ministry said the pilot, whose body was found a week ago, appeared to lose his bearings during a high-speed descent but was not aware of it. He had been communicating with the control tower before the accident without any indication of trouble, investigators said.

Spatial disorientation can account for as many as 10 percent of all aviation accidents, most of which are fatal.

"We will fully enforce training to avoid spatial disorientation and will fully explain to local residents before deciding to resume flights," Iwaya said.

The Japanese air force said it will begin flying the F-35 again soon.

 

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Pentagon, Lockheed agree to 'historic' $34B F-35 deal
Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have reached a "handshake agreement" for three future production lots of the F-35 at less than $80 million per aircraft.
June 11, 2019
By Allen Cone
View attachment 7886
An F-35A, assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, takes off from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., on August 3, 2018.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham/U.S. Air Force


June 11 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Defense have reached a "handshake agreement" on a $34 billion contract to produce three future lots of F-35 Lightning II fighter planes at the lowest cost in the program's history.

In the largest F-35 procurement yet, Lockheed Martin will produce 478 F-35s, with the company estimating that the F-35A expected to eventually cost less than $80 million per jet, according to a company news release Monday.

Of the 478 F-35s in the agreement, 157 will be produced in Lot 12 for the U.S. military, partner nations and foreign sales customers. And the deal includes options for production Lots 13 and 14 for the rest of the aircraft over the next few years.

Lockheed describes the proposed deal as a "historic milestone."

"When the statutory certification is completed, we will be able to formally announce the final unit recurring flyaway prices for each variant in each lot," said Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's under secretary for acquisition and sustainment. "Until that time, I am proud to state that this agreement has achieved an estimated 8.8 percent savings from Lot 11 to Lot 12 F-35A's, and an approximate average of 15 percent URF reduction across all variants from Lot 11 to Lot 14."

Lockheed estimates the cost of an F-35A will be less than $80 million -- in Lot 13 -- one year earlier than planned.

"This agreement symbolizes my commitment to aggressively reduce F-35 cost, incentivize Industry to meet required performance, and to deliver the greatest capabilities to our warfighters at the best value to our taxpayers," Lord said.

The F-35 Joint Program Office team and Lockheed are finalizing the agreement and expect a formal award by August.

The contract surpasses a long-standing cost reduction commitment earlier than planned.

"With smart acquisition strategies, strong government-industry partnership and a relentless focus on cost reduction, the F-35 enterprise has successfully reduced procurement costs of the 5th Generation F-35 to equal or less than 4th Generation legacy aircraft," said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program.

The average F-35 unit cost in fiscal year 2019 for the Defense Department was $108.78 million, according to a Pentagon report in March.

Lockheed has been seeking to cut subcontractor costs.

In April, Lockheed announced sub-contractors have been moved into performance-based logistics contracts or master repair agreements to improve capacity, reduce costs and enhance supply availability.

At the time, Ulmer said restructuring and streamlining contracts with industry partners was meant to "provide the long-term stability that will allow them to make investments, improve efficiencies and optimize their performance."

Since 2015, Lockheed Martin said it has reduced its portion of operating costs per aircraft by 15 percent and the touch labor on its production line by about 75 percent.

The first production F-35A was completed at Lockheed's plant in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2006. The U.S. Marine Corps, which flies the short takeoff/vertical landing version of the aircraft, the F-35B, was the first U.S. military branch to declare the plane operational, doing so in 2015.

The F-35A is planned to replace the A-10 and F-16 for the Air Force, the F-35C is to replace the F/A-18C for the U.S. Navy, the F-35B will take over for F/A-18B and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The U.S. military will eventually receive 2,456 F-35s -- 1,763 for the Air Force, 420 for the Marine Corps and 273 for the Navy, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Last week, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.8 billion contract for design and development of the F-35 Lightning II Phase 2.3 Pre-Modernization program, which includes development of Block 4 upgrades to the aircraft's software.

 

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The Pentagon is battling the clock to fix serious, unreported F-35 problems
By: Valerie Insinna
12 June 2019
View attachment 7981

WASHINGTON — Over the past several years, U.S. Defense Department leaders have gone from citing technical problems as their biggest concern for the F-35 program to bemoaning the expense of buying and sustaining the aircraft.

But the reality may be worse. According to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News, the F-35 continues to be marred by flaws and glitches that, if left unfixed, could create risks to pilot safety and call into question the fighter jet’s ability to accomplish key parts of its mission:
F-35B and F-35C pilots, compelled to observe limitations on airspeed to avoid damage to the F-35’s airframe or stealth coating. Cockpit pressure spikes that cause “excruciating” ear and sinus pain. Issues with the helmet-mounted display and night vision camera that contribute to the difficulty of landing the F-35C on an aircraft carrier.

These are some of the problems with the jet that the documents describe as category 1 deficiencies — the designation given to major flaws that impact safety or mission effectiveness.

Thirteen of the most serious flaws are described in detail, including the circumstances associated with each issue, how it impacts F-35 operations and the Defense Department’s plans to ameliorate it.

