The U.S. Defense Department’s newest and most advanced fighter jet has cracked during testing and isn’t yet reliable for combat operations, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester said in new report.
The entire F-35 fleet was grounded last February after a crack was discovered in a turbine blade of an F-35A. While the order was subsequently lifted, more cracks have been discovered in other areas and variants of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made plane, according to the latest annual report by J. Michael Gilmore, director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
Durability testing of the F-35A, the Air Force’s version of the plane designed to take off and land on conventional runways, and the F-35B, the Marine Corps’ model that can take off like a plane and land like a helicopter, revealed “significant findings” of cracking in engine mounts, fuselage stiffeners, and bulkhead and wing flanges, according to the document. A bulkhead actually severed at one point, it states.
“All of these discoveries will require mitigation plans and may include redesigning parts and additional weight,” Gilmore wrote in the report.
The F-35C, the Navy’s version of the plane designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers, has also had cracks in the floor of the avionics bay and power distribution center and, like the F-35B, in the so-called jack point stiffener, according to the document.