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Update: F-35 test fleet struggles with low readiness rates as key deadline approaches

13 August 2019
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Key Points

  • The F-35 programme's test fleet has a fully mission-capable rating that is roughly 10% of its goal
  • This could make it difficult for the Pentagon to make an educated decision on whether to enter full-rate production

The Pentagon's Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) test fleet has a fully mission-capable rate of 8.7% compared with an 80% goal, causing one watchdog to question whether the programme can accomplish all of its initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) test points before the phase ends.

Low F-35 test flight availability rates could prevent the Pentagon from making an informed full-rate production decision, which could most likely come before the end of 2019. Pictured is the USAF F-35A. (US Air Force)Low F-35 test flight availability rates could prevent the Pentagon from making an informed full-rate production decision, which could most likely come before the end of 2019. Pictured is the USAF F-35A. (US Air Force)

Dan Grazier, military fellow with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) watchdog group in Washington, DC, said the Pentagon plans to make its full-rate production (FRP) decision by the rapidly approaching end of fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) or early FY 2020. The fiscal year changes on 1 October. If the F-35 programme cannot accomplish all its IOT&E test points by this deadline, Grazier said the Pentagon cannot make an informed decision on FRP.

The FY 2016 Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report called for an 80% availability rate to conduct an efficient IOT&E and support sustained combat operations. According to an F-35 programme briefing slide provided by POGO and dated 19 July 2019, the 8.7% rate is an improvement from 4.7% in May.

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