Wired Magazine & Face the Facts & BBC – 2013-01-08 21:53:02
Trillion-Dollar Jet Has Thirteen Expensive New Flaws
David Axe / DangerRoom, Wired Magazine
(December 13, 2011) — The most expensive weapons program in US history is about to get a lot pricier.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, meant to replace nearly every tactical warplane in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, was already expected to cost $1 trillion dollars for development, production and maintenance over the next 50 years. Now that cost is expected to grow, owing to 13 different design flaws uncovered in the last two months by a hush-hush panel of five Pentagon experts. It could cost up to a billion dollars to fix the flaws on copies of the jet already in production, to say nothing of those yet to come.
In addition to costing more, the stealthy F-35 could take longer to complete testing. That could delay the stealthy jetâ€™s combat debut to sometime after 2018 — seven years later than originally planned. And all this comes as the Pentagon braces for big cuts to its budget while trying to save cherished but costly programs like the Joint Strike Fighter.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagonâ€™s top weapons-buyer, convened the so-called â€œQuick Look Reviewâ€ panel in October. Its report — 55 pages of dense technical jargon and intricate charts — was leaked this weekend. Kendall and company found a laundry list of flaws with the F-35, including a poorly placed tail hook, lagging sensors, a buggy electrical system and structural cracks.
Some of the problems — the electrical bugs, for instance — were becoming clear before the Quick Look Review; others are brand-new. The panelists describe them all in detail and, for the first time, connect them to the programâ€™s underlying management problems. Most ominously, the report mentions — but does not describe — a â€œclassifiedâ€ deficiency. â€œDollars to doughnuts it has something to do with stealth,â€ aviation guru Bill Sweetman wrote. In other words, the F-35 might not be as invisible to radar as prime contractor Lockheed Martin said it would be.
The JSFâ€™s problems are exacerbated by a production plan that Vice Adm. David Venlet, the government program manager, admitted two weeks ago represents â€œa miscalculation.â€ Known as â€œconcurrency,â€ the plan allows Lockheed to mass-produce jets — potentially hundreds of them — while testing is still underway. Itâ€™s a way of ensuring the military gets combat-ready jets as soon as possible, while also helping Lockheed to maximize its profits. Thatâ€™s the theory, at least.
â€œConcurrency is present to some degree in virtually all DoD programs, though not to the extent that it is on the F-35,â€ the Quick Look panelists wrote. The Pentagon assumed it could get away with a high degree of concurrency owing to new computer simulations meant to take the guesswork out of testing. â€œThe Department had a reasonable basis to be optimistic,â€ the panelists wrote.
But that optimism proved unfounded. â€œThis assessment shows that the F-35 program has discovered and is continuing to discover issues at a rate more typical of early design experience on previous aircraft development programs,â€ the panelists explained. Testing uncovered problems the computers did not predict, resulting in 725 design changes while new jets were rolling off the factory floor in Fort Worth, Texas.
And every change takes time and costs money. To pay for the fixes, this year the Pentagon cut its F-35 order from 42 to 30. Next yearâ€™s order dropped from 35 to 30. â€œItâ€™s basically sucked the wind out of our lungs with the burden, the financial burden,â€ Venlet said.
News of more costs and delays could not have come at a worse time for the Joint Strike Fighter. The program has already been restructured twice since 2010, each time getting stretched out and more expensive. In January, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put the Marinesâ€™ overweight F-35B variant, which is designed to take off and land vertically, on probation. If Lockheed couldnâ€™t fix the jump jet within two years, â€œit should be cancelled,â€ Gates advised.
Tasting blood in the water, Boeing — Americaâ€™s other fighter-plane manufacturer — dusted off plans for improved F-15s and F-18s to sell to the Pentagon, should the F-35 fail. Deep cuts to the defense budget certainly arenâ€™t helping the F-35â€²s case.
Humbled, Lockheed agreed to share some of the cost of design changes, instead of simply billing the government. The aerospace giant copped to its past problems with the F-35 and promised better performance. â€œThere will not be another re-baseline of this program. We understand that,â€ Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens said in May.
But another â€œrebaselining,â€ or restructuring, is likely in the wake of the Quick Look Review. F-35 testing and production should be less concurrent and more â€œevent-based,â€ the panelists advised. In other words, the program should worry less about meeting hard deadlines and more about getting the jetâ€™s design right. Itâ€™ll be ready when itâ€™s ready. Major production must wait, even if that means older warplanes — the planes the F-35 is supposed to replace — must stay on the front line longer.
Needless to say, thatâ€™s got some members of Congress up in arms. â€œIt is at this exact moment that the excessive overlap between development and production that was originally structured into the JSF program … is now coming home to roost,â€ said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. â€œIf things do not improve — quickly — taxpayers and the warfighter will insist that all options will be on the table. And they should be. We cannot continue on this path.â€
A Trillion-dollar Flyer
Face the Facts
(December 9, 2012) — The F-35 Joint Strike fighter fleet will cost $1.5 trillion. Itâ€™s crucial, says the Pentagon, for the future.
The F-35 Joint Strike fighter fleet will cost $1.5 trillion to build, operate and maintain. Thatâ€™s equal to the combined cost of the 15 next most expensive weapons systems in development, which include the new Virginia-class submarine, the Littoral special-mission combat ship, and the Poseidon sub-fighting aircraft. The F-35 costs $133 million per copy, enough to buy four of the most advanced unmanned drone aircraft, the Reaper.
US Government Accountability Office: “Joint Strike Fighter, Recent Decisions by DOD Add to Program Risks”
US Government Accountability Office: “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs”
US Government Accountability Office: â€œJoint Strike Fighter DOD: Actions Needed to Further Enhance Restructuring and Address Affordability Risks”
US Department of Defense: â€œSelected Acquisition Report (SAR)â€ (via Federation of American Scientists website)
Congressional Research Office: â€œF-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programâ€ (via Federation of American Scientists website)
Inside the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
(July 15, 2010) — The BBC has been given exclusive access to film the world’s most advanced fighter jet — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin for the US and UK military.
Britain had planned to buy around 150 aircraft for the RAF and Royal Navy — but with each plane costing at least Â£70m that number is likely to fall. Squadron Leader Steve Long — the first Royal Air Force pilot to fly the Joint Strike Fighter — explained its unique capabilities to Jonathan Beale. Aerial footage courtesy Lockheed Martin.
Canada’s Avro Arrow: Cheaper, More Efficient and Faster than F-35
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