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More F-35 issues

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F-35’s Gun that Can’t Shoot Straight Adds to its Roster of Flaws

By Anthony Carpaccio
Bloomberg News

January 30, 2020

Add a gun that can’t shoot straight to the problems that dog Lockheed Martin’s $428 billion F-35 program, including more than 800 software flaws.

The 25mm gun on Air Force models of the Joint Strike Fighter has “unacceptable” accuracy in hitting ground targets and is mounted in housing that’s cracking, the Pentagon’s test office said in its latest assessment of the costliest U.S. weapons system.

The annual assessment by Robert Behler, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, doesn’t disclose any major new failings in the plane’s flying capabilities. But it flags a long list of issues that his office said should be resolved – including 13 described as Category 1 “must-fix” items that affect safety or combat capability – before the F-35’s upcoming $22 billion Block 4 phase.

The number of software deficiencies totaled 873 as of November, according to the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release as soon as Friday. That’s down from 917 in September 2018, when the jet entered the intense combat testing required before full production, including 15 Category 1 items. What was to be a year of testing has now been extended another year until at least October.

“Although the program office is working to fix deficiencies, new discoveries are still being made, resulting in only a minor decrease in the overall number” and leaving “many significant‘’ ones to address, the assessment said.

Cybersecurity “Vulnerabilities”

In addition, the test office said cybersecurity “vulnerabilities” that it identified in previous reports haven’t been resolved. The report also cites issues with reliability, aircraft availability, and maintenance systems.

The assessment doesn’t deal with findings that are emerging in the current round of combat testing, which will include 64 exercises in a high-fidelity simulator designed to replicate the most challenging Russian, Chinese, North Korean, and Iranian air defenses.

Despite the incomplete testing and unresolved flaws, Congress continues to accelerate F-35 purchases, adding 11 to the Pentagon’s request in 2016 and in 2017, 20 in fiscal 2018, 15 last year, and 20 this year. The F-35 continues to attract new international customers such as Poland and Singapore. Japan is the biggest foreign customer, followed by Australia and the U.K.

By late September, 490 F-35s had been delivered and will require extensive retrofitting. The testing office said those planes were equipped with six different versions of software, with another on the way by the time that about 1,000 planes will be in the hands of the U.S. and foreign militaries.

A spokesmen for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office had no immediate comment on the testing office’s report.

Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, said that “although we have not seen the report, the F-35 continues to mature and is the most lethal, survivable, and connected fighter in the world.” He said “reliability continues to improve, with the global fleet averaging greater than 65% mission-capable rates and operational units consistently performing near 75%.”

The Mattis Test

Still, the testing office said “no significant portion” of the U.S.’s F-35 fleet “was able to achieve and sustain” a September 2019 goal mandated by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: that the aircraft be capable 80% of the time needed to perform at least one type of combat mission. That target is known as the “Mission Capable” rate.

“However, individual units were able to achieve the 80% target for short periods during deployed operations,” the report said. All the aircraft models lagged “by a large margin” behind the more demanding goal of “Full Mission Capability.”

The Air Force’s F-35 model had the best rate at being fully mission-capable, while the Navy’s fleet “suffered from a particularly poor” rate, the test office said. The Marine Corps version was “roughly midway” between the other two.

The Air Force and Navy versions are also continuing to have cracks in structural components, according to the report, saying, “The effect on F-35 service life and the need for additional inspection requirements are still being determined.”

Gun Woes

The three F-35 models are all equipped with 25mm guns. The Navy and Marine versions are mounted externally and have acceptable accuracy, but the Air Force model’s gun is mounted inside the plane and the test office “considers the accuracy, as installed, unacceptable” due to “misalignments” in the gun’s mount that didn’t meet specifications.

The mounts are also cracking, forcing the Air Force to restrict the gun’s use. The program office has “made progress with changes to gun installation” to improve accuracy, but they haven’t been tested yet, according to the report.

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Sadly I have some serious doubts about the aircraft and always have. I wont express opinions beyond that as it would get too political to quick I think.  

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Surprised the gun issues weren't picked up at a very early stage although its primarily for air to air use as opposed to ground attack. 

