Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 fighter jet won’t begin testing to see how it will perform in combat until at least August 2018, one full year later than planned, according to sources. That’s because of software vulnerabilities. The F-35 has been characterized as a flying computer, with more than 8 million lines of software code, so the software has to be flawless.
According to Michel Gilmore, the U.S. Defense Department’s top weapons tester, a number of flaws have been identified within the “3F” software, which is considered crucial to the fighter jet. For one thing, the 3F software gives the F-35 its full combat capability. The software delay hasn’t stopped production, however.
In an email to Bloomberg, Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 office, said the program “continues to aggressively execute development and testing of Block 3F capabilities with the objective of delivering” them about mid-September 2017.
The production of F-35s continues to increase, despite setbacks. The Department of Defense ultimately plans Defense Department plans a fleet of 2,443 F-35s for the U.S to be purchased incrementally. Bloomberg reports that the Pentagon wants to increase the number of F-35s purchased for the U.S. to 92 annually by 2020, up from from 38 last year. That number jumps to 120 a year when foreign sales are included. For 2016, Congress added 11 aircraft to the 57 requested.
Combat testing is a stress test for the fighter, when all the physical and cyber elements are finally put together. This process typically takes about one year to complete.
Criticism of the fifth generation fight jet’s capabilities and cost overruns have been widespread.
Experts have cited Russia’s still-in-development fifth-generation T-50 (PAK-FA) Sukhoi may be more suited for future combat the US F-35. Retired US Air Force General/deputy chief of staff David Deptula called the T-50 a “pretty sophisticated design (with) greater agility (and a better) aerodynamic design” than the F-35.” Sophisticated Russian military technology matches America’s best. In December, US Air Forces in Europe commander General Frank Gorenc called its state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative capability “alarming,” according to Market Oracle.
Other experts say that in simulated battles, the F-16 fighter jet, in operation since the 1970s, outclasses the sleek and modern F-35. To date, the F-35 program has cost the US tax payers over $2 trillion dollars. And now, the fighter jet won’t be able to fly in combat until 2020 at least.