The Joint Strike Fighter has to be affordable. Currently, it is not.
Make or Break for the F-35
The sun rises on six Air Force F-35As awaiting flight testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., in June. After lackluster testing progress in 2010, test sorties are mounting rapidly in 2011 as the test fleet grows.
s the Pentagon’s biggest and most expensive program, the F-35 is getting intense scrutiny, both from Pentagon managers and Congress. Now that tight fiscal limits put every defense dollar under threat, the F-35 needs to prove itself—and fast. There’s been a whirlwind of action on the F-35 over the last 18 months. The program has been shaken up and restructured—twice—prompted by ...view middle of the document...
However, he ordered sweeping changes to the project. Flight testing, well behind schedule, was extended, and he added $4.6
AIR FORCE Magazine / August 2011
By John A. Tirpak, Executive Editor
billion and two years to the development program. Correspondingly, he slowed purchase of production-representative aircraft to just 32 to 35 aircraft per year for three years, representing an overall reduction of more than 220 F-35s from the Future Years Defense Program. That move was meant both to keep the program within spending limits and reduce concurrency—what Carter described as the “balance” between building airplanes “too fast [or] too slow,” given that discoveries made in flight test can force changes in design and costly rework of early production aircraft. Carter also told the SASC that to keep risk down, the production rate will only increase by a factor of 1.5 a year. Gates put the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing version—STOVL for short—on a two-year “probation.” He did so because, of the three variants in the program, the STOVL was causing the most problems with regard to design and disruption of production, and its problems were slowing down the pace
AIR FORCE Magazine / August 2011
of testing the other two versions. Those versions are the conventional takeoff F-35A for the Air Force and carrier-capable F-35C for the Navy. Gates said if the F-35B can be brought up to snuff within two years, the Marine Corps can still buy it. If not, the STOVL JSF will be terminated, and the Navy and Marine Corps alike will use the F-35C model. Gates based his decisions on a top-to-bottom evaluation by JSF Program Executive Officer Vice Adm. David J. Venlet. Called the Technical Baseline Review, it reset the clock on the F-35 program, with new timetables and new expectations of the contractor, Lockheed Martin, and its suppliers. “There will not be another rebaseline of this program,” Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens told reporters at a company press event in May. “There will not be; we understand that.” Before the baseline review, Carter said the Pentagon largely relied on Lockheed for F-35 cost data. Now, having added hundreds of contracting experts to DOD’s ranks, and with review
Lockheed Martin photo
data in hand, Carter said the Pentagon has better knowledge of the F-35 program “than we’ve ever had,” and this will improve oversight and management of the project. The emphasis on restraining F-35 costs is not simply proactive management on Carter’s part. It’s also the law. The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 requires, among other things, that the Pentagon use much more realistic metrics for predicting costs on a program. Venlet told the SASC that he’s committed to “realism” on the F-35, and told reporters this spring that he’s determined not to overpromise on the program, since so many previous expectations have not panned out. Previous F-35 program managers insisted there was no comparison between how...