The Trump administration should “rigorously and comprehensively review” Lockheed Martin Corp.’s (IW 500/25) F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s costliest program, the Defense Department’s director of combat testing said.
Michael Gilmore, who will leave the post as testing director when Donald Trump takes office as president next week, cited the fighter’s “significant, well-documented deficiencies in critical combat capabilities” in a letter Monday to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas, who’s a strong supporter of the F-35.
While Trump has tweeted that “the F-35 program and cost is out of control,” Pentagon officials say the plane is now essentially on schedule and close to its budget after earlier problems. But Gilmore focused on unresolved performance issues in the current $55 billion development phase. These must be resolved before the aircraft can enter intense combat testing and the eventual deployment later this decade of fully capable combat jets.
The Defense Department’s F-35 program office “has no plan to adequately fix and verify hundreds of these deficiencies using flight testing within its currently planned schedule and resources,” Gilmore wrote. Deploying F-35s “with capable mission systems is critical to our national security,” but the program now “is at high risk of sacrificing essential combat performance,” he added.
The Pentagon’s office of independent cost analysis estimates that extending the development phase from its planned test flight completion in September 2017 to as late as into 2020 could cost as much as $1.12 billion more. The number is contained in the testing director’s new annual report delivered to Pentagon leaders and lawmakers late Monday.
The program office has said completing the phase will require about $530 million extra and acknowledges it may slip to May 2018.
Gilmore’s annual report contains a 62-page assessment of the program that’s a detailed primer for the incoming administration on deficiencies that include software, weapons accuracy, aircraft-carrier launching, the diagnostic system and reliability.
By Tony Capaccio