All but a couple of these problems have escaped intense scrutiny by Congress and the media. A few others have been briefly alluded to in reports by government watchdog groups.

But the majority of these problems have not been publicly disclosed, exposing a lack of transparency about the limitations of the Defense Department’s most expensive and high-profile weapons system.

These problems impact far more operators than the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy customer base. Eleven countries — Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom — have all selected the aircraft as their future fighter of choice, and nine partner nations have contributed funds to the development of the F-35.

Taken together, these documents provide evidence that the F-35 program is still grappling with serious technical problems, even as it finds itself in a key transitional moment.

And the clock is ticking. By the end of 2019, Defense Department leaders are set to make a critical decision on whether to shut the door on the F-35’s development stage and move forward with full-rate production. During this period, the yearly production rate will skyrocket from the 91 jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin in 2018 to upward of 160 by 2023.

Generally speaking, the department’s policy calls for all deficiencies to be closed before full-rate production starts. This is meant to cut down on expensive retrofits needed to bring existing planes to standard.

View attachment 7980
A maintainer with the 388th Fighter Wing out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, checks for structural damages on an F-35A during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., on Jan. 25, 2017. (Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard/U.S. Air Force)

The F-35 Joint Program Office appears to be making fast progress, but not all problems will be solved before the full-rate production decision, said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the Defense Department’s F-35 program executive.

“None of them, right now, are against any of the design, any of the hardware or any of the manufacturing of the aircraft, which is what the full-rate production decision is for,” he told Defense News in an interview. “There are no discrepancies that put at risk a decision of the department to approve us to go into full-rate production.”

Nine out of 13 problems will likely either be corrected or downgraded to category 2 status before the Pentagon determines whether to start full-rate production, and two will be adjudicated in future software builds, Winter said.

However, the F-35 program office has no intention of correcting two of the problems addressed in the documents, with the department opting to accept additional risk.

Winter maintains that none of the issues represent any serious or catastrophic risk to pilots, the mission or the F-35 airframe. After being contacted by Defense News, the program office created two designations of category 1 problems to highlight the difference between issues that would qualify as an emergency and others that are more minor in nature.

“CAT 1-As are loss of life, potential loss of life, loss of material aircraft. Those have to be adjudicated, have to be corrected within hours, days. We have no CAT 1-A deficiencies,” Winter said.

Instead, the deficiencies on the books all fall under category 1B, which represents problems “that have a mission impact with a current workaround that’s acceptable to the war fighter with the knowledge that we will be able to correct that deficiency at some future time,” Winter added.

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for the F-35 program, said currently fielded F-35s are meeting or exceeding performance specifications.
“These issues are important to address, and each is well understood, resolved or on a path to resolution," he said. "We’ve worked collaboratively with our customers, and we are fully confident in the F-35’s performance and the solutions in place to address each of the items identified.”

The status of deficiencies
According to a June 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office, the program had 111 category 1 deficiencies on the books in January 2018. By May 24, 2018, that number had decreased to 64 open category 1 problems out of a total 913 deficiencies, according to one document obtained by Defense News.

Another document obtained by Defense News noted that at least 13 issues would need to be held as category 1 deficiencies going into operational tests in fall 2018.

The 13 deficiencies include:

  • The F-35’s logistics system currently has no way for foreign F-35 operators to keep their secret datafrom being sent to the United States.
  • The spare parts inventory shown by the F-35’s logistics system does not always reflect reality, causing occasional mission cancellations.
  • Cabin pressure spikes in the cockpit of the F-35 have been known to cause barotrauma, the word given to extreme ear and sinus pain.
  • In very cold conditions — defined as at or near minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit — the F-35 will erroneously report that one of its batteries have failed, sometimes prompting missions to be aborted.
  • Supersonic flight in excess of Mach 1.2 can cause structural damage and blistering to the stealth coating of the F-35B and F-35C.
  • After doing certain maneuvers, F-35B and F-35C pilots are not always able to completely control the aircraft’s pitch, roll and yaw.
  • If the F-35A and F-35B blows a tire upon landing, the impact could also take out both hydraulic lines and pose a loss-of-aircraft risk.
  • A “green glow” sometimes appears on the helmet-mounted display, washing out the imagery in the helmet and making it difficult to land the F-35C on an aircraft carrier.
  • On nights with little starlight, the night vision camera sometimes displays green striations that make it difficult for all variants to see the horizon or to land on ships.
  • The sea search mode of the F-35’s radar only illuminates a small slice of the sea’s surface.
  • When the F-35B vertically lands on very hot days, older engines may be unable to produce the required thrust to keep the jet airborne, resulting in a hard landing.
The Pentagon has identified four additional category 1 deficiencies since beginning operational tests in December 2018, mostly centered around weapons interfaces, Winter said.
“They are not catastrophic. If they were, they'd have to stop test. There's nothing like that,” he said. “They will be straightforward software fixes. We just need to get to them.”

