JSF’s Ill-timed Red Stripe

Late last week all 25 Marine Corps F-35Bs were grounded due to a fuel leak that was discovered during a training flight out of Eglin AFB, according to a Reuters report.  The other JSF variants were unaffected by the action, and ground testing of the VTOL version of the jet continues.

At the same time, Business Insider reports that the next-gen fighter/bomber — all models of the Lightning II (ironic, ain’t it) — could explode in midair if hit by lightning (and I can tell you as an airborne lightning strike vet (thrice in the Tomcat) it happens enough to be a valid concern).

These are bad days for these sorts of events and realizations.  The Pentagon has started acting on anticipated budget shortfalls even as the sequestration debate gets pushed to the right by several months, and after the Department of Defense works it’s way through downsizing end strength, freezing civilian hires, and cutting its benefit payouts, they’ll walk the crosshairs onto the acquistion programs of record . . . especially those that have dubious programmatic histories in terms of cost, performance, and schedule.

This most recent Red Stripe issued by NAVAIR on the F-35B is strike two for the program.  As documented in a recent DOT&E report the program halted durability testing late in 2011 when cracks were found after 2,000 hours of flight time on a bulkhead that was designed to last at least 8,000 hours.

Some of this is just the nature of test, of course.  Every great weapons system has had problems during development — every one.  And every program has fought budget pressures along the way.  But what’s different these days is the magnitude of the budget pressure added to a Congress that’s sort of feeling like the Pentagon had a blank check for the last 12 years (except for lawmakers with defense corporations in their districts, of course).

And if a variant has to go, it’s going to be the Marine Corps one.  The Corps’ love of amphibious warfare and CAS flown from dirt airfields close to the action yielded the Harrier (thanks, General Miller), and the AV-8’s history is as much defined by mishaps and groundings as it is VTOL utility in the field.  (It’s super-cool at airshows, though.)  So, when the budget axe hits the requirements side of the house — and only one service is pleading its case — it might get ugly for our pilots-in-green.

41 Comments on "JSF’s Ill-timed Red Stripe"

  1. Dare I ask if the F-22 has been tested for lightning strike survivability?

  2. I'm not surprised. I'm just trying to guess which F-35 version will be cancelled first: the F-35B or the F-35C. The F-35C is actually easier to kill since it doesn't have any foreign orders. The Super Hornet with decent armament and upgrades is all that the Navy needs and ever will need for a long time.

  3. Bring back the A-10 or the Skyraider.

  4. Hard to believe it was overlooked. Suspect the program office approved removing add-on lightning strike materials as a weight reduction effort based on statistical analysis predicting a very low probability of lightning strike in the life of the fleet. Not very comforting to the jock in the seat who wins the lightning lottery.

  5. Keep saying keep the C or B scrap the problem prone B before it kills the whole program.

  6. Talk to any of the Lockheed engineers and they will tell you that the entire design structure was badly compromised by the requirements of the B. Less so for the C though even there, there was a cost to the CV capability.

    For a broad brush confimation of this, do check out the different performance figures for the various versions particularly in turning force ( G's) roll rate, and usefull payload.

    Better for all that the Marines had ditched the B and not put their burden on the other services.

  7. What about the fact that the Brits are building two carriers w/o catapults and are counting on the B model as their naval fighter-bomber—I doubt they can change things now.

  8. The fuel leak could have been a loose fitting, no explanation was given. Grounding a aircraft type when a hazardous condition is dicovered is pretty much standard operating procedure. This may be nothing at all.
    For the F-18E/F proponents, it had major deviation of flight issues in flight testing at Patuxent River that could have cancelled that program if the US Navy had not been behind the project 100%. The F-18E/F that is in the fleet is not like the prototypes,
    so this type of problem is nothing new.

  9. Tribulationtime | January 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    Anyone can show me where found info about F-35C?.

  10. The F-35 should, by all intents and purposes be cancelled – it's failed to comply with every DoD Acquisition Law known to man. Sadly, it will not be cancelled at least in part because Lockheed-Martin is in bed with so many members of Congress it's not funny. It's a clear target for budget cuts – please refer to the previous statement to understand why it hasn't been cut. F-35 replace the A-10 – not in a million years! We're in quite the conundrum here – the F-22 is probably what we need the most (another L-M effort with a number of problems) for the truly high-threat areas and it's gone very likely to never return. For most applications A-10s and the F-Teen aircraft (15,16, 18) are just fine and I'm sure Boeing would gladly sell us new build F-15s possibly even the semi-stealthy F-15SE and is still delivering F-18s now which incorporate some L/O properties themselves and could probably do more in that area.

  11. I fail to see how scraping the B would save the A and C. The design works all like 90% finished on all 3, isn’t it?. it’s not like the engineers are now free to move the engine or the wing and tails around on the A & C for better performance without a few more billion dollars. Did I miss something?

