United States Navy Risking Lives by pushing the F-35C into combat: Watchdog report

Navy F-35C
An F-35C Lightning II assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 parks on the flight deck of the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) March 16, 2018, in the Atlantic Ocean. Airmen and Sailors from the 33rd Maintenance Squadron’s wheel and tire shop, and aerospace ground equipment shop supported maintenance operations aboard the ship during carrier qualifications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

Last month, the United States Navy declared that the carrier-based variant of Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter, known as the F-35C, was ready to commence combat operations.

See Details here: US Navy declares F-35C stealth fighter jet ready for combat

A government watchdog organization says that the Navy’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter isn’t ready for combat, even though the service signed off on the aircraft’s initial operating capability status last month.

The new report from the non-profit, bipartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says that decision contradicts the Navy’s own data regarding the platform.

The non-profit Project on Government Oversight said the F-35C variant “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cyber-vulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing,” according to a recent analysis conducted by the organization.

The group obtained two charts, dated Dec. 31, 2018, showing the readiness trajectory of the Navy and Marine Corps F-35 variants.

“The fact that the Navy is pushing ahead with the aircraft in spite of evidence that it is not ready for combat and could, therefore, put at risk missions, as well as the troops who depend on it to get to the fight, comes at the same time as the Pentagon’s annual operational testing report for fiscal year 2018 shows that the entire F-35 program, the most expensive weapon system in history, is not ready to face current or future threats,” POGO analysts wrote.

The report doesn’t get any rosier from there, even going so far as to point out seemingly intentional omissions from the Pentagon’s annual operational testing report for fiscal year 2018—a particularly damning assertion seeing as that report does not paint the F-35 program in the most positive light, raising some questions about the overall program’s readiness rates and some ongoing issues with the aircraft themselves.

POGO states:

For as much as the 2018 report from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) reveals about the F-35’s lack of progress in nearly every essential area, it is markedly less transparent than previous reports. It provides no updates on the crippling deficiencies highlighted in previous years, reports far fewer findings critical of the program than earlier reports, and contains almost no quantitative results on the F-35’s most urgent problems. The report omits any mention of the program’s fully mission capable rate—let alone the Navy version’s—which is the most significant measure of whether a fighter force is ready to show up for combat.”

It goes on to identify a number of specific areas where the F-35 program continues to struggle according to their analysis, and if their report is accurate, these issues raise some serious questions about how combat ready the F-35C truly is. According to POGO, the platform has seen “little or no improvement” in the realm of readiness, availability, or reliability in recent years despite consistent efforts to address these issues, which they assess will dramatically reduce the number of F-35Cs available for combat operations.

“The F-35B’s fully mission capable rate fell from 23 percent in October 2017 to 12.9 percent in June 2018, while the F-35C plummeted from 12 percent in October 2016 to 0 percent in December 2017, then remained in the single digits through 2018,” the report reads.

The Navy referred all questions about the new report to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, which did not immediately provide responses to questions.

The Navy previously said its F-35 “met all requirements” to achieve initial operational capability, or IOC, announcing the status Feb. 28, the last of the three U.S. services that fly the aircraft to declare the plane as combat-ready.

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