Those four category 1 deficiencies will likely not be fixed or downgraded before the full-rate production decision, he said. Additionally, the service will likely need more time to address the F-35B engine thrust issue and the radar’s sea search mode problem. The problems that occur when the "B" and "C" models fly in excess of Mach 1.2 will not be fixed, as they are considered to have extremely low probability of occurring during operations.

All told, Winter expects to have about nine category 1 deficiencies still on the books as the F-35 moves to full-rate production: the eight problems defined above, and whatever surprises occur as the jet continues operational tests.

The good, the bad and the ugly
Defense News shared the list of deficiencies with two senior naval aviators — one active and one recently retired — who agreed to review the document. Each offered a different perspective on the seriousness of the problems.

The recently retired aviator said some of the issues jumped off the page at him, including the cabin over-pressurization issue, given the rash of over-pressurization issues in other aircraft, including the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-22 Raptor.

But perhaps the most serious for aerial combat operations is the combination of maneuvering issues when the aircraft is operating above a 20-degree angle of attack and the issue of possible structural damage and damage to the low-observable coating when using the afterburner. That coating helps provide the F-35 a stealth capability.
"The one that stood out to me was, wait a minute, you're telling me that the latest, greatest aircraft — [a] $100 million aircraft — can't perform?" the retired fighter pilot said. "It has random oscillations, pitch and yaw issues above 20A?"

However, the naval aviator currently in service said the list of deficiencies did not alarm him and that, given that the F-35 is still new to the fleet, such issues are inevitable.
“That document looks like growing pains for an aircraft that we tried to do a whole lot to all at once,” the senior aviator said. “You’re going to see that if you dig back at what Super Hornets looked like for the first few years. Go back in the archives and look at [the F-14] Tomcat — think about that with the variable sweep-wing geometry, the AUG9 radar: There was a lot of new technology incorporated into the aircraft, and there is going to be growing pains.”

Other organizations have also registered concerns about the price of fixing deficiencies.

The GAO in June 2018 warned lawmakers that moving forward with full-rate producing without fixing technical issues could drive up the cost of the F-35 program.
“If the critical deficiencies are not resolved before moving to production, the F-35 program faces additional concurrency costs to fix fielded aircraft — which are currently estimated at $1.4 billion,” the GAO stated in the report.

Winter told Defense News that the program office is taking steps to try to minimize the price of fixing the fighter jet, such as bundling in corrections to deficiencies with other software and hardware updates to decrease labor costs.

However, it is unclear how much of the cost burden will be left for the taxpayers to shoulder. The program office is recording the extra expenditures associated with fixing the deficiencies, Winter said. Ultimately, it plans to bring that data into negotiations with Lockheed in the hopes of getting the company to cover those costs.

Other watchdog organizations have criticized the deficiency litigation process for its lack of transparency. In 2018, the Project on Government Oversight blasted the F-35 program after obtaining documents that showed the Joint Deficiency Review Board downgrading 19 category 1 issues to the lower category 2 rating.

Although the Defense Department has the latitude to reclassify problems that it feels aren’t serious enough to merit the category 1 moniker, the watchdog argued that there was no fix or workaround in place for 10 of those problems.
“With the revelation that officials made paperwork fixes to make these serious deficiencies appear acceptable, it seems that much of that work is being ignored in the name of political expediency and protecting F-35 funding,” the organization stated.

Winter pointed out that the program office does not have the power to waive or downgrade deficiencies, which can be written by the test community, operators or any other stakeholder in the F-35 program. Instead, deficiencies must be evaluated by the Joint Deficiency Review Board, which includes members from the program office, the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team responsible for assessing the F-35 during operational tests, developmental testers located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Edwards Air Force Base, as well as other representatives from the armed services and industry.

The F-35’s list of ongoing technical problems are unlikely to pose an existential threat to the program given the recent progress in fixing issues, driving down the costs of the airframe and continued support on Capitol Hill for the fighter jet.
"I would put this down to, frankly, growing pains that you’d expect from a sophisticated, modern aircraft program. Nothing really stands out [as particularly troubling], primarily because they seem to be well on the way toward being addressed,” said Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “What has been done to address these have reduced the concerns regarding safety of flight. Doesn’t mean that there isn’t still work to be done. And it doesn’t mean new things won’t be discovered.”

The list of deficiencies as a whole is in some ways encouraging, the currently serving aviator said, because it looks like the issues are being identified by the engineers and technicians working on the program.

“I think what you see in that document is an airplane that fell behind schedule, that was rushed to get back up to schedule under immense political and industry pressure. They had a lot of next-gen[eration] technologies all at once, and they’re working through what all of that looks like together,” the aviator said.

“I don’t see anything in that document that makes me say: ‘Holy sh--, what did we buy?’ If the questions is, ‘Why does the aircraft have all these problems?’, I don’t know, it may sound trite, but it’s a really f--ing complicated machine.”

David B. Larter in Washington contributed to this story.

