Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Pentagon Report Slams F-35

U.S. defence officials are beginning to have disquieting thoughts about the F-35 light attack bomber that include its survivability in air combat.

A 68-page report dated 15 February, 2013, addresses a number of performance deficiencies in the F-35 and its systems.

It includes stunning pilot comments about the aircraft’s survivability (“Aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time”) while detailing the limited performance of the Air Force’s F-35A and its support systems during initial training at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base.

Some of the shortcomings are simply a result of the immature state of the F-35, even though the program is more than 10 years old. However, there are also issues that will never be solved, and there are unknowns about whether the F-35 will ever perform up to its modest specifications.

Those answers won’t be known until 2019, when operational testing is currently scheduled to be wrapped up — assuming everything goes perfectly from here on out.

As of now, the F-35As at Eglin Air Force can do little more than burn non-supersonic holes in the sky, using only gentle stick maneuvers and hardly any of the F-35′s highly-complex electronics.

Perhaps the biggest horror story is the poor showing of the Lockheed plane’s complicated, expensive helmet-mounted display system that distorts and obscures – rather than enhancing — the pilot’s vision and awareness of the outside world.

From radars that don’t work, to blurry vision from the aircraft’s sophisticated helmet, to an inability to fly through clouds, the report, which includes pilot comments, paints a picture of a jet nowhere near ready for real-life operations.

F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin is refusing to comment, but the report’s revelations will likely give Canadian military planners pause as they continue assessing options for replacing Canada’s aging CF-18s.

Here are a few observations directly from the Air Force report:

"The aircraft also is currently prohibited from flying close formation, aerobatics, and stalls..

Aircraft operating limitations prohibit flying the aircraft at night or in instrument meteorological conditions, hence pilots must avoid clouds and other weather.

Due to the immaturity of the aircraft, the work arounds required to support flight operations, and very limited mission systems capability little knowledge can be gained ...applicable to F-35 sustainment under normal squadron training operations or to sustainment of combat capable aircraft in operational units.  Additionally, the F-35 Joint Reliability and Maintainability evaluation Team data for the F-35a fleet suggest that the program is not meeting reliability growth targets to meet requirements.


Purple library guy said...

No flying it in clouds . . . yeah, that'll be just perfect for Arctic patrolling, I'm sure. Or would be if it had the range to get there to patrol--I guess in real life it's kind of moot.

thwap said...

You wouldn't hear anything like this from the harper government. You wouldn't hear anything at all about the tens of billions of dollars of our money that fat piece of shit wants to spend.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm left wondering at what point the international supporters will up and walk away from this attack bomber. They tried to get contracts finalized without a competitive fly-off and for several good reasons. That may no longer be possible.

Remember, the F-35 was designed for the air war it might have to fight in 2010. By the time it gets into service it will be 2020 at the earliest and will face a far more challenging environment.

I would bet that Boeing is relieved that they lost the JSF competition to Lockheed.

Boris said...

I've always wondered about pilot visibility in the F-35 ever since WW2 made giving fighters with a bubble canopy and an unobstructed 360 view a virtual Law.

Most planes give me the aesthetic-mechanical sense that they should fly. Even the Starfighter with its razor thin stubby wings, and although the items like the Typhoon are aerodynamically unstable, they at least also kind of look like belong in the air.

The F-35 always looked to me like a grey slab of rock that can only fly with great effort. This report doesn't surprise me.

The Mound of Sound said...

As I understand it, Boris, the F-35 was supposed to provide the pilot a 360 degree, electro-optical view of the battlefield and, hence, actual ability to see wasn't required. Then again Lockheed execs have already let slip that the F-35 is a "straight line" warplane intended for standard intruder tactics of entering hostile airspace at low altitude, delivering some bombload to the designated target, and egressing in another low and direct path.

Given that the 35's stealth masking is front-aspect only the straight-in/straight-out role only makes sense.

I'm not really sure that rear visibility is a legitimate issue because by the time the F-35 pilot needs it he's probably got a more agile, faster aircraft on his tail that he can't really do bugger all about anyway. Maybe it's better they simply don't know what's there.

Anonymous said...

Even the intellectually challenged Reform-Conservative government must realise that the F-35 is a disaster.

The F-35 is a failed project, and even if it was successful, it would not satisfy Canadian requirements.

Anonymous said...

The whole concept of Stealth would seem to be at least suspect.
The war it is designed to fight will no longer be relevant in a few short years.
Future wars are already here & being fort by dromes and computer hackers.