The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office’s Deficiency Report Metrics document of 28 February listed 883 unresolved design flaws, with no plans to correct more than 160 of them.
More than half the flaws, 448, were in dispute, with pilots or engineers describing a problem, and contractors, who had to fix them, contesting their existence.
Reporter Dan Grazier wrote that a number of sources from inside the F-35 program had told POGO that the stock response from Lockheed Martin, the main contractor, was to respond to reports of a shortcoming by saying that it could be fixed only if the contract itself was changed.
The POGO report said 162 flaws were listed as "open, no planned correction", in the document. Only 10 flaws were listed as being fixable before future modernisation. Fixes for a further 273 had been found, but there were either no funds to carry out the work or else more testing was needed to verify the proposed solutions.
Australia is one of the F-35 fighter recipients, with 14 F-35As ordered in November 2009. A second batch of 58 was ordered in April 2014 and 28 more are expected to be ordered to bring the figure to 100. There are three versions of the plane: the F-35A is for conventional takeoff and landing; the F-35B for short takeoff/vertical landing; and the F-35C for aircraft carriers.
The cost of the 72 planes was put at $17 billion in 2015, though cost blowouts may happen due to frequent production and delivery delays.
Eleven countries — Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and the UK — are buying the F-35 as their future fighter of choice. Nine partner nations have contributed funds to the plane's development. Canada pulled out of the program.
The POGO report said there nine Category I flaws, those that “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organisation; or result in a production line stoppage". No comment about solutions was provided when the program office was asked for one.
Rather, minutes from a 2018 Deficiency Review Board meeting showed paperwork was being changed to reclassify some of the Category I flaws to a lower status, rather than fix them.
Grazier wrote that the persistent nature of the design flaws was also highlighted. "The F-35 entered operational testing in December 2018 with a large 'technical debt' of problems that had been identified but not corrected during developmental testing, as the Pentagon’s testing office reported earlier this year," he said.
"Of the 873 deficiencies identified by the testing office as of November 2019, approximately 576, or 66%, were carried over from the development phase."