 

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Supersonic speeds could cause big problems for the F-35′s stealth coating
By: Valerie Insinna and David B. Larter
12 June 2019

View attachment 7984
An F-35C flies over the U.S.s Navy's stealth guided-missile destroyer Zumwalt as the ship transits the Chesapeake Bay on Oct. 17, 2016. (Andy Wolfe/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — At extremely high altitudes, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ versions of the F-35 jet can only fly at supersonic speeds for short bursts of time before there is a risk of structural damage and loss of stealth capability, a problem that may make it impossible for the Navy’s F-35C to conduct supersonic intercepts.

The Defense Department does not intend to field a fix for the problem, which influences not only the F-35’s airframe and the low-observable coating that keeps it stealthy, but also the myriad antennas located on the back of the plane that are currently vulnerable to damage, according to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.

The F-35 Joint Program Office has classified the issues for the "B" and "C" models as separate category 1 deficiencies, indicating in one document that the problem presents a challenge to accomplishing one of the key missions of the fighter jet. In this scale, category 1 represents the most serious type of deficiency.

Both deficiencies were first observed in late 2011 following flutter tests where the F-35B and F-35C both flew at speeds of Mach 1.3 and Mach 1.4. During a post-flight inspection in November 2011, it was discovered the F-35B sustained “bubbling [and] blistering” of the stealth coating on both the right and left sides of the horizontal tail and the tail boom.

During similar tests of the F-35C in December 2011, “thermal damage” that compromised the structural integrity of the inboard horizontal tail and tail boom were apparent.

Vice Adm. Mat Winter, who leads the F-35 program on behalf of the Pentagon, told Defense News that the department has taken steps to mitigate the problem with an improved spray-on coating, but added that the government will not completely fix it — instead accepting additional risk.

As justification for the decision, Winter noted that the issue was documented while the jet was flying at the very edge of its flight envelope. He also said the phenomenon only occurred once for both the B and C models, despite numerous attempts to replicate the conditions that caused the problem.

“How often do we expect something like that to occur?” he said. “It's very, very small.”

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program head, said there have been no cases of this problem occurring in the operational fleet and that incidents have been limited to the “highest extremes of flight testing conditions that are unlikely replicated in operational scenarios.”

Winter acknowledged that the deficiency could keep the Navy from accomplishing its supersonic intercept mission — as the documents charge — if similar issues were being experienced more widely across the F-35C inventory.

“If you had that performance on all of your fleet, then you would have a problem. That’s not the case,” he said.

“We have put into place what we believe are the appropriate technical fix to ensure that our F-35Cs have the full envelope and capability to do the high-speed mission, if needed. That’s where we are. Right now, our United States Navy and Marine Corps flying the sea agree with that,” he said.

The new coating, which was introduced in Lot 8, allows the jet to withstand hotter temperatures caused by the afterburner, the documents stated. Winter characterized the material as able to withstand “what we call the thermal shock wave,” but declined to specify how the coating works or how much protection it provides.

“It may be some future advanced materials that can withstand the pressure and the temperature,” Winter said. “Then we see that, and we go, ‘Hey, look, we've got this on the book,’ [and] we do a test check to see if that new material solves that problem.”

The Defense Department has also instituted time limits on the number of seconds the F-35B and F-35C can fly at speeds in excess of Mach 1.2 while at full afterburner.

However, those restrictions are somewhat complicated, and it is unclear how pilots are expected to monitor their compliance to the limits while in flight.

For example, an F-35C can only fly at Mach 1.3 in afterburner for 50 cumulative seconds, meaning that a pilot cannot clock 50 seconds at that speed, slow down for a couple seconds and then speed back up. However, the time requirements reset after the pilot operates at military power — an engine power setting that allows for less speed and thrust than afterburner — for a duration of three minutes.

The F-35B can fly for 80 cumulative seconds at Mach 1.2 or 40 seconds at Mach 1.3 without risking damage.

But for both the C and B models, flying at Mach 1.3 over the specified time limits poses the risk of inducing structural damage to the aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer.

It is infeasible for the Navy or Marine Corps to operate the F-35 against a near-peer threat under such restrictions, the documents acknowledge.

“Pilot observed timers are not practical/observable in operationally relevant scenarios,” one document read. Another document said that “pilots will be unable to comply with time limit in many cases due to high mission workload, resulting in lost missions due to aircraft damage.”

And when those timer violations occur, they will result in “degradation of [stealth], damage to [communications, navigation and identification] antennas, and/or significant [horizontal tail damage],” one document explained.

How significant is this problem?

The limitations on the afterburner, when combined with another deficiency pertaining to the plane’s maneuverability, could prove deadly in close-combat scenarios.

The concept of operations for the F-35 is to kill an enemy aircraft before it can detect the fighter jet, but relying on long-range kills is a perspective that, for historical and cultural reasons, naval aviation distrusts. In the Vietnam War, when air warfare began heavily relying on missiles and moved away from the forward gun, it caused a spike in air-to-air combat deaths.

The lesson naval aviation took away was to prevent the latest and greatest technology from offsetting the learning of fundamentals, and it was the impetus behind the formation of Top Gun 50 years ago, a naval strike fighter course for training and tactics development.

