According to the United States Accounts Office (GAO), Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter jet engines may need to be overhauled by $38 billion over the coming decades, said Bloomberg. The reason was an overload of the radar cooling system, as well as problems with other components of the fighter. The Pentagon initially pledged $1.3 trillion to operate and maintain a fleet of F-35s for 77 years.
According to the GAO’s annual report, the problem originated in the aircraft’s “power and temperature management system,” which redistributes pressure from the fighter’s engine, diverting flow to cool other components. The more air pressure is redirected, the more the engine heats up. “The cooling system is overloaded, forcing the engine to run outside of design parameters. Additional heat increases engine wear, shortens engine life, and increases maintenance costs by $38 billion,” say experts from the Accounts Chamber.
The GAO concluded that the power system, based on specifications developed several years ago by subcontractor Lockheed Martin, “cannot meet the cooling needs of increasingly complex aircraft avionics,” as well as its new features, which are scheduled to be introduced before 2035 as part of the program. modernization called Block 4. As a result, the cost of modernization was increased by another $1 billion, to $16.5 billion.
Experts also note that in 2022, half of the deliveries of Lockheed aircraft were delayed. Other GAO findings include:
- Pratt & Whitney, a division of Raytheon Technologies Corp., only delivered four of 127 F-35 engines on time in 2022, “despite years of efforts to address this longstanding problem”;
- the F-35 program meets about half of its reliability and maintenance figures – in particular, experts called the “average” flight time between engine failures, which is associated with design problems;
- progress has been made in reducing “category 1” deficiencies that could jeopardize security to five (from 277 in 2006);
- The Pentagon has yet to determine the root cause of a high-pressure fuel tube failure that occurred during a December 2022 flight, which temporarily cut off pressure;
- last year, parts shortages “increased significantly” and Lockheed Martin is “taking steps to eliminate expired parts that are impacting the production line.”
Lockheed Martin, even before the GAO report was published, said they were making efforts to solve the problem with the cooling system. The company clarified that the initial specifications for the power system project were developed by a group that, in addition to Lockheed, included Pratt & Whitney, General Electric Co., Rolls Royce Plc and representatives of the US government.
The Pentagon has previously said the F-35’s engine life will be reduced by as much as 20%, even after the Block 4 upgrade, as the engines overheat more than originally thought. Experts predict that the F-35A’s critical “hot part” will require an overhaul after every 1,600 flight hours instead of the estimated 2,000. The Pentagon, however, is confident that it will be able to “minimize” potential costs of $ 38 billion with the help of new “engine core upgrade”. Several options for improving the cooling system are also being considered, which are at an early design stage. Both improvements are expected to be rolled out in the early 2030s.