* Chief weapons tester says software development lags
* F-35 showed continued progress, stability - Lockheed
* Fuselage cracks halt durability tests of Marines' B-model
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Jan 12 Lockheed Martin Corp's
's new F-35 fighter jet has completed over a third of its
planned flight tests, but it Still faces problems with the
helmet needed to fly the plane, software development and weapons
integration, according to a report by the Pentagon's chief
The 18-page report, sent to Congress on Friday, included a
detailed account of those issues and others, which it said
underscored the "lack of maturity" of the $396 billion weapons
program, the Pentagon's most expensive ever.
The program exceeded the number of flight tests and specific
system tests planned for 2012 but lagged in some areas due to
unresolved problems and newly discovered issues, the report
said. It said Lockheed did not accomplish all the tests planned
for 2012, but boosted the year's total of specific tests by
bringing forward some evaluations planned in later years.
The program has already completed over 20,000 tests, but has
39,579 more such tests.
The report highlighted the continued growing pains of the
ambitious Lockheed fighter program, which began in 2001 and has
been restructured three times in recent years to slow down
production and allow more progress on the development program.
Lockheed said the F-35 program continued to show progress on
flight test, software development and other aspects of the
reworked plan, and was demonstrating exceptional stability --
more than any other legacy aircraft development program.
"It's more important to look at the overall plan rather than
year by year totals," Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said in an
emailed statement. "While we remain diligent to ensure deferred
test objectives are ultimately completed, the aggregate plan
remains on track."
Lockheed is building three different models of the F-35
fighter jet for the U.S. military and eight countries that
helped pay for its development: Britain, Canada, Italy, Turkey,
Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway.
The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 of the warplanes in coming
decades, although many analysts believe U.S. budget constraints
and deficits will eventually reduce that overall number.
"The lag in accomplishing the intended 2012 flight testing
content defers testing to following years, and in the meantime,
will contribute to the program delivering less capability in the
production aircraft in the near term," said the report prepared
by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test
Gilmore said the program remained saddled by a high level of
concurrency or overlap between development, production and
testing. The Pentagon planned that overlap from the start, but
its top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, has said that in
retrospect, that approach amounted to "acquisition malpractice."
CONDUCTING FLIGHT TESTS
The report said the program conducted 1,092 flight tests in
2012, 18 percent more than the 927 flight tests planned, running
more tests than scheduled for the Marine Corps B-model and the
Navy's C-model or carrier variant.
But it fell short of the flight tests planned for the Air
Force's conventional takeoff A-model. That model completed 30
percent less test points than planned due to operating limits on
the plane and problems with the weapon bay doors, it said.
It said flight tests were also limited by problems with the
air refueling system, which led to restrictions on all A-model
planes and required new instrumentation to isolate the cause.
The plane's stealthy coatings - which make it nearly
invisible to enemy radars - were also peeling off on horizontal
tail surfaces due to higher-than-expected temperatures during
high-speed, high-altitude flights, the report said.
The Marine Corps version of the plane flew more than planned
but lagged its target for test points by 49 percent due to
issues with the weapon bay doors and an engine lift fan needed
for that B-model's vertical landings, the report said.
The lift fan is built by Rolls Royce, a supplier to
the engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies
The weight of the new plane remained fairly steady over the
past year, and the mean time between critical failures
increased, but the plane's performance remained below the level
expected for this point in the program, the report said.
The report also cited continuing delays with Lockheed's
delivery of software for the new fighter, noting that software
packages needed to support flight test were delayed or not
complete when delivered.
It said the complex helmet that integrates data for the
pilot from all the plane's sensors was still facing issues, as
is a computerized logistics system.
Weapons integration testing was delayed by a number of
factors, including problems with the performance of a radar
system and in tracking targets.
Durability testing of the Marine's B-model had to be halted
in December after multiple cracks were found on the underside of
the plane's fuselage, the report said.
It also cited problems with the ability of the Navy's
C-model to transfer video and imagery data to ships, and said
one live-fire test revealed a potentially serious problem with
the coolant system, which was now being addressed.
More work was also needed on a system aimed at protecting
the plane from fuel tank explosions caused by lightning, the
report concluded, noting that flight operations were currently
banned within 25 miles of known lightning conditions.
No immediate comment was available from the Pentagon's F-35