“The solution is: ‘Hey, we’ll just limit the afterburner to less than a minute at a time,’ ” one retired naval aviator said, when told of the issue. “Which, with what the aircraft is supposed to do and be capable of, that’s a pretty significant limitation.”

“If you want to use it on the first or second day [of a conflict], it has to be stealthy, so you can’t hang a lot of external stores, which means you have to use internal fuel and internal weapons. And that means you have to launch fairly close in and you’ve got to be close enough to do something to somebody. And that usually means you are in a contested environment,” the aviator said.

“So you’re saying that I can’t operate in a contested environment unless you can guarantee that I’m going to be however far away from the thing I’m trying to kill,” the aviator added. “If I had to maneuver to defeat a missile, maneuver to fight another aircraft, the plane could have issues moving. And if I turn around aggressively and get away from these guys and use the afterburner, it starts to melt or have issues.”

The issue is compounded for the Navy, which must operate forward for months at a time, because any significant issues with coatings or the structure of aircraft would require a depot-level repair. And so a damaged aircraft would remain damaged until its host ship return to home port, reducing the combat effectiveness of the air wing.

“We might have to be operating at sea for eight months, so if you damage something on week one, guess what? It’s damaged for the rest of the deployment. And it affects your ability to evade detection by the enemy — you just degraded that asset permanently until you can get it somewhere where it can be fixed, at great expense and time,” the aviator said.

However, a naval aviator currently in service said the afterburner problem may not be that troubling to pilots, who must frequently work around a jet’s limitations. The key, he said, is understanding how often the issue occurs.

"I think you'd do well to go back and look at all the times they used the afterburner and that didn't happen," he said. "We're talking about tens of thousands of sorties at this point that this aircraft has flown."

Other aircraft that the Navy operates also have afterburner limits, he explained.

“I think that number needs context,” he said. "It looks scary on its own, but [the Super Hornet] has afterburner limits. They’re not that restrictive, but they have them. The aircraft has an afterburner, you want it to work.

“But I would want to get context for that number: Does this represent 0.002 percent of all sorties? If that’s the case, I don’t give a sh--, and I’ll probably have 15 other things fail before that."

Bryan Clark, previously a top aide to former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, likened the limitation on the afterburner to similar restrictions on submarine and ship operations.

“I think the operational impact is not huge, since it only applies during a small fraction of the jet’s operational profile. In subs and ships, we have a ‘safe operating envelope’ that defines where the platform is engineered to operate reliably for a long time. We can operate outside the safe operating envelope for a short time, but there are risks to doing so. The operator or commander needs to balance those risks against the benefits," he said.

“That is similar to this situation," he added. "The pilot can be on afterburner as long as needed to evade a threat but has to know the risk of structural damage increases. The pilot can balance that against the risk of getting shot down because he or she didn’t evade fast enough.”

The most important piece will be how well trained the pilot is on the aircraft, he continued.

“As a submariner, I knew the risks of being outside the safe operating envelope and how those risks increased over time and would impact ship performance.”

 

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Two F-35 partners threatened to quit the program. Here’s why they didn’t.
By: Valerie Insinna  
12 June 2019

The first F-35 fighters to be permanently based in Australia fly in formation with four RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornets on their arrival.

WASHINGTON — At some point over the recent history of the American-led Joint Strike Fighter program, at least two international F-35 partners issued an ultimatum to the U.S. Defense Department: Find a way to restrict U.S. access to foreign militaries’ sovereign data, or risk losing those countries as a customer.

The core issue, according to Defense Department documents about the F-35 program exclusively obtained by Defense News, surrounded the F-35′s logistics system, the Lockheed Martin-produced Autonomic Logistics Information System, otherwise known as ALIS.

ALIS is used by F-35 operators in virtually all stages of flying and sustaining the Joint Strike Fighter. The system is used to plan and debrief missions, order spare parts, walk maintainers through repairs, and view technical data and work orders.

But some partners on the F-35 program worried that data flowing through ALIS to the United States — and to Lockheed Martin — could give both the U.S. military and the American defense contractor a window into that country’s flight operations, including when and where its F-35s are flying.

Although several foreign F-35 customers have publicly discussed concerns about sovereign data moving through ALIS, this report marks the first time it has been disclosed that those concerns were so severe that multiple countries threatened to withdraw from the program.

“[Two-plus] countries have threatened that, if sovereign data is not addressed, they will either (a) pull out of the F-35 program of (b) stop sending any data to the U.S.,” one document states.

The documents, which are marked “for official use only,” do not specify which countries had considered dropping out. Vice Adm. Mat Winter, who has led the F-35 program since 2017, said he was unaware that any nations had made such threats.

“I don’t know where that ever came from, maybe from the politics, but there’s nobody pulling [out]," he said. “No one ever said those words to me, and I see all of my partners on a regular basis.”

It appears a solution may already be in hand.

On Aug. 17, 2018, the Defense Department awarded a $26 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop and test an “ALIS Sovereign Data Management” system that will allow foreign partners to more tightly control and protect their own data.

