July 9, 2009 (by Eric L. Palmer) - Will the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) be “Lethal, Survivable, Supportable, and Affordable” like what it says on the patch? Many say “yes” and some aren’t so sure.
F-35C - CV
The program progress should be brought into question. In order for the F-35 to be survivable it first has to survive.
We are told that new ways of modeling and simulating will reduce the need for flight testing. Only 17 percent of the test evaluation of the F-35 will involve flight test discovery. The rest will depend on a variety of studies and analysis in order to qualify the design. So far, what is billed as the most advanced fighter jet ever, has the slowest flight test program in history. Yet it is expected to pick up pace and become one of the fastest flight test schedules to make up for lost testing. For example fiscal 2009 was supposed to have over 300 flight tests. At this late part of the year they have a little over 30 for FY2009. FY2010 will have over 1200 flight tests on the schedule—plus the make up work from FY2009. All this in an environment where an ever increasing production rate has very little flight test verification of the design.
It is possible that industry has this kind of evaluation method under control—until you consider what has happened
to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is a monument to how over-dependence on modeling and simulation—along with poor management—can leave a program behind schedule and struggling to keep its reputation in front of key stakeholders. Certainly there are many differences between the Boeing 787 program and the F-35. The similarities are enough to ask hard questions about the F-35 program and not just depend on more promises that everything is “on track”.
Back in April, the departing assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics Sue Payton put together a memo for her replacement. According to Inside the Air Force, Payton stated that “the JSF
fiscal health is mixed.” While she mentioned that, “I am confident in the program’s risk management plan, and expect that with proper government oversight, the program can achieve the required technical performance”, there are other comments that leave some concern. She pointed out the following-
-The Government should push risks to the prime contractor (Lockheed Martin) as soon as possible using for a fixed-price contract structure. (This may happen no later than Lot 6 according to a DOD
-Absence of an F-22 program may push up costs on the F-35 in part due to overhead rate structure which has become “alarmingly expensive” on this program.
-Problems with the Pratt and Whitney F-135 engine have lead to a $3 million dollar increase in unit recurring flyaway costs for the F-35B short take-off and landing (STOVL
-Concerns with the F-35s ejection seat/egress system requirements stating that they are “particularly stressing and may be an area to review for reconsideration”.
All of this is after internal auditors for the Pentagon stated that the F-35 program may be underfunded by as much as $15 billion dollars between FY2010 and FY2014.
The F-35 offers much. What started as the appearance of a well thought out plan becomes more and more of a gamble as years go by. More layers of program risk are showing up. In order for the program to stop giving a hint of looking like the 787, or even the A-400
, platitudes have to be traded for altitude. Time is very very short. FY2011 and FY2012—which can only offer more U.S. federal budget pain—are not all that far away.
Is the F-35 a safe bet? Is this even a weapon system that we need? Is the risk being controlled? How much will this program cost all of us? How much will it cost to fix everything if this becomes a big mistake? Will there be money enough to pay for all of this? Join the debate