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F-35 Has Just Received Permit For Mass Production, Despite Almost 1,000 Units Already Produced

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F-35 / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense
F-35 / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

The American military bureaucracy is sometimes capable of producing real wonders, like when the F-35, already the main aircraft of the US Air Force, had been not formally approved for serial production

The Pentagon has granted the F-35 multirole fighter the Milestone C status, which gives officially authorized full-scale serial production. The important decision, signed by acquisition secretary Dr. William A. LaPlante of the U.S. Department of Defense, is indeed a milestone.

Or at least it should be, if not for the fact that F-35 has already been in active production since 2007, confidently crossed the rate of 100 aircraft assembled per year by 2016, and as of the latest data, over 990 units have already been produced. Moreover, the U.S. Air Force itself has more than 375 fighters of F-35 type in service, second only to the F-16, with 480 in operation.

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F-35
F-35 / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

How it happened, the tracks are lost in the cabinets of the Pentagon's bureaucracy. This decision should have been made in 2019, contingent upon the completion of operational tests and the implementation of the Joint Simulation Environment, a digital testing space for simulating tests that are impossible or too risky to conduct in real life.

However, the development of this system was delayed by the pandemic, and it wasn't until September 2023 that the F-35 completed all 64 necessary tests within the JSE. The results were subsequently reviewed and approved in a memorandum signed at a Defense Acquisition Board meeting on March 7, 2024, and officially ratified on March 12.

At the same time, despite the formalization of Milestone C status, the volume of F-35 orders and production remains unaffected for both the United States and numerous foreign countries operating the aircraft, as well as its actual combat deployment.

F-35
F-35 / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Moreover, this milestone decision in no way addresses the myriad issues the F-35 program entails. On a reminder note, the Pentagon complains that continuous updates have compounded existing problems.

The forthcoming Block 4 version, for instance, is stalled due to issues with the Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) software and hardware update, which already forced Lockheed Martin to put a cache of 150 produced aircraft on hold.

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