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17 minutes ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Sadly I have some serious doubts about the aircraft and always have. I wont express opinions beyond that as it would get too political to quick I think.  

Don't believe all that you read, the guys and girls flying the F35 swear by it! This is one extremely advanced aircraft and the best in the world in a lot of areas - situational awareness is superior to the F22 and a key element in survivability. With any new programme the critics make mountains out of mole hills.

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10 hours ago, Stealthman said:

Surprised the gun issues weren't picked up at a very early stage although its primarily for air to air use as opposed to ground attack. 

Can it possibly be more accurate in air to air?

If it is a mounting issue...?

Or are the air to air bursts shorter? Or targets closer?

Any info on this?

 

General availability will suffer also because I'd understand the early examples being a special problem... 

Navy: hardly any planes.. 

Marines: many very early examples...

 

Always necessary to fully understand numbers before drawing statistical conclusions... me thinks! 

 

Countries/ airforces order like hell, so something great must be expected!

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1 hour ago, exdraken said:

Countries/ airforces order like hell, so something great must be expected!

Yes, you are right, but in most countries (like Belgium, Holland) there are very lively discussions about the buying process, do we need such an expensive aircraft that isn't completely ready, has to be touched by gloves, etc... 

Edited by Silenoz

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I think the Operators make it clear it is a hell of a platform, and all will get sorted.  Let the thing grow and develop.

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On 2/6/2020 at 12:11 PM, Stealthman said:

Surprised the gun issues weren't picked up at a very early stage although its primarily for air to air use as opposed to ground attack. 

Sadly this aircraft is being touted by the air farce as the "replacement for the A-10" which means it could see a lot of air-to-mud use.

Luckily the Warthog family is being re-winged and upgraded internally.

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Obviously I don't know you all, and I don't know what you do or did for a living. I'd be homeless in short order trying to live on making model paints, so as many of you can guess I work a "real" job which provides 100% of our household income. That's currently a technical and commercial oversight management role in a major engineering and construction company. We design stuff and build it.

 

I studied Mechanical Engineering at university. That has zero in common with being a mechanic, and the only time nuts and bolts came up during the 4 year course was in the context of how difficult it was to predict fatigue cracking on threads, and how it changes depending on the manufacturing technique.

 

Why am I waffling on? Because it's only really when you have a technical university level education and good experience working on engineering design, procurement and construction projects that one gets an appreciation of how much there is to know about it. The more you know about it, the more daunting a complex project becomes.

 

The single biggest misnomer in the world of Engineering is the term "over engineered". That's the polar opposite of what those who say it mean. The easiest way to be sure something won't break in an engineering project is to calculate it very conservatively, using safe, simplified calculations and costing little in terms of analysis and expensive engineering manhours. You will get something bigger/fatter/stronger/heavier than is actually needed and that's nice and safe. We under-engineer. We do (much) less engineering and you get a good-enough product that's 80% of what you want for 20% of the cost. Trying to refine things gets you into rapidly diminishing returns of cost and effort versus improvement to the part.

 

In my industry there is a cost focus but it's more time sensitive really. An oil & gas platform will perform its role just as well with its topsides weighing 18,000 tonnes as it would 15,000 tonnes, but everyone will have much more confidence that the heavier one will last its intended design life and beyond, and that some corrosion won't mean difficult and expensive repairs so quickly. It just weighs more and costs a bit more in steel. Whilst it likes to paint itself as cutting edge, my industry is ultra conservative in its use of technology. What we do is really simple at its fundamental level, but the number of documents and calculations we produce to provide the technical assurance and justification for a project would boggle the minds of most readers - because despite being simple it's also potentially explosive and nobody wants another Piper Alpha and a prison sentence for criminal negligence.

 

Now imagine we're going to build something using technology we're to develop along the way. It has to be better than anything anyone's ever done before, and because nobody's ever done it before nobody is really sure how much effort it's going to take to make it work. Worse, we can't just be conservative.

 

Most aircraft through the 20th century grew in weight from initial design to actual service. In almost all cases that meant it used a bit more runway to take off and land, couldn't fly quite so high, couldn't carry quite as much, couldn't turn quite as tight, didn't fly quite as fast and drank fuel at a higher rate - but it still worked.

