The F-35 fighter jets ordered by Israel have been beset by one problem after another, repeatedly delaying delivery of the aircraft. But one of the most serious issues is the recurring manufacturing problems in its engine production.
The engines are to be installed in the fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney military aircraft unit delivered the engines on time as promised last year. But flaws in the “turbine blades and electronic control systems resulted in maintenance activity to remove suspect hardware from the operational fleet,” according to the Pentagon’s Selected Acquisition Report sent to Congress, Bloomberg News reported.
Pratt & Whitney “has taken action to improve quality surveillance within their manufacturing processes,” according to the report, which was prepared with the F-35 program office.
Manufacturing quality assurance experts at the Defense Department also worked to ensure improvements were in place as the firm moves head with production of the single-engine aircraft.
One of the quality issues described in an email with Bloomberg as minor by Joe DellaVedova, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s F-35 office, was a June 2014 second-stage engine fire that grounded 97 of the fighter jets from test flights. The engine part that led to the fire had to be redesigned and the issue prevented the F-35 from making a debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK.
According to the contract management agency, there were five incidents involving F-35 engine quality deficiencies at Pratt & Whitney. They involved a low-pressure turbine blade, a high-pressure turbine blade and a “roll-post actuator.”
The historical average is eight such incidents a year in a four year period, according to the agency.
Rolls Royce Holdings Plc, subcontractor to Pratt & Whitney, was cited by the agency in July “for failure to notify the government of known non-conformance on drive shafts” from a supplier.
The response by Rolls Royce spokesperson George McLaren was an email that pointed out, “no F-35 production or flight interruptions occurred.”
Perhaps everything’s okay as long as nothing appears broken and no one is hurt or killed during the test flight phase.
But it’s scary to think that an aircraft still having this many problems is the “stealth fighter” Israel is depending on to lead the fight against Iran, should there be a question of taking a military stance against Tehran.
IAF teams have reportedly been working with Lockheed Martin in Texas in order to tweak the aircraft’s design into place before the first F-35s are due to arrive in Israel towards the end of this year. But there is now a real question about the delivery date, given the ongoing difficulties identified with the engine production, and with another issue as well: the flow of software data between the jet and base.
A revelation made by Defense Aerospace last November (2015) exposed what could a nasty side note on the part of the American military in terms of the jet’s design when in use by a client nation.
The publication wrote the U.S. made a unilateral decision to base all F-35 software laboratories on U.S. territory, where U.S. personnel will manage operation and support of all the F-35 fleets, foreign and domestic.
But that’s incredibly dangerous.
The F-35 must maintain permanent data exchanges with the software labs and logistic support computers to operate effectively.
Such a move, unprecedented and dangerous, introduces a massive risk that the jets may be disabled or even downed in extreme cases, any time the two-way flow of information is disrupted for any reason.
This vulnerability is not necessarily one attributable to negative intent, but rather loss of Internet on the part of the U.S. operators for any reason – accidental corruption of a router or cable, malicious Russian submarine cutting an undersea Internet cable, etc. – and one that could result in the death of valuable personnel and loss of a $100 million aircraft.
Hana Levi Julian