That effort has borne fruit, and certain partner nations have begun using the new data guard, which rolled out earlier this year, Winter said.

“Sovereign data management has been fielded to those that have aircraft. Norway has it. Israel has it. U.K. has it. Italy has it. We’re rolling it out to the Asia-Pacific here, now,” Winter said.

According to Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s F-35 program head, early feedback from international customers is positive.

New safeguards

The new data guard allows a foreign military to manage aspects of its data that is sent to the F-35 Hybrid Production Support Integration team, basically allowing a partner nation to review and block data leaving the country.

But the documents obtained by Defense News also mention a future iteration of the management system, which is set to be available in 2020 on a future version of the software known as ALIS 3.6. That future iteration is expected to allow countries to filter the “releaseable” data from the “nonreleaseable” data in every message.

But why might it be important for foreign nations to share certain data collected by ALIS?

Both the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed use the data collected by the planes to analyze the health of the aircraft and gauge when maintenance is needed. Without it, foreign militaries could be required to perform extra inspections or work on the plane to mitigate additional safety risks. It would also hinder Lockheed’s ability to provide spare parts when needed, making it more likely that jets would be stuck on the ramp.

Although many partner nations already have the sovereign data management system, the problem is currently classified as a category 1 deficiency, the label given to technical problems of high severity. Winter could not say when the deficiency would be formally eliminated or downgraded to category 2 status, and the F-35 JPO did not provide an answer to this question by press time, despite several weeks of advanced notice.

Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the sovereign data concerns raised by allies over the F-35 are a logical extension of the data security discussions that regularly occur between the United States and international countries that buy its weapons.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said, noting that the U.S. Defense Department is currently grappling with how to respond to Turkey, an F-35 partner nation that has triggered security concerns with its plans to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system.

“You can’t fault our allies and partners for expressing their concerns,” Gunzinger added. “They should certainly be expressed, and it looks like they are — just as we have expressed our concerns over other weapons systems programs, fairly recently, in fact.”

The documents stated that the concerns about ALIS sovereign data stem back to 2013, when the Australian Ministry of Defence conducted a review of ALIS data security.

“For [five] years, the international partners have highlighted the need for a sovereign data solution to ALIS,” the document states. However, the Pentagon did not recognize the problem as a deficiency until December 2016, when Todd Mellon, formerly the F-35 program office’s top civilian, directed that the issue be assigned as a category 1 deficiency.

“U.S. services are ambivalent to this issue,” the document states. But “foreign partners believe that the ability to inspect and control information coming into and leaving their country is critical to their cyber security posture.”

At the time, certain partners discussed working on their own solutions to the sovereign data issue.

The Royal Australian Air Force planned to create an interim product that would help F-35 partners protect their data and could be introduced as early as 2018, Air Vice Marshal Leigh Gordon told FlightGlobal in 2017. It is unclear whether the RAAF continued to develop that fix.

Norway and Italy stood up a software lab at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, allowing the two nations to manage its mission data separately from the U.S. military. A spokeswoman for the Italian Air Force told FlightGlobal in 2017 that Italy was also working on hardware and software that would filter out sensitive F-35 data and keep it from being sent to the United States.

Correction 6/12/19: This story misstated the value of the sovereign data management contract, which is $26 million.

 

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Spain’s military still has eyes for the F-35 despite European fighter push
By: Sebastian Sprenger
13 June 2019

View attachment 7996
Two U.S. Air Force F-35 aircraft participate in the Tactical Leadership Program flying course at Llanos Air Base near Albacete, Spain. (Sébastien Raffin/NATO)

MADRID — The Spanish Navy and Air Force are still interested in the American F-35 fighter jet, even though the government is about to join a Franco-German program to develop a new European plane.


The two services are in the beginning stages of an analysis in which the Lockheed Martin-made aircraft is emerging as a key contender, officials told reporters on the sidelines of the FEINDEF defense expo here in late May.

For the Navy, the choice for the short-takeoff-and-landing variant of the jet, dubbed the F-35B, appears to be more clear-cut than for the Air Force. The Spanish Navy wants to replace its 12 Harrier jets, which are launched from the LPH Juan Carlos I. That ship’s short, ski-jump deck makes the F-35B the only option on the market, according to Cdr. Antonio Estevan, a staff officer at the service’s plans and policy division.

“From a technical point of view, it’s a very interesting option for us,” Estevan said. “The problem is the cost. The version for us would be, as far as I know, $100 million; the Air Force version $80 million. We are talking about high prices. Even the American president was surprised when he realized the cost.”

Air Force officials, meanwhile, are keeping their options more open when it comes to replacing the service’s 84 Boeing-made F-18s. Twenty planes of the “A” variant, stationed on the Canary Islands, need to be replaced first, by 2025, according to Brig Gen. Juan Pablo Sanchez de Lara, chief of the Spanish Air Force’s plans division.