 

When the Harrier was built it was realised that the above wouldn't work. If it grew in weight it wouldn't take off vertically. It received much more engineering effort than previous aircraft. Removable panels become load bearing and had to have long, drawn out stress calculations to provide their technical justification and absolutely minimise the thickness of alloy and number of fasteners whilst still proving it was strong enough. In terms of avionics though, the Harrier was pretty conventional.

 

The technical complexity of F-35 or indeed anything else we could design and build to be superior to the Russians or Chinese equipment is mind boggling. Everything is as light as they think they can get away with, but fatigue in particular is not an entirely predictable beast - so we might find some particular components cracking with prolonged use. The number of systems involved and how they're integrated is likewise hugely complex with lots of bugs inevitable.

 

 

The F-35 is not a bad aircraft. Any similar project would give similar results. If we don't want to waste such vast sums ironing out issues in combat equipment, we need to very quickly get better at being human beings and stop fighting each other. Recent voting trends in various parts of the world suggest we as a species are not ready to stop killing each other over a fraction of a pale blue dot for a fleeting moment in time, so it looks like we're stuck with trying to develop the best combat aircraft in the world.

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55 minutes ago, hairystick said:

Sadly this aircraft is being touted by the air farce as the "replacement for the A-10" which means it could see a lot of air-to-mud use.

Luckily the Warthog family is being re-winged and upgraded internally.

 

Yes, the A-10 has been upgraded so can finally use certain weapons that will allow the type to conduct missions from higher altitudes. This means that now the A-10 can also be used in situations where until the upgrade the much loved Warthog had to stay at the base because the risk of losses was too high...

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I find quite funny the fact that while the nth complaint about the how the F-35 is useless and unreliable appears, in these same days there have been a couple of threads on types of the past that we all love and some rate as the best ever and so on...

In one it was mentioned how the Hunter really did not reach the desired capabilities until the F.6 variant appeared. By that time other countries had in service types that could pass M1 in horizontal flight and some M2 types were already flying.

In another thread there was a list of modifications to the Phantom that included among the others the addition of reinforcements on all aircraft already in service...

Yet nobody here would say that the Phantom was a disaster and if someone tried to criticize the Hunter as a flawed design he would probably be sentenced to walk on his knees from Kingston to Dunsfold while singing the praise of Sydeny Camm and his creations.

Still the truth is that the RAF in the '50s accepted into service an aircraft that could not fire its guns while over 5,000 Phantoms were built and at some point most if not all of them required the addition of plates here and there to cure structural problems...

What does this mean in the context of a discussion on the F-35 ? Two things...

First: no aircraft type is 100% right from the start ! All aircraft designs encounter problems of some kind during their flight test phase, their initial entry into service and then throughout their life. Some of these problems are of easy solution, some are less easy to sort. Some of these problems are minor and some require serious redesign actions. Some of these problems are sometime never even sorted during the career of an aircraft type but the user in the end adapts to them. In this the F-35 is no different from most other types from the past. This does not apply to aircraft designs only but to most if not all complex products.

Of course what is different today is that we have the Internet ! And with this we have the immediate circulation of a lot of information that is then immediately commented upon by every kind of people, often more with the intention of creating a buzz rather than helping to get a proper understanding of the situation. In the past there was no internet so nobody could comment on the troubles of the aircraft of the past. Imagine if we have the Web in the '50s, what would have people said if they had known that the brand new fighter of the RAF had an engine that would switch off when the guns were fired ?

Second point: there is one other very important difference between the types of today and of the past: the "metrics" used by the same manufacturers and users of the aircraft to assess how this meet the requirements have changed a lot compared to the past ! The acceptance parameters today are much more stringent and many of the issues that have been identified are things that in previous generations of fighters would have been considered less important. The F-35 customers today request levels of safety and reliability that many aircraft types of the past never managed to achieve even at the peak of their maturity. Today many here chant on how great the Lightning or some other type was, but we should keep in mind that most of these types featured issues during their career that today would be considered unacceptable. The many software problems of the F-35 have made the news several times, but they are nothing compared to the reliablity issues that the systems installed on many important types of the past had during their career. The USAF and the other users want from the F-35 much more than they had in previous types and this is also reflected in the testing and assessment procedures. And in the end the USAF will most likely have to relax some specification if they want to have the type in service, just like every air force did in the past with pretty much every aircraft....

