Potential Fixes for F-35C Oscillation Problem to Be Tested Later This Year

By Jon Harper

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Defense Department has identified potential fixes to a major problem with the F-35C joint strike fighter, and there are plans to test them out later this year, a Lockheed Martin executive said April 4.

In its latest annual report to Congress, the Pentagon’s operational test and evaluation office noted difficulties that aviators have had during developmental testing of the aircraft.

“Vertical oscillations during F-35C catapult launches were reported by the pilots as excessive, violent, and therefore a safety concern during this critical phase of flight,” the report said. “The program is still investigating alternatives to address this deficiency.”

A U.S. government-sponsored “red team” has been looking at potential fixes at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, said Jack Crisler, head of F-35 strategy and business development at Lockheed.

“We just finished testing up at Lakehurst,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Navy League Sea-Air-Space conference. The red team has completed its analysis, he said.

“They’re submitting their recommendation,” Crisler said. “We’ll probably want to take that out to the carrier for carrier [qualifications] in the third quarter of this year if the recommendation is accepted.”

“We’re satisfied with … the solution set going forward,” he added.

Crisler declined to state what the potential fixes are, saying he didn’t want to get out ahead of the red team. But he did note that the ones being looked at would not entail a redesign of the front landing gear assembly. If that were required, it could prevent the aircraft from reaching initial operating capability as scheduled.

The joint strike fighter program, the largest acquisition effort in Pentagon history, has been plagued by technical issues and schedule delays.

Crisler expressed confidence that the oscillation problem would be resolved.

“It’s just like everything else in the program,” he said. “We identify these things and then we put in place the fix, and then we take it out and test it and then we retire the risk.”

Another structural issue identified by the operational test and evaluation office was the outer wings of the F-35C, which were not able to support the weight of the AIM-9X air-to-air missile that the fighters are expected to carry. As a result, the airplane will have “a restricted flight envelope for missile carriage and employment, which will be detrimental to maneuvering [and] close-in engagements” until the problem is solved, the report said.

That challenge has been overcome, according to Crisler. “The fixes have been identified and will be incorporated” into the aircraft, he said, without providing details.

The aircraft is on a track to reach initial operating capability by 2018 or 2019, according to Lockheed.

The Pentagon’s operational test and evaluation office declared that the oscillation problem and other challenges made it “unlikely” that the F-35C would be ready for fielding by then.

President Donald Trump and other officials have been critical of the cost of the high-tech joint strike fighter. The C-variant currently comes with a price tag of about $122 million per aircraft. That cost is expected to drop to approximately $100 million by 2020, Crisler said.


Topics: Air Power

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