Airbus has its eyes on that business and is offering to outfit the squadron with the Eurofighter. While that outcome is also the Air Force’s expectation, a replacement for the rest of the F-18 fleet, 64 planes of the “M” designation, is still up for grabs, according to Sanchez de Lara.

The two services cooperating on the requirements of a potentially joint program means the F-35 is on the table in some form or another, though it’s unclear how compatible the branches’ needs will be in the end. “For the Navy, it’s a very simple solution because they need an aircraft for vertical, short takeoff,” Sanchez de Lara said. “For us, it’s different.”

Both services want new aircraft by around 2030. That would be ten years before the Future Combat Air System program, led by Airbus and Dassault, is scheduled to field a new combat aircraft.

The situation in Spain is reminiscent of the choice Germany faced about the F-35, and the government’s decision earlier this year to ditch the plane as a contender to replace the Tornado.

The Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, was reportedly in favor of the American fifth-generation plane, while the defense ministry’s civilian leadership preferred an upgraded version of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Airbus had lobbied hard against the F-35, arguing that the pick of a new U.S. aircraft at this stage would effectively sink the entire FCAS project.

Meanwhile, two F-35s arrived at Llanos Air Base near Albacete, Spain, earlier this week for training with other NATO air forces, according to announcements from the U.S. Air Force and NATO.

During the Tactical Leadership Program officials practiced integrating the aircraft into a search-and-rescue drill to extract friendly forces from enemy territory, a June 11 alliance statement reads.

 

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The Marine Corps’ ‘No. 1 priority’ for the F-35 involves a rough landing in hot environments
13 June 2019

View attachment 7998
A Marine F-35B hovers as it comes in for a landing. The thrust from the engine helps steady the plane as it comes down. (Samuel King Jr./U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — It was a hot day aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex when a pilot brought his F-35B in for what is known as a “mode four” flight operation, where the jet enters hover mode near a landing spot, slides over to the target area and then vertically lands onto the ship.

It’s a key part of the F-35B’s short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing capability, known as STOVL. And normally, everything in a “mode four” landing goes smoothly. But on this day, when the pilot triggered the thrust to slow his descent, something went wrong.

The engine, working hard on a day that temperatures cracked 90 degrees Fahrenheit while trying to lift a plane that was heavier than most returning to base, wouldn’t generate the needed thrust for a safe, ideal landing.

The pilot got the plane down, but was shaken enough by the situation to write up an incident report that would eventually be marked as “high” concern by the F-35 program office.

“May result in unanticipated and uncontrolled sink, leading to hard landing or potential ejection/loss of aircraft, particularly in the presence of HGI [hot gas ingestion],” reads a summary of the issue, which was obtained by Defense News as part of a cache of “for official use only” documents that detail major concerns with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The issue could impact future F-35B operations in the Middle East, where temperatures are climbing as summer approaches.

This could also be bad news for industry, as F-35 program head Vice Adm. Mat Winter indicated his belief that the fix, which he called the Marine Corps’ “No. 1 priority” for the F-35 program, should be paid for, at least in part, by the big contractors who designed the aircraft.

Still, Winter expressed confidence that the landing issue, which has so far proven to be a one-off incident, will be addressed by a series of fixes that should be in place by April 2020.

“We’re not done yet, and the Marine Corps will tell you we’re not done yet until we see the fix in the fleet, because that’s where we are,” Winter said. “That is the only way a STOVL aircraft lands on an L-class [amphibious] ship, so it’s important.”

Technical details
The issue seems to stem from two factors: the heat, and the fact that much of the testing for the “mode four” maneuver was done with planes that were lighter, as they weren’t armed with heavy stores of weaponry.

Feedback from the Marine Corps highlighted that while the average engine should not see this issue until around 750 flight hours, “several engines are at/near the point of concern,” and that number will continue to grow with the extended use of older planes.

Rebecca Grant, an analyst with IRIS Independent Research, said the issue seems to be a variant of the traditional “high-hot” problem, where hot temperatures make the air less dense.

“All engines are less efficient when super hot days reduce engine power and lift. Think of the helicopters and even tankers flying ‘high-hot’ mission parameters in Afghanistan or commercial jets out of Mexico City,” she explained. “Although air is dense at sea level, the heat surge slightly changed engine power.”

Winter said engineers have identified an issue in the design of the control software that the pilot uses to generate demand for thrust from the propulsion system.

“There’s no redesign of the engine [necessary]. The engine is doing what the engine is supposed to do,” Winter emphasized, before acknowledging that in addition to the software fix, the program office has worked with Honeywell to change how the company calibrates the throttle valve on the engine.

“We’ve identified the software fix for the control system, the calibration fix to the throttle valve and some near-term fleet actions that could be taken for very hot days to ensure that the pilot gets the performance he or she needs on those hot days,” he said.

That software fix will be a rolling target, as the first increment of the software release is due in June, followed by another at the end of this year or early next year.

