The 10 Big Problems of the F-35 Lightning II Made by Lockheed Martin

The 10 Big Problems of the F-35 Lightning II Made by Lockheed Martin
The 10 Big Problems of the F-35 Lightning II Made by Lockheed Martin

International Military - The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is the most expensive weapon in history, with a price per unit of between USD78 million and USD95 million. Not only that, lifetime operating and maintenance costs reach USD 1.3 trillion. Yet years after its introduction, the aircraft continues to plague operators with a number of problems.

With an overall price tag of USD 1.7 trillion, that is roughly equivalent to Australia's annual gross domestic product (GDP). That amount is also more than twenty times Russia's annual defense budget. At that price, one might expect US arms giant Lockheed Martin to show some humility when it comes to asking for more money to fix problems affecting the F-35.

But that seems too much to ask. Last week, US media reported cost overruns for upgrading the jet's advanced cockpit computer had reached $680 million, nearly matching the $712 million the Pentagon originally planned to spend on upgrading it (at a total cost of $1.3 billion).

Adding to the losses, the F-35 Joint Program Office announced the upgrade would not be completed by the agreed completion deadline of July 2023, with the timeframe pushed back to late 2023. Separately this month, the US Congressional Research Service revealed the Pentagon wanted an unspecified amount of cash. for aircraft engine upgrades.

The Pentagon promised the new machines would reduce annual maintenance costs, which have soared from $79 million in 2016 to $315 million in 2020, and are projected to reach more than $1 billion by 2028. Fortunately for Lockheed, cost overruns are not a problem.

In fact, they are included in the aircraft acquisition agreements that the United States and its allies sign, with the companies enjoying "cost-plus," "unspecified" contracts that make incidental costs a matter for the buyer i.e. the government and the taxpayer. Some of Washington's allies are already aware of the scheme.

Last week, an angry Australian defense expert demanded that Canberra get a refund for its existing F-35s and stop buying new ones after accounting for a "killer" price tag, range limitations and reliance on hackable data communications links based thousands of kilometers away. in the US making it a poor buy for Land Down Under.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues an annual update on the projected cost of the F-35, as well as outstanding issues related to the aircraft. In its 2022 report, GAO calculated that seven years after its introduction, the aircraft still has four major "Category 1" flaws, and 822 fewer "Category 2" problems.

Here are some of the problems the fighter jet has faced over the years:

1. Excessive Cabin Pressure

The 2022 GAO report outlines "cabin overpressure" as one of these outstanding Category 1 deficiencies. Supervisors did not specify the scale, nature and causes of the problem. However, an over-pressurized cabin can be a major problem, causing a ruptured ear, temporary hearing loss, headaches, sinus pain, and, if severe enough, a ruptured eardrum, permanent hearing loss, and loss of consciousness.

It goes without saying that for pilots of $80 million planes flying through the sky at speeds of up to 2,000 km per hour, an over-pressurized cabin can pose a problem.

2. Night Vision Issues

“Problems” with the F-35's night vision cameras are another “critical flaw” highlighted in GAO's 2022 report. The document does not provide details, but previous reports of the issue pointed to a range of potential problems, ranging from failing to operate when there is no Moon, to distracting horizontal lines, or striations, in the night vision display.

Other problems, including a confusing "green light", have also been reported, with video of the last feed from the built-in camera to the headgear display, obscuring the pilot's vision during night flights. Last year, the Pentagon announced a fix for this problem would involve upgrading the aircraft's integrated night vision helmets at $400,000 per unit. However, not all branches of the US military approved the acquisition of the new equipment.

3. Lightning Strike

As its name suggests, the F-35 Lightning II has an ironic tendency to suffer from problems related to stormy weather, with the Marine Corps expressing concern since 2018 that "as a composite-type aircraft," the aircraft "does not provide passive lightning protection."

A 2012 Pentagon report concluded aircraft operations were unsafe within 40 km of the storm amid concerns that lightning could damage or destroy aircraft if they hit their fuel tank inerting systems. The Air Force announced earlier this year that it would fix a lightning hazard problem by 2025.

4. Software Bugs

Software bugs with the plane's onboard computers and its 8 million+ lines of code are a persistently reported problem for the F-35, with the problem apparently getting so bad that the Pentagon called in software experts from a top American university last year for advice on how to address it. ongoing problem.

The $14 billion software upgrade promises to fix issues ranging from weapons and communications functionality to navigation, cybersecurity and targeting. However, the Pentagon has called the patch "immature, inadequate, and poorly tested".

5. Headache Radar

In 2016, the Pentagon confirmed the F-35 had a problem involving its radar system shutting down every four hours. Once turned off, it will take "a few minutes" for the radar to "gain back to displaying an image". The problem is clearly non-negotiable for fighter aircraft, where "a few minutes" can be the difference between flying over your target or finding yourself a hundred or more kilometers away.

6. Corrosion

The F-35 fighter jet features an advanced radar absorbent skin, designed to enhance stealth capabilities against advanced enemy radars. However, photos of the Navy's F-35 published earlier this year show the plane's skin appears to be badly corroded thanks to the use of iron ball paint designed to scramble radio waves.

It's unclear if and how Lockheed plans to address the problem, but like nearly every other problem involving the plane, the fix probably won't be easy, or cheap.

7. Neck Crush Launching Chair

One of the most serious problems with the F-35 is its damaged ejection seat. In 2015, low-speed ejection tests revealed the plane's ejection seat system snapped the crash test dummy's neck.

In 2016, the Pentagon responded by starting testing of a reinforced helmet designed to keep a pilot's neck secure. A year later, the Air Force reported tweaking the plane's ejection seat system had reduced the hazard, allowing the military to drop the pilot's weight requirement.

8. Stealth Ability

One of the F-35's biggest selling points is its stealth capability, the ability to fly in and out of enemy territory undetected, fire its ammunition, and leave before being hit by an enemy missile.

However, even before large numbers of aircraft were built, reports abound that Russian, Chinese, and Iranian experts had developed radars capable of detecting jets at long distances. Of course, only time, and radar and air defense interactions with the F-35 in a real-life environment, will determine the true significance of the aircraft's tracking capabilities.

9. Less Certification

More than seven years after its introduction, the F-35 has yet to receive approval from the Pentagon for full-rate production. That's because the US military has yet to complete certification of the jet. To date, Lockheed has not met its requirement to provide the Pentagon with detailed data for a Joint Simulation Environment, a virtual training domain designed to test the hypothetical performance of the F-35 against top Chinese and Russian aircraft.

The company promised to provide the military with data from 64 JSE tests by the summer of 2023. Despite the lack of certification, the Pentagon has already taken delivery of hundreds of F-35s, and expects to receive about a third of its 2,470 F-35 fleet before full-rate production is given, with all the issues that come with it. with him, including upgrade issues and fixing problems with jets already built and purchased.

10. Single Machine Design

Arguably the F-35's biggest problem, and a flaw that can't be fixed by tinkering, is its single engine, “one-size-fits-all” design. Lockheed's decision to use Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofans meant that, should the aircraft sustain major damage at sea, or damage to its engines while engaged in combat against enemy aircraft or ground-based air defenses, it would become nearly impossible to safely return to base. .

The Japanese Air Force had reason to ponder the matter in 2019, when one of its F-35A jets was lost at sea after its pilot became particularly disoriented.


  1. Anonymous11:12 PM

    Yes, it is a good article. But then it didn't mention one point in the comments why this creature worths the expensive updates or keeping forwards. Its maintenance bills are far too expensive to bear by comparison. My views.

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