Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II   (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed is trying to determine why the parts are failing at higher than expected rates

The major programs to replacing aging aircraft in the U.S. military fleets in different branches of service are facing some serious issues. The bidding process for the USAF tanker replacement has been fraught with political maneuvering and threats by both parties that are participating with the bidding process.

At the same time, the F-35 Lightning II Fighter program is also underway and is one of the most ambitious aircraft programs to date. The F-35 program is significantly behind schedule in many aspects and the program is seeing its costs overrun projections significantly. The F-35B STOVL fighter broke the sound barrier for the first time in mid-June, which was a significant milestone for the program.

Despite the progress made and the milestones reached, the F-35B STOVL flight tests are significantly behind schedule and the reason for the delays are due to parts that are failing at higher rates than expected. Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens said at an analysts meeting that the systems and demonstration phase of the testing program is so far about 80% complete. 

The parts that are failing on the aircraft causing the delays are not major systems notes Stevens, but smaller components and subsystems. The major issue with the smaller components that are failing is that the repairs require the removal of the engine.

Stevens said, "The components that are failing are more of the things that would appear either smaller or more ordinary like thermal cooling fans, door actuators, selected valves or switches or components of the power system."

The program has 19 test aircraft planned and so far 15 of those have been delivered. Of the planes delivered, only 13 of them are flight capable with the others designed for structural tests. Nine of the flight capable aircraft have together performed 136 test flights reports Defense Tech. The F35-B STOVL version has itself made 74 flights.

There are an additional 31 F-35 aircraft in various stages of completion according to Stevens. Lockheed is working with suppliers to determine the cause of the part failures. The inquiry into the parts failures will determine if the parts need to be redesigned, if the failures are due to manufacturing issues, or if more spare parts are needed for the program.

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