Oh, F-35. Few weapons systems fit the word "boondoggle" as well as the troubled joint strike fighter, which is back in the news after a biting report (PDF warning) from the director of the Department of Defense's Operational Test and Evaluation Office.
The report, obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, cites issues with what the Marine Corps called "Operational Test One," which took place aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp last May.
"The event was not an operational test, though, in either a formal or an informal sense of the term," Director J. Michael Gilmore wrote. "Furthermore, it did not – and could not – demonstrate that the Block 2B F-35B is operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of limited combat operation, or that it is ready for real-world operational deployments, given the way the event was structured."
Gilmore goes on to lambast the test, writing that true initial operational capability, which Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford signed off on in July, would require tests to be conducted "under conditions that were much more representative of real-world operations than those that were used during this deployment."
According to The Marine Corps Times, which has a more thorough review of Gilmore's report than we can deliver here, over the ten days aboard the Wasp, the six embarked aircraft struggled. There were maintenance issues that made keeping the fighters in the air a challenge, even though contractors backed up the amphibious ship's repair teams. These issues meant that the aircraft only completed about 70 percent of their scheduled flight hours, and even then, that schedule wasn't demanding enough to simulate a real deployment, Gilmore complained. And the cherry on top? Many key combat features weren't fitted to the six F-35's at sea, including missile warning systems.
The Marine Corps has, of course, taken issue with the report. The goal of the testing, according to public affairs officer Lieutenant Sarah Burns, was to prove that non-test versions of the F-35B "could be operated and sustained aboard an L-class ship."
"We successfully did that," Burns told The Marine Corps Times in a written statement. "The extensive testing we have done verified expected F-35B capabilities: successful missile shots; successful steel-on-steel, air-to-ground deliveries; and three successful sea-trials."
It's unclear what Gilmore's report can mean for the F-35B's future, but as of right now, the STOVL version of the joint strike fighter is still on pace for a 2017 deployment with the Corps.