Two of the nation's newest fighter airplanes, the F15 and F16, are in deep trouble, government officials acknowledged yesterday.
The engines already built for them are breaking down frequently, thus grounding the planes, and new engines are going to be delivered late.
An Air Force spokesman confirmed yesterday that his service may have to take delivery on F15 fighters with gaping holes where the engines should be.
The engine problems, said Rep. Jack Edwards of Alabama, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, "leave us in a right disastrous poistion" with the F15 and F16 fighters.
Edwards, who has been at the forefront of those demanding Pentagon reforms in engine contracting, said yesterday that he has been informed that "by the end of this year there willbe lots of F15s delivered with holes where the engines should be."
"That's an embarrassment for the Air Force and its hottest fighter," Edwards added.
Each F15 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100 engines. The F16 fighter carries only one.
The United States has sold both the F15 and F16 fighter to foreign countries. A consortium of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries is building the F16 in Beligium and The Netherlands.
The engine problems have affected the F15 more severly than the F16, partly because more F15s have been delivered and are on duty with the Air Force.
Edwards said that because of persistent engine problems, only about half of the Air Force F15s can fly at any one time. He said if he were a member of the NATO consortium building the F16 powered by the same engine, "I'd be nervous."
As of Oct. 5, according to Air Force figures supplied to Congress, 64 engines had been pulled out of the fleet of 450 F15 fighters for major repairs.
Air Force leaders have acknowledged that they erred in stressing performance over reliability in setting down the requirements for the F100 engine.
The engine runs so hot, to cite one major problem, that its metal blades sometimes burn up -- causing breakdowns.
"We didn't anticipate that we would have these blade problems in this high temperatures area," Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford, then Air Force deputy research chief, told the House Appropriations defense subscommittee last spring.
"We would have backed off" from the high temperatures which are causing the problems, continued Stafford, and settle for less performance from the engine.
"Better to take a little performance reduction that have these failures," Stafford acknowledged as the subcommittee pressed him on whether the Air Force had erred.
The Air Force is short of parts for fixing F100 engines already on hand. The service also is confronted with delays in deliveries of new engines.
Strikes among several companies building engine parts are being blamed for delivery delays.
The policy question for the Air Force is whether to let McDonnell-Douglas keep turning out F15 air frames at the current rate of eight a month even though there soon will not be enough engines for all of them.
An Air Force spokesman said last night that no decision has yet been made. Other sources said the prevailing view in the Pentagon is to keep F15 production at its current rate, engines or not.
It is not known how many F15s will come off the line without engines in them. The answer depends in part on how many new engines the Air Force delivers to F15s already in the field as replacements and how many it saves for the production run.
The House Appropriations Committee, in its report on the Fiscal 1980 defense budget, demanded that the Pentagon reform its engine buying practices. dThe committee called for more testing of engines before they go into production and more competition among engine companies.