Defense News, Valerie Insinna | Jun 24, 2020
WASHINGTON — The most widely used variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is currently unable to fly in thunderstorms after the discovery of damage to one of the systems it uses to protect itself from lightning, its prime contractor Lockheed Martin said Wednesday.
To safely fly in conditions where lightning is present, the F-35 relies on its Onboard Inert Gas Generation System, or OBIGGS, which pumps nitrogen-enriched air into the fuel tanks to inert them. Without this system, a jet could explode if struck by lightning.
However, damage to one of the tubes that distributes inert gas into the fuel tank was discovered during routine depot maintenance of an F-35A at Hill Air Force Base’s Ogden Logistics Complex in Utah, Lockheed said in a statement.
Bloomberg, which obtained a JPO memo dated June 5 (2020), reported that flawed tubes were found in 14 of the 24 “A” models inspected.
The F-35 was prohibited from flying within 25 miles of lightning in the early 2010s after the Pentagon’s weapons tester discovered deficiencies with the original OBIGGs system in getting enough inert gas into the fuel tanks. Those restrictions were rescinded after the OBIGGS was redesigned in 2014.
Confusing? Is the F-35 still vulnerable to lightning, or have they fixed this?
Here are a couple of excerpts from an opinion piece from The Hedge, JUL 28, 2023 – which I am told is not a reliable source so read at your own discretion:
That the F-35 Lightning II has been prohibited from flying anywhere near lightning is ironic. That the F-35 has been under development since 1994 and that the Pentagon “doesn’t have a path forward” to fix the F-35 is unforgivable.
That a plane that’s supposed to be the foundation of American air supremacy has an Achilles heel so easily exploitable is a glaring example of how our military procurement system wastes taxpayer dollars while failing to provide the weapon systems needed to meet our national security needs.
This restriction is even more crippling than the F35’s restrictions on supersonic flight, as not being able to fly within 25 miles of potential lightning activity will allow an enemy to use lightning proximity as cover for air, ground, and sea operations knowing that the F-35s will not be flying overwatch or be able to be scrambled to areas where lightning threatens them.