WASHINGTON DC – This is how Lockheed Martin defines the F-35:
“The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth 5-gen fighter aircraft designed for many missions with advanced, integrated sensors built into every aircraft. Missions that were traditionally performed by small numbers of specialized aircraft, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and electronic attack missions can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s, bringing new capabilities to NATO and other allied air forces.”
There are many other definitions of this aircraft and many are complete antipodes to that of Lockheed Martin, but they all boil down to this – the most expensive flying turkey ever built. Since the aircraft first took flight in 2006. 13 critical flaws have been officially detected. However, independent media have cited sources claiming over 100 critical flaws. Lockheed Martin and other defense corporations involved in JFS program have been successful in hushing the media about all but the mentioned 13 flaws. Despite facing all these, potentially dangerous problems, over 400 jets have been built by June 2019.
The real reason is more of a political and economic nature rather than military. Lockheed Martin notes the following:
Of the original nine partner countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – six have received their first jets. There are also three foreign military sale (FMS) customers – Israel, Japan and the Republic of Korea. In addition, the F-35 is being evaluated by the Belgian government as a possible replacement for their F-16 fleet and the Finnish government as a possible replacement for their F/A-18C/D fleet.
Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, US, Israel and Japan have pilots and maintainers either fully trained or at some point in the training process.
Suppliers in all nine of the program’s partner countries are producing F-35 components for all aircraft, not just those for their country. And in addition to the Fort Worth plant, there are two Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facilities outside the United States: one in Cameri, Italy, where the first jet was delivered in December 2015; and another in Nagoya, Japan, where the first jet was delivered in June 2017.
This is where we get to one of the key critical flaws – corrosion “exceeding technical limits”, according to a Pentagon inspection.
At the moment, the heart of the dispute is the USAF inspection of the Lockheed Martin’s quality control department during production, which failed to discover problems with the fastenings, the sources said.
Another dispute with Lockheed Martin over a production mistake on the F-35 has prompted the Pentagon and at least two foreign countries from accepting delivery of new aircraft.
“Corrosion ‘exceeding technical limits’ was discovered during routine maintenance at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) last year. The Pentagon determined that the ‘lack of protective coating at the fastening point’ between the carbon fiber exterior panel and aluminum airframe to be the cause.”
Currently, the dispute revolves around paying Lockheed Martin technicians to travel around the world to remedy the issue on jets based overseas.
Last year, USAF stopped accepting new F-35s for an entire month after discovering corrosion where panels were fastened to the airframe. This is an issue that affected more than 200 of the stealthy jets, out of around 300 delivered by that point. The fix was devised, the deliveries resumed, Lockheed hit its target aircraft delivery numbers for 2017, but crawling frustrations due to other flaws continued.
A Lockheed spokeswoman said on Wednesday:
“Production on the F-35 program continues and we are confident we will meet our delivery target of 91 aircraft for 2018. While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon.”
This, however, wasn’t the end of F-35s troubles.
As stated before, at the moment, the heart of the dispute is the Pentagon’s inspection of the planes during Lockheed Martin’s production, which failed to discover problems with the fastenings. Because neither party caught the issue at the time each is pointing the finger at the other to pay for the fix.
The delivery pause is just the latest of a plethora of production issues that have arisen in America’s most expensive weapons program in history and comes at a time when Trump’s administration has heavily criticized the cost of the fighter.
In 2016, a fix for insulation problems in the fuel tanks and lines of the jets caused a slowdown in deliveries, which in turn increased the production costs. Again.