 

 

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More people had a technical background generally then, and more pilots and test pilots had formal engineering education before becoming pilots. There was wider acceptance amongst the directly involved of the inevitable iterative nature of such complex projects, and there was far less armchair commentary with global reach.

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Also do not forget that today planes/systems actually are a lot more expensive in development, procurement and training.... less are bought as a consequence!

Also, look at development times today!

Most users only start to field some F-35 capability now... the US Navy not even that...

They should be mature when entering service for that reason as well!

Edited by exdraken

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If only any technology could be mature on entry to service... 🤔

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The F-35B and F-35C both use an external gun pod (which is actually meeting accuracy specifications), but, interestingly, the gun pods are unique to each variant and cannot be interchanged.

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This is DOT&Es job. To test equipment and find faults, deficiencies and vulnerabilities while identifying areas where contractors aren't meeting their obligations to the military end users of the equipment.

 

Read any DOT&E report on any program and you'll find the same sober judgements on every aspect of the program. For example, the 2005 DOT&E reports for the F-22 listed 351 deficiencies and regarded it as 'not operationally suitable'. Mainly these reports are just griping that the contractor hasn't provided the JOTT the required means to adequately test whatever it is they're trying to evaluate. 

 

Like the 737 Max, everyone jumps on every single F-35 release because it's under heavy media scrutiny. But it's DOT&E's job to ensure the customer gets the equipment the contractor sold them, not to provide gleeful ammunition for an ignorant, facile media. 

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Jamie at Sovereign, that was a good overview, and I am often reminded of that great quote, I think from John Glenn, that when he was orbiting the earth in the Mercury capsule he realised every part was made by the lowest bidder.

 

Add in to the above the longevity of the proposed programme and it complicated it still further. I was lucky enough to know the late John Farley, a man whose judgement in most things aeronautic was wise, at the very least. He pointed out that designers of aircraft now are producing aircraft that will be flown by the grandchildren of the first-generation pilots. We have this happening with such things as the B52, but that was by accident not design, but the development cost, gestation time and proposed time in service could well see the F35 in service for a comparable time. 100 year old design? Not impossible.

 

However, I did speak to the father of one of the test pilots and asked him what his son really thought about it. He was not complimentary, but these are very early days and it is, of course, my friends’s son’s job to identify, quantify and work with the team to eliminate those flaws. If, at the end of that process you still have a problem then you really do have a problem. 

 

As for those pilots getting their their hands on a new aircraft then they are always the best thing since sliced bread, that is almost written into daily orders*. Dissent against it will never go public, constructive critique will be offered and is, again obviously, part of the ongoing acceptance procedure, and all out of public gaze.

 

As an aside, Keith Dennison, who used to CTP for a small company called British Aerospace, is a good friend and whilst sitting in his kitchen one day, some years back now, (handling ‘Monty’ his corn snake) I asked him if the Typhoon was any good., and what it was like to fly. I trust him to be honest and he told me that it is the aircraft the RAF had been after since the Lightning. As for what it was like to fly, we had an interesting couple of moments. He didn’t directly answer but asked me how many hours I had and in what. I told him that, at that time I had about 400 hours and it was mostly tailwheel and low power. He then pondered for a bit and said ‘I reckon I could get you solo in a day.’ I was flabbergasted, then he said ‘honestly Melv, it is really easy to fly because it will not let you get it into a bad situation. A few hours in a twin sticker to get you used to the feel and get you flying AOA, and then circuit bashing to get you used to the approach speeds, which would be a surprise after fling a 150 Super Cub, and I reckon you could do it.’

 

I sat there, a bit taken aback and working out how we could borrow one and try this, but said ‘in that case you’ve done your job right’ and he said ‘why?’, fully knowing the answer, ‘if you are having to think in any way about flying the aircraft then that part of your brain is unavailable for aiming weapons and disposing if the bad guys, or stopping your nethers getting missiled.’ He nodded. Jeez, I’d love a go in one now!

