A new report released by the independent watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight (POGO) alleges that the defense contractor responsible for the development and production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter downgraded no fewer than 19 critical issues plaguing the aircraft as they approached the September 15 deadline for the aircraft’s initial testing and evaluation to be complete.
Issues identified with the aircraft are categorized based on the level of threat they pose to the aircraft and to mission accomplishment. Category 1 issues are considered the most pressing, described by the Pentagon as issues that “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization, or result in a production line stoppage.” According to internal documents obtained by POGO, 19 problems with the aircraft that have been listed as “Category 1” were recently downgraded to the less severe “Category 2” despite having no plans in place to address or correct the problems. Category 2 deficiencies are still considered serious, but only represent a threat to mission accomplishment, rather than to the pilot and aircraft’s safety. As of January of this year, the F-35 still had 111 Category 1 deficiencies and a further 855 Category 2 issues that needed to be addressed.
While POGO acknowledges that many aspects of the F-35 program have been legitimately in pursuit of improving the airframes effectiveness and survivability, they claim that Lockheed’s decision to sweet these 19 critical failures under the rug is indicative of other motives at play.
“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 report states.