The Pentagon's chief weapons tester warned in a report obtained by
Reuters and published on Thursday that a possible 13-month delay in
F-35 software development, coupled with maintenance and reliability
problems, could delay the Marine Corps' plans.
But Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who runs the
Pentagon's F-35 program office, says he remains confident that
Lockheed will complete the Block 2B software that gives the jet its
initial combat capability in time.
Bogdan restructured the F-35 program office last year to put a
greater emphasis on software, which he considers the No. 1 technical
risk to the $392 billion program, said his spokesman Joe
As part of the changes, he said Bogdan had named a number of people
or "czars" to oversee the range of efforts linked to the Block 2B
software and later software versions, as well as the drive to reduce
the F-35's maintenance and operating costs.
"Lieutenant General Bogdan and the F-35 program are laser- focused
on delivering the Block 2B capability to the warfighter,"
DellaVedova said. "We track and review F-35 software development
data religiously and we're confident we'll deliver Block 2B in time
to meet the Marine Corps' needs."
Lockheed is developing three models of the new warplane for the U.S.
military and eight partners: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey,
Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have
also placed orders.
Marine Corps officials had no immediate comment on the new report,
but the service has not revised its plans to declare an F-35
"initial operational capability" by July 2015.
The report, which was delivered to Congress on Friday, got a muted
reaction from the countries that helped pay for development of the
new plane or placed orders.
Britain is expected to announce orders for 14 F-35 jets and the
associated infrastructure, training and maintenance services, as
early as next week, Reuters reported on Thursday. It
is buying the same short takeoff, vertical landing B-model jets that
will be operated by the Marines.
The Dutch, who have ordered 37 planes, said they had not received
the report, but did not expect any major surprises.
"The problems raised are well known and are being addressed," said
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Sacha Louwhoff.
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The Dutch are testing two trial planes and expect delivery of their
first production plane in 2019. The first Dutch F-35 pilot completed
his training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Friday,
Endre Lunde, spokesman for Norway's defense ministry, said the F-35
program office was already taking steps to fix issues raised by the
report, including software development.
"The information presented in this report has been briefed to all
international partners at various points over the past year," Lunde
said, adding that he did not expect the issues raised to affect
Norway's participation in the F-35 program.
At the same time, Lunde said Norway viewed the report as a "very
valuable" tool and "an important external reference in our efforts
to keep the development of the F-35 on track."
Belgium is also weighing F-35 orders, but will not make a decision
until after elections in May, one official said.
In Israel, one defense official said he did not see any problems for
his country's order of 19 jets. "There is no delay (for Israel),"
said the official, who declined to be named.
An official at South Korea's arms procurement agency said any delays
beyond an intended 2018 delivery date would be "problematic". Seoul
has said it would buy 40 of the F-35s, although it still has to
finalize this order, a move that could come in February, according
to two sources familiar with the issue.
A senior Japan Defense Ministry official said: "We can do nothing
but ask the JPO (Joint Program Office) to speed up the program."
Tokyo plans to buy 42 of the stealth fighters, with the first four
due for delivery by March 2017.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Israel, Anthony Deutsch in
Amsterdam; Adrian Croft in Brussels, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Joyce
Lee in Seoul; editing by Ken Wills)
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