  12. If any F-35 variant is cancelled to make this budget situation work, bet a steak dinner it's the "C" variant that goes. The Navy has GREAT options, the Super Hornet and the Growler. The Marine Corps doesn't.

  13. It always amuses me when somebody compares the chances of something happening(winning the Lotto, etc.) with the odds of getting struck by lightning. The odd of getting struck by lightning WHERE and doing WHAT?
    Sitting at your desk in the office: Extremely Low.
    Flying you supersonic jet fighter/bomber through/near a convective cell: Significantly Higher.

  14. I don't think it was the USMC's love of CAS from dirt airfields that yielded the Harrier. It was the British RAF's love of CAS from dirt airfields.

    The RAF and RN also showed what VTOL jets flying off small carriers and dirt forward airbases can do when the British liberated the Falklands.

    It was a compromise too far to try and make a conventional and VTOL version of the same plane, but VTOL jets can be game changers, especially when you can't afford big deck carriers.

  15. My personal observation is that if any of the variants are secure it is the F-35B Marine VSTOL version. Why well simply any/all fortune tells point to the Pacific and allies carrying much more burden. The harrier is old outdated and their is NO OTHER option for replacement but the F-35B. All our pacific ring allies are building up their anfib size ships with the assumed but not always loudly stated prospect of F-35B's flying off their decks.

    Bottom line is this
    -F-35C has options for F-18 superbug and UCAV
    -F-35A well has the stiffest competition across the board from multiple nations.
    -F-35B has no replacement leaving the US anfibs without air power the pole position warship in any Pacific oriented plan and or small war plans we are currently stuck in. Then think Britain who is building a jump deck carrier that will what, Japan, Australia, S Korea, etc… we are going to leave them all vacant?

    If any of the F-35 variants have a needed hole to fill it is the F-35B. Without it our whole Pacific strategy collapses along with huge amounts of our allies already spent monies on their Anphibs. Not to mention with less carriers and small wars across the 3rd world the F-35B equipped Anphibs open lots of doors while keeping the big boys concentrated on the BIG problems holding down the lid.

    Look at France in Mali with south of 20 fighter bombers and roughly 2500 french troops they blunted a advance turned the line and are pressing close to Goa and soon to push north and/or northeast. Hmmm what does the US have that carries roughly 2500 troops/marines and can operate around 20 fighter bombers?

    just my 2 cents.

  16. When a member of the team is not cutting it, you cut them at some point rather than holding on to them to longer and longer…

    If you cut the VTOL F-35, the LCS, the B-52 or B-1 and cut the Army's heavy armor/artillery in half you solve most of your budget problems without degrading your actual combat capability…

    Somethings have got to go to save the most important capabilities…

  17. Should I ask if anyone's tested the F35B and C for salt water resistance?

  18. Is the problem with the F35 and lightning that older planes made from aluminum are basically big Farraday cages- while new composite ones are begging for a fire?

  19. RetiredSNCOavionics | January 23, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Reply

    The B should be the last to be cancelled, no one has mentioned the Sept. Attacks on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, and we suffered the largest single incident losses of marine corps aviation since Viet Nam. Almost %70 of our newly upgraded AV-8B Harrier fleet was either destroyed or put so out of commision it would take months of depot level repair to get back to flying ready again. This incident alone is why the B Model F-35 is an imparative now for the USMC.

  20. I support the JSF program. But there is also a bit of a paradox. I am also going into the Navy and was considering being a pilot untill I read up on the C version single engine death trap. No thanks. Even worse that lightning can take them out. With no second engine any problem and the plane is in the sea. Give the C a second engine or fix this lightning problem. Untill then its IW or IO for me.

  21. The answer is clear. For the Marines, restart the AV8B+ line to give air to ground and basic combat air patrol capability (Amraam) for the the Marine carriers which will be used against second or third tier opponents. The Brits can fly them too as they will, realistically, have the same tasking. Then concentrate on getting what we can out of the A and C versions for deterrence and, if necessary, use against first tier opponents.

  22. Not to rehash the corruptive properties of companies like Lockheed and the Congressmen they own – its a wonder just how often we end up giving the military sub-standard material just because there is the overwhelming need to make one aircraft, rifle, ship, or tank do all the jobs multiple pieces of equipment did beforehand. I know having one "whatever" makes logistics easier – but this is a perfect example when you've gone one application too far. Somebody needs to lose their stars and I'm sure some need to spend some time in jail.

  23. i just could not get why develop a 5th generation manned fighter when it's clear that the pilot is the main limitation for it's performance.
    drones and uav are cheaper and can outperform any manned platform.