“We’ve given them tighter tolerances to tune them more precisely, so that when it goes on the engine it’s no longer not giving the command the way it’s supposed to be,” Winter explained. “It wasn’t tuned correctly for this high-demand phase of flight. Now, we fixed that. That’s fixed. The software is going in to make sure that the pilot can command that thrust and understand the heat and the loading.”

Those fixes won’t be cheap, and when asked who would pay for them, Winter was blunt, saying it is his office’s belief the thrust issue is a “design deficiency” that merits “consideration” from industry.

“In this case it doesn’t matter that the design was done back in 2002, it’s still pragmatistic, so you owe consideration because we’re fixing it right now,” Winter said of industry.

Temporary solutions

The real test is going to be how the fixes perform in the field, given the F-35B’s 2018 deployment into the Middle East shows the jet will be used in a region known for lacking cool summer days.

When asked if the issue could impact operations in the region, Winter acknowledged it could during “very hot days.”

“I will not go on the record to say that there hasn’t been [an effect on operations]. There has been operational impact — that’s how we found this, and now we are implementing the fix to eliminate that operational impact, and the war fighter right now is mitigating that operational impact through the mechanisms and techniques we’ve provided them,” he said.

And until the fix is fully in place, pilots operating the F-35B can do a few things to mitigate the risk of a hard landing. First, make sure to wash the blades on the engine more frequently to avoid the buildup of salt or dirt that can make the system less efficient. Second, the squadron commander will need to think about load management, making sure aircraft aren’t returning too heavy with fuel and weapons.

“It’s wind over the deck. It’s aircraft stores loading. It’s those types of operational activities that a war fighter already takes into account,” Winter explained.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert with the Teal Group, agreed weight matters, saying that high-hot issues can often “be dealt with easily, but often at the expense of weight, which can impact range and payload.”

Grant also noted that Marine pilots will be able to adjust how they land, now that the issue is a known problem, adding that in comparison to the old Harrier Jump Jets, “the F-35B actually does way better than the Harrier in controlling its heat downwash.”

Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report

 

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The US Navy is seeking upgrades for the F-35 radar’s sea-search mode
By: David B. Larter and Valerie Insinna  
12 June 2019

View attachment 8000
An F-35B conducts weapons environmental testing along the Atlantic Test Range on July 22, 2015. (Michael D. Jackson/Lockheed Martin via U.S. Defense Department)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy wants more from the F-35 jet’s radar, which in sea-search mode is limited to what is directly in front of the aircraft, according to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.

According to the documents, the radar, Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array radar, can either hone in on a sector based on a specific point on the ground, or work in what is commonly known as “snowplow mode,” which, as the name suggests, searches everything in front of the aircraft.

The Navy wants to be able to scan a wider area when in sea-search mode, something that the radar is currently not set up for, according to officials who spoke to Defense News.

Officials also said the problem is on track for a solution, but may not be implemented until as late as 2024 with the Block 4 upgrades, notably adding that a solution will not be in place before a full-rate production decision on the F-35 this year.

Ultimately, giving the Navy what it wants will be a matter of boosting computing power and upgrading software, officials explained.

The issue is listed as a category 1 deficiency, according to the documents, which further define the limitation as something that means “adequate performance [is] not attainable to accomplish the primary or alternate mission(s).” The issue dates back to 2012, according to the documents. In this scale, category 1 represents the most serious type of deficiency.

It’s unclear why the issue is listed as a deficiency. The system is working in accordance with design specifications, according to both the documents and a statement from a Lockheed Martin executive.

“The F-35’s current radar sea search function meets the enterprises’ expressed required specification," said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s general manager of the company’s F-35 program. “As we modernize the F-35, we are bringing enhanced search capabilities, which represent an increase from the original requirements, and we stand ready to integrate the upgrade in the future, based on customer priorities and direction.”

In an interview with Defense News, the head of the Pentagon’s F-35 program office, Vice Adm. Mat Winter, said the issue was being resolved by software and computing upgrades, and there would be no requirement for a new radar.

“We’re not mechanically scanning, we’re electronically scanning,” Winter said. “And being able to accurately scan the maritime environment, it just takes increased computing power, and that’s what we’re doing. … It’s a software fix, and then an allocation of computing power.”

Winter may be referring to a planned bundle of computer upgrades called Tech Refresh 3, where the jet will get more modern computing systems that will increase the jet’s processing power and memory. According to one document obtained by Defense News, TR3 is a prerequisite for a future radar fix. Those TR3-equipped jets won’t roll off the production line until 2023.

Defense News submitted written questions to the Defense Department’s F-35 program office concerning these and other deficiencies, but it did not respond by press time, despite multiple follow-ups over a period of months.

A retired fighter pilot, who reviewed the documents for Defense News and agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, agreed with Winter’s assessment that the fix was likely software-based.

Early on in the F/A-18’s APG-79 AESA radar, there were glitches in the operation, but software updates smoothed out the system. Fixing the APG-81 should follow a similar track as the aircraft progresses, the pilot explained.

“As long as the array itself is technically sound, I suspect over time they’ll be able to find ways to continue to build out capability through software updates,” the retired fighter pilot said.

Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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