A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office stated that the F-35 block 4 upgrade program could possibly be facing some significant delays in its test schedule. Despite this, the program is still delivering aircraft and increased production rates, and lower aircraft prices have been negotiated.
The F-35’s Block 4 program was slated to be completed by 2026, however, the DoD has added a year to the time frame stating that the program will now extend into 2027. The new timeline was estimated not on past performance during the program but generated from performance metrics from the start of the Block program which began in 2018.
“The acquisition cost for the F-35 program increased substantially in 2019, partially due to the program’s addition of estimated costs for modernization of hardware and software systems, referred to as its Block 4 efforts.Exerpt from GAO Report GAO-20-339
This is the fifth report under the provision that Congress included in statute for GAO to review the F-35 program annually until the program reaches full-rate production. This is also the first report under another provision in statute to review the program’s production and Block 4 progress annually through 2024. Among other objectives, this report assesses (1) the program’s production performance and (2) the program’s modernization cost estimate and development progress. GAO reviewed Department of Defense (DOD) and contractor documentation and interviewed DOD officials and contractor representatives.”and
The Block 4 program is intended to modernize the F-35s software to allow it to equip and deploy new types of weapons which include the Raytheon StormBreaker small-diameter bomb. The bomb is currently in operational testing with the F-35, however, the StormBreaker has already been approved for operational use with the F-15E Strike Eagle back in September of 2020.
Other than Block 4 modernization delays, the program is also facing supply chain management issues due to removing Turkey from the F-35 JSF program. Turkish manufacturers were responsible for some 1,000 parts for the F-35 with many of them being critical to the aircraft’s operation. It wasn’t until late 2020 that the program was able to secure alternative suppliers for all of the parts Turkish industries were previously responsible for.
With the new suppliers came increased costs with the Pentagon stating that it would cost the program an additional $500 to $600 million to gain alternative suppliers for the missing parts. Despite finally being brought into operational service, it seems like the F-35 program’s cost and delay problems are far from over.