Even virtual planes are not immune to problems plaguing the F-35, as Lockheed Martin said “unexpected issues” have resulted in a three-month delay in delivering the newest simulator software to foreign customers like Norway, Italy, Israel, and Japan.
Lockheed Martin is working through “unexpected issues” with Block 3i simulator software for international export release, the company’s vice president of aeronautics, Orlando Carvalho, told Aviation Week. He did not explain what the problems were, but said Lockheed must resolve them before the US government can certify the system for export.
According to Aviation Week, the problem may be related to data-sharing between F-35 fleets of various countries. Both government and Lockheed officials have acknowledged the difficulties in separating the logistics and threat data that can be shared from those that need to be firewalled out of security considerations.
“It’s the first time out of the chute, because up until now all the simulators have been domestically based for F-35s,” Carvalho said.
The company has outfitted 12 US airbases with F-35 simulators. Most of the training in the US takes place at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, which recently suspended all operations due to an unexplained series of oxygen supply failures.
Italy and Norway are F-35 “partner nations,” involved in the plane’s production, while Israel and Japan have contracts to purchase the aircraft. The UK is also expecting F-35s and simulators for its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Citing “increased Russian activity,” Norway requested F-35s in 2015. The first jets are supposed to arrive in November this year. The Norwegian planes are supposed to be declared combat-ready by 2019 and fully operational in 2020.
Norway is planning to declare its F-35s combat ready in 2019, with full operating capability expected in 2020. Lockheed has acknowledged Oslo’s concerns that a delay in simulator delivery might disrupt that schedule.
“Given their timeline for declaring [initial operating capability] that has been a concern, and legitimately so because we are a little bit late with delivering that simulator,” Carvalho told Aviation Week. “But in our view, the rest of the standup is proceeding smoothly.”
Lockheed Martin anticipates having two Norwegian simulators ready to use by September 8, followed by another two in October. Israel, Italy, and Japan should get two simulators each over the course of September, Carvalho said. Since the problem is software-related, the delivery of hardware components has not been affected.
Because each new version of the F-35’s software has to be certified separately, the same process will have to be repeated with Block 3F, which should be the final release version.
Touted as the fifth-generation fighter jet with a modular design, the F-35 has been criticized for its astronomical price tag and unsatisfactory performance compared to dedicated older models. The billion-dollar jet has also suffered from a litany of chronic hardware and software problems.