  24. Since we're being unserious:
    Shouldn't DT have saved the cheap shots for when the F-35 lightning-protection system is,say… oh I don't know…maybe after it is SUPPOSED to be certified (current schedule sometime in FY13)? the F-35 hasn't shot down any PAK-FA's yet either. Maybe we can snipe about that tomorrow.

  25. I have never understood the Navy’s fondness for C. The air force use the hi-lo with F-22:s and A:s, and they won’t send A:s into harm’s way before F-22 has mopped up and removed the sharpest threats.
    The F-35 was born as a deep striker for god’s sake, hopefully (but I fail to see how) able to "hold its own" in a dogfight. How can it then be top dog on a carrier???

  26. As far as the Air Force goes, their F-35 was supposed to be to the F-22 what the F-16 is to the F-15. I think that it is far from it. I still have YET TO SEE how the F-35 (any variant) handles in a dog-fight against ANY other aircraft. The F-16 on the other hand is a great dog-fighter and if anything since the F-35 is supposed to be replacing and better than the F-16, well then let's see them go up against each other. If it can't handle the F-16, then that's it we scrap it.
    For now, we should be building more F-22s, F-15SEs, and F-16Ns and instead of wasting time with the F-35C, upgrade the F-18 similar to the F-15SE. The F-35B is really the only version that should be considered, and instead of throwing Taxpayer $$$ at it, make Lockheed Martin pay for their own development.
    We should also scrap the B-52s except maybe 10, scrap the B-1B and move forward with the B-1R.

  27. One more thing, NEVER EVER get rid of the A-10 unless you are building an A-10B or A-10-2, whatever you want to call it. There is NO WAY that you can tell me that the F-35 (any variant) can replace the A-10. Personally I would take the A-10, put some more powerful engines on it, a little bit bigger and forward swept wings on it, a little wider fuselage so that it would hold more 30mm rounds, just as starters. Basically improve its firepower, its ability to hang around longer, and its ability to get out faster.

  28. What's the meaning of the term "Red Stripe?"

  29. The F-35 is an unfixable engineering disaster. Have Sequestration and Sec Def Hagel cancel it and rapidly proceed with the FXX program. We already wasted 60 billion on an unfieldable airplane.

  30. VTOL makes sense for the British that have no large carriers. It makes no sense for the U.S. that has 10-12 in active service. Any VTOL airplane is a waste of U.S. money. It is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist. This is 2013, not 1943, amphibious landings / assaults are a thing of the past and will never happen again. Our air superiority fighters sweep the sky, our bombers and cruise missiles take out fixed targets, and our troops arrive in Ospreys or Chinooks to clean up. There is zero requirement for an amphibious fighting vehicle or VTOL fighter/bomber.

    Our government is living in the past and paying for it by mortgaging our children's future.

  31. So what happens to the new USS America (LHA-6) class of LHA's, which were designed based on the assumption that the JSF (B) would be successful? What we'd be stuck with (and the LHA-6/America class is being restricted to only 2 ships of this type) is simply a CV unburdened with either an angled flight deck or catapult (sarcasm intended): in short, a carrier without the features required to be a versatile platform.

    If the B variant is cancelled, maybe that means we'd have to build another batch of Harriers.

  32. Just remember the McArthy days. They tried 50 years ago to make a single airframe serve all four services and with the exception of the F-4 (which was really too big for Navy/Marine service at the time) was an abysmal failure. Why are they trying again? All they've done is proven that purpose-built planes for a given mission are superior to planes built as jacks of all trades.

  33. Well one positive way to look at this is if they were satisfied with the fuel consumption rate before, they will be delighted to know they could get even more range out of it when they fix this little bugger of an issue.

  34. CORRECTION: Mr. Carroll’s NAV BAG was a 3-time lightning strike vet. Also, how many traps does your nav bag have?

  35. Why else do you think they called it the LIGHTNING?

  36. lol this grounded aircraft are going to defence from iran's fire power!? !!

  37. I wonder how far in(Dollars or Pounds) is the UK MOD into the JSF? Flight Global reported in 2006 that Yak said it could jump start it's Yak-41 project, in Italy, with Israeli engineers & Western Electronics, for 250 million Euros start up capital. Since Flight Global is one or two steps above the National Inquirer it got me thinking. How much would a modern 4.5+ generation VSTOL fighter run minus stealth?

  38. The way I see it were stuck. The F-35 has been mortgaged to too many international partners. I keep hearing Britain, but most of Europe is onboard including Turkey. The defense dept. probably would love to cancel it, but with the international partners building all the subcontracted assemblies for it, the feedback would be defining. I Feel this is why Lockheed is getting away with their bussiness as usual mega cost overruns.

  39. Keep saying keep the C or B scrap the problem prone B before it kills the whole program.

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