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Pentagon reports major defects in all F-35 variants

Special to

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has reported additional flaws
in the Joint Strike Fighter, sought by Israel and Turkey.

The Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation asserted that
all three variants of the JSF contained major flaws. In a report submitted
to Congress, Defense Undersecretary Michael Gilmore said the F-35 was being
hampered by design and production defects that emerged in 2012.

An F-35A fighter plane arrives at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. /Lockheed Martin

“The lag in accomplishing the intended 2012 flight testing content
defers testing to following years, and in the meantime, will contribute to the program delivering less capability in production aircraft in the near term,” the report said.

The report, slated for release on Jan. 15, was submitted to Congress
amid the refusal by NATO members to order JSF. On Jan. 11, Turkey announced that it was delaying plans to procure its first two F-35As. So far, Israel, whose procurement of 19 aircraft was financed by Washington, has been the only foreign client that followed through on its initial order.

The Pentagon report said the F-35 was found to be vulnerable to an
outbreak of fire. Gilmore said the removal of protection systems from JSF in 2008 increased vulnerability to a Polyalphaolefin, or PAO, blaze by 25 percent.

“The program’s most recent vulnerability assessment showed that the
removal of fueldraulic fuses, the PAO shutoff valve, and the dry bay fire
suppression, also removed in 2008, results in the F-35 not meeting the
Operational Requirements Document requirement to have a vulnerability
posture better than analogous legacy aircraft,” the 17-page report, titled
“FY2012 Operational Test & Evaluation,” said.

The report cited a halt in testing of the F-35B short-takeoff and
vertical landing variant, sought by the U.S. Marine Corps. The Pentagon said
the tests were suspended in December 2012 when multiple cracks were found on
the underside of the fuselage. Other F-35 were said to have developed cracks
in their wings.

Other tests were canceled in 2012 because of aircraft limitations that
prevented the extended use of the afterburner. Other factors included higher
than expected loads on weapon bay doors and deficiencies in the
air-refueling system.

The report also cited delays in software development for the F-35.
Flight tests were said to have been hampered by delays in software or
incomplete software.

The F-35’s helmet-mounted display system, designed and developed by
Israel’s Elbit Systems, was also deemed deficient. The report cited
difficulties in night-vision as well as inadequate imagery and recording.

“Boresight alignment between the helmet and the aircraft is not
consistent between aircraft and requires calibration for each pilot,” the
report said. “Finally, a recently discovered technical problem referred to
as ‘green glow’ has been experienced when light from the cockpit avionics
displays leaks into the helmet-mounted display and degrades visual acuity
through the helmet visor under low ambient light conditions. The test team
is planning additional, dedicated ground and flight testing to address these
technical problems.”

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