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The F-35 has a new problem that won't be easy to solve
The U.S. military's growing fleet of F-35 stealth fighters will fall short of the 80 percent readiness goal that former Defense Secretary James Mattis instituted before quitting in protest of President Donald Trump's foreign policy in January 2019.
Former Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, who is Trump's nominee to replace Mattis, in mid-July 2019 told a Senate committee the roughly 300-strong fleet of F-35s belonging to the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps "is not expected" to meet Mattis's readiness goal.
Esper blamed the F-35's canopy, or "transparency."
"Transparency supply shortages continue to be the main obstacle to achieving this," Esper told the committee. "We are seeking additional sources to fix unserviceable canopies."
The Government Accountability Office highlighted the canopy shortage in an April 2019 report. The F-35's canopy, which features a special coating that reflects radar waves and prevents them from bouncing off the inside of the cockpit — a potentially major source of radar returns — "failed more frequently than expected," the GAO pointed out.
Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-35, searched for an additional subcontractor to help boost canopy-production, the GAO reported.
The F-35 isn't the only warplane to fall short of the readiness goal. Mattis directed all Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-22 and F-35 squadrons to achieve an 80 percent mission-capable rate by the end of September 2019.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew "Dojo" Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander, performs a dedication pass during the Melbourne Air and Space Show in Melbourne, Fla., March 30, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Alexander Cook)
The F-16 fleet is expected to meet the readiness goal this year, Esper told the Senate. The Navy and Marines have reported that the F/A-18 force also will meet the goal.
But the Air Force's small fleet of F-22 stealth fighters, like the F-35 fleet, likely will fall short of Mattis's benchmark, Air Force brigadier general Heath Collins, the service's program executive officer for fighters and bombers, said in June 2019.
The failure wasn't for a lack of trying. The Air Force in 2018 and 2019 shifted $750 million into maintenance accounts for the F-22 and F-16 fleets in the hope of meeting Mattis's goal.
The flying branch also temporarily withdrew F-22s from the Middle East, ending five years of continuous F-22 operations in the region. Older F-15C fighters for several months took over for the F-22s.
The extra spending and a break from Middle East ops weren't enough to boost the F-22's mission-capable rate. Since becoming operational in 2005, the 187 F-22s have achieved roughly a 50-percent readiness rate, on average — one of the lowest rates of all U.S. fighter types.
The F-22's complex systems and delicate, radar-absorbing coating require intensive maintenance. The F-35 is proving equally hard to keep in the air.
The stealth fighter's readiness woes come as new performance problems with the type also have come to light. Defense News in June 2019 obtained military documents detailing a wide range of serious problems with two of the three versions of the F-35.
The Air Force's F-35A appears to be exempt from the latest flaws, but the Marine Corps' vertical-landing F-35B and the Navy's carrier-compatible F-35C both suffer what the services call "category 1" deficiencies.
In military parlance, a category-1 flaw in a plane can prevent a pilot from accomplishing their mission.
One problem cropped up during test flights in 2011, Defense News reported, citing the trove of military documents. In the 2011 tests, at least one F-35B and F-35C both flew at speeds of Mach 1.3 and Mach 1.4. A post-flight inspection in November 2011 revealed the F-35B sustained "bubbling [and] blistering" of its stealth coating.
Further supersonic tests in December 2011 revealed structural damage on an F-35C resulting from the extreme heat coming from the plane's single Pratt & Whitney engine, one of the most powerful fighter engines ever made.
To avoid similar damage, the military has limited F-35B and F-35C pilots to flying at supersonic speed for less than a minute at a time.
The test reports Defense News obtained reveal a second, previously little-known category-1 deficiency in the F-35B and F-35C aircraft. If during a steep climb the fighters exceed a 20-degree "angle of attack" — the angle created by the wing and the oncoming air -- they could become unstable and potentially uncontrollable.
This article originally appeared on The National Interest
More from The National Interest:
- In 1964, the U.S. Navy Built a 'Robot' F-4 Phantom Fighter Plane
- Why the Air Force's F-15EX Fighter Would Get Crushed by Russia In a War
- India Says It Can Track China's Stealth Fighters
A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.
At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."
Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.
The Navy could deploy a second carrier to the Middle East if Trump orders an Iran surge, top admiral says
The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.
Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.
I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.
Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.
An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps
"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."
Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.
At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.
Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.
"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."
She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."
It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.
The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.
But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.
The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.