The F-35 still has a a long way to go according to a memo from the Defense Department Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate. Multiple problems and deficiencies still exist.

Here we go again. Just when things were looking up for the maligned F-35, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT & E) Head Michael Gilmore has some major reservations with the jet. Full rate production is scheduled for 2019 and a new Administration will need to make the final determination on if and when that will occur.

“In fact the program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver” the aircraft’s full capabilities, “for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion by the scheduled end” of its development in 2018 said Gilmore in an Aug. 9 memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

Among the issues: flight testing has fallen far behind the originally planned schedule. Every new error discovered has to be reworked, placing the flight testing schedule further behind.

Additionally, weapons and software issues are still development factors. The Air Force F-35A’s 25mm Gatling gun door induces yaw, or sideslip, resulting in aiming errors for the gun. Integration problems with the Small Diameter Bomb and AIM-9X include load excesses that would put undue strain on the aircraft. Most importantly, 3F software issues continue to plague the F-35. Reports are that some type of software issue occurs every 9 hours, resulting in a full reboot of the system.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James acknowledged the F-35’s overall development issues.

“If you go back over the entire history of the F-35 there is no question that over that history it’s taken longer and it has cost more money than originally anticipated but that is part and parcel of a development program,” she said.

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But Joint Program Office (JPO) Chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told Aviation Week that his program office is already working on solutions.

“There were absolutely no surprises in the recent memo from the OSD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation,” Bogdan says. “Specific to the memo, the JPO has been and is currently acting on all the recommendations.”

But DOT & E feels achieving full combat capability might be more difficult than the JPO expects.

“Achieving full combat capability with the Joint Strike Fighter is at substantial risk” of not occurring before development is supposed to end and realistic combat testing begins, Gilmore said of the F-35.

Maybe the most telling sign is what Gilmore said about the F-35’s ability to perform in a stand alone role.

Gilmore wrote in the memo that the F-35 could serve in combat today only if it was accompanied by older aircraft that would provide support to “locate and avoid modern threats, acquire targets and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to outstanding performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage.”

So where in the world does that leave us?

You can read Tony Capaccio’s full article here.

Top Photo: History being made for the F-35C fleet. On November 3, 2014, the first arrested carrier landing was made by a F-35C from VX-23 ‘Salty Dogs’. (Photo ©Lockheed Martin – All Rights Reserved)