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The most expensive F-35 variant has hit another major snag that could take years to fix

Thursday, January 5, 2017 14:33
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The most expensive F-35 variant has hit another major snag that could take
years to fix
Alex Lockie Business Insider France 4 Jan 2017, 20:24

The Pentagon has established a “red team” to address considerable
shortcomings with the F-35C, the carrier-based naval variant of the most
expensive weapons project in history.

The F-35, subject to cost overruns and delays throughout its production,
reached an initial state of military readiness with its Air Force and Marine
variants in 2016, but the Navy’s variant lags behind in part due to an issue
with its nose gear during catapult-assisted takeoffs from aircraft carriers,
Inside Defense uncovered on Wednesday.

Essentially the problem, detailed in a Navy report with data dating back to
2014, deals with rough takeoffs that hurt and disorient pilots at the
critical moment when they’re taking off from a carrier.

The Pentagon’s red team found the problem was due to several factors central
to the plane’s design, and recommended several fixes that will take several
months to several years to fully fix. The report states that long term
actions to address the problem will not take place until 2019, at which
point they’ll take 12-36 months to implement.

Redesigns to the plane, as well as to carriers, may be necessary to fully
address the problem.

A Pentagon deficiency report in 2015 stated that extreme movements in the
cockpit during launch risked pilot health.

One hundred and five pilots completing catapult launches rated their level
of pain or discomfort on a scale of one to five. Of the 105, 74 pilots
reported “moderate” pain or a 3, 18 pilots reported “severe” pain or a 4,
and one pilot reported “severe pain that persists” after launching from an
aircraft carrier.

“The oscillations shake the pilot’s head sufficiently to impair their
ability to consistently read flight critical data, which poses a safety of
flight risk,” reads the report cited by Inside Defense.

This pain, more than a mere inconvenience, threatens the ability of pilots
to read flight-critical data as they perform the complicated task of
launching from a moving platform at sea. Exacerbating the problem, some
pilots locked down their harnesses to avoid jostling around during the
launch, but this makes it more difficult for the pilot to eject, should they
need to.

At a roundtable discussion in December, F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt.
Gen. Christopher Bogdan assured reporters that F-35C takeoff problems only
occur when the planes takeoff with low weight load outs, saying ” you don’t
see this problem at all” when the plane is more laden with ordnance or fuel.

A representative from Lockheed Martin told Business Insider that all the
catapult launches they had monitored were successful.

The F-35C was the most expensive variant of the Joint Strike Fighter program
for the most recent Low Rate Initial Production contract. The Navy currently
operates aging F-18s, nine of which have crashed or majorly malfunctioned in
the last six months of 2016. The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti attributes
this to the age of the planes.

Navy carrier wings are awaiting the overdue F-35C. US Navy

Meanwhile, the Navy awaits the F-35C’s groundbreaking capability as other
world powers invest heavily in their naval and anti-ship capabilities.
President-elect Trump has expressed interest in building dozens of new
ships, taking the US Navy’s total from 272 to 350 operational ships, as well
as confronting China in the heavily militarized South China Sea.

F-35 pilots have told Business Insider that the F-35s stealth
characteristics make it absolutely vital to operating in heavily contested
airspace like the South China Sea, the Baltics, and lately Syria.

Lockheed Martin told Business Insider that it will look into the Inside
Defense report. This post will be updated with the company’s future comment.


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