RSS Region Technology Battlefield Foreign Relations From Our Contributors

North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

Australia's Ailing Fifth Generation Fighters

F-35s in Service Have So Many Performance Issues they May Never Be Fit For Action

September 25th - 2017

Australia's Air Force has plans to modernise its capabilities by procuring 72 F-35A fifth generation multirole fighters at a cost of over $14 billion. Of these fighters two have so far been delivered to the Australian Air Force by Lockheed Martin - and much like the program in general these too have suffered significant performance issues. With over 150 complex technical issues to be fixed on these two fighters alone before they are deemed combat ready, the United States military is reportedly considering advising Australia to abandon the fighters entirely. Some of the early batches of fighters delivered to the U.S. military may also suffer the same fate. With fighters delivered by Lockheed Martin to Israel and to U.S. forces also facing severe technical issues, Australia's case is far from exceptional but represents severe issues with the design of the F-35 itself. While the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin has claimed that the fighters are the most advanced in the world, performance issues have not only significantly raised costs, but have also substantially delayed the fighters' entry into service. Perhaps most importantly, these performance issues have left many in doubt as to whether the F-35 will ever prove a reliable combat platform.

U.S. Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore stated in 2015 that testing done so far did not demonstrate that the F-35 was operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of combat operation or for any operational deployments. In 2017 U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Mat Winter, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, stated at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space and Cyber conference that the F-35 still required extensive modifications to be combat ready - long after the fighter had been officially declared ready for service. Winter stated: "From a production perspective, we have literally 150 to 160 modifications that have to occur on some of our tails to get it to a Block 3 configuration... Our mods program is almost as exciting and dwarfing our production program." As a result it may in fact be more efficient to procure new fighters entirely rather than fix the early production models of the F-35.

Australia celebrated its receipt of two F-35A Lightning II Block 2B aircraft at the Avalon air show in March 2017 - with several more fighters in the late stages of production and set to be delivered the following year. It later emerged however that the fighters relied on software and components that had never been properly tested. Australia's two fighters require millions of dollars to be spent on upgrades and software modifications before they will be combat ready - increasing their already substantial cost. Such issues have been faced by a number of operators of the fighter, with the British military expecting approximately $200 million in such hidden extra costs from its own F-35 orders. For Australia, as with the F-35's other customers, it is highly unlikely to be the last time that the F-35 program imposes unexpected extra expenditures. While these extra costs notably increase Lockheed Martin's revenue, they could in the long run lead perspective fighters either to reject the fighter entirely or to reduce their orders for the platform.


See Also