 

Melvyn

* standing orders story. I used to write Flying Visit for Aeroplane which was often way more fun than it should have been and what I was often asked to leave out was incredible stories. I went to Coningsby to interview Paul Day, the then CO, who has a refreshingly dry sense of humour. Following the standard 12 or 13 questions we chatted about what was coming up and he told me they were due to temporarily move the flight to Barkston Heath whilst there was work done on Coningsby’s runway. He said, with the usual total absence of a smile. ‘I am not looking forwards to this. Orders have been issued. They say ‘Thou shalt not whinge’, and I have no doubt whatsoever that was exactly how it was worded. The ‘Major’ is a goodun.

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On 2/6/2020 at 8:11 PM, Stealthman said:

Surprised the gun issues weren't picked up at a very early stage although its primarily for air to air use as opposed to ground attack. 

I am sure the same thing was said when it was found the Harrier couldn't  have 2 cannons on the GR5.... however this will be sorted, besides which, it is an issue on the A and we are buying the B. 

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On 2/12/2020 at 5:10 AM, PLC1966 said:

I am sure the same thing was said when it was found the Harrier couldn't  have 2 cannons on the GR5.... however this will be sorted, besides which, it is an issue on the A and we are buying the B. 

I don’t believe the UK are buying the gun pod? After all, Harriers from GR.5 onward didn’t need them, right? 

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23 hours ago, GMK said:

I don’t believe the UK are buying the gun pod? After all, Harriers from GR.5 onward didn’t need them, right? 

 

From what I heard the UK has fallen out of love with the gun as a close air support weapon since it's a non-precision, unguided weapon and almost everything we're doing now is precision based with friendly or civilians in close proximity to the target area. Hosing down areas with cannon fire isn't something we do from fixed wing aircraft very much or, when it is appropriate, it's usually better delivered from an Apache which can take its time confirming it has the right target at the other end of the gun barrel before opening fire.

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In the USAF's experience, strafing has saved more than a few lives in the Iraq/Afghanistan unpleasantness. Even the F-15E has engaged bad guys with it's gun.

 

Of course, it's driven by the tactical situation at hand, location of opposing forces, weather, etc. In a "danger close" situation, a strafing pass is probably less of a bad thing than the blast and fragmentation from a GBU-12. Cheaper too.

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From what I have gotten, from someone who was involved in the avionics and electronics fitted by  a well-known UK manufacturer, the gun pod only carries enough ammunition for 2 seconds firing time, and is not very accurate  as a pod-mounted weapon, and the weight penalty for a more accurate internally-mounted weapon installation was prohibitive. He also  said it didn't make a lot of sense to put a very expensive stealthy airplane at risk for either CAS or air-to-air with a close-in gun when the AIM-9X and small  directed munitions would be much more accurate and effective  for air or ground targets. I'm afraid our  big brass are still in love with gun-equipped dogfighters, as everything up to and including the F-22 still have an internally-mounted M61A2 20mm cannon. I don't really have an opinion on the subject;  I don't have access to up-to-date information on the newest generation combat aircraft, and I'm definitely old-school, as I think the F-15. F-16, and F-18 are all 'Star Wars' jets anyway! Just wanted to put my two-tuppence worth out there, for what little it is worth! (That being said, can we get back to Sabres and Hunters?) 🤪

Mike

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9 hours ago, Jamie @ Sovereign Hobbies said:

 

From what I heard the UK has fallen out of love with the gun as a close air support weapon since it's a non-precision, unguided weapon and almost everything we're doing now is precision based with friendly or civilians in close proximity to the target area. Hosing down areas with cannon fire isn't something we do from fixed wing aircraft very much or, when it is appropriate, it's usually better delivered from an Apache which can take its time confirming it has the right target at the other end of the gun barrel before opening fire.

From discussions I’ve had with JTACs with considerable operational experience in both rural and dense urban environments, cannon from fast air is incredibly precise; not much ‘hosing down’ going on. 

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I think the USAF still remembers the lessons of Vietnam with regard to guns on fighters. Of course, today's AAM's are much more reliable than those from that era.

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