Despite the problems a military program whose cost has soared from $233 billion to an estimated $379 billion has pilots and generals who will vouch for it. Recent estimates suggest the F-35 program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years. The F35 is getting over $10 billion per year. Does money buy friends and support ?
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office (JPO) acknowledged in 2016 that schedule pressure exists for completing System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and starting Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT and E) by August 2017, the planned date in JPO’s Integrated Master Schedule. In an effort to stay on schedule, JPO plans to reduce or truncate planned developmental testing (DT) in an effort to minimize delays and close out SDD as soon as possible. However, even with this risky, schedule-driven approach, multiple problems and delays make it clear that the program will not be able to start IOT and E with full combat capability until late CY18 or early CY19, at the soonest.
* weapons problems
* software problems
* heat and overheating problems
* Vertical oscillations during F-35C catapult launches were reported by pilots as excessive, violent, and therefore a safety concern during this critical phase of flight. The program is still investigating alternatives to address this deficiency, which makes a solution in time for IOT and E and Navy fielding unlikely
* Excessive and premature wear on the hook point of the arresting gear on the F-35A, occuring as soon as after only one use, has caused the program to consider developing a more robust redesign.
* The Services have designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as “critical to correct” in Block 3F, but less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections in 3FR6. [aka they are only even attempting to try to fix half of the critical problems in this current round of fixes]
* Significant, well-documented deficiencies; for hundreds of these, the program has no plan to adequately fix and verify with flight test within SDD; although it is common for programs to have unresolved deficiencies after development, the program must assess and mitigate the cumulative effects of these remaining deficiencies on F-35 effectiveness and suitability prior to finalizing and fielding Block 3F
* Overall ineffective operational performance with multiple key Block 3F capabilities delivered to date
Available only about half the time
* Continued low aircraft availability and no indications of significant improvement
2.5 times more maintenance needed than the permitted amount
On the positive side, they believe they have fixed the ejections seat so that they are now pretty confident it will not kill or seriously injure lighter pilots who eject. Pretty confident but not enough to change the rule that prevents lighter pilots from flying the F35. Modifications to the pilot escape system (lighter helmet, delayed parachute deployment for lighter pilots) were needed after testing in CY15 showed that the risk of serious injury or death is greater for lighter-weight pilots. Because of the risk, the Services decided to restrict pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying the F-35. The Air Force may be able to reopen F-35 pilot training to lighter-weight pilots (i.e., below 136 pounds) in early 2018. DOT and E is not aware of the plans for the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy to open F-35 pilot training to the lighter-weight pilots
Developmental flight testing is projected to end no earlier than mid-2018, based on independent estimates on completing mission systems flight testing – the testing that will likely take the longest to complete
Although DOT and E does not conduct independent cost estimates, CAPE estimated that the program would need an additional $550 Million in FY18 to finish the necessary and planned developmental test points and produce additional software versions to fix and verify the important known and documented deficiencies, then an additional $425 Million in FY19 and $150 Million in FY20 to complete SDD. These estimates add up to an additional $1.125 Billion required to complete SDD. The Program Office estimate is about one-half of the CAPE estimate.
The program currently has 17 known and acknowledged failures to meet the contract specification requirements, all of which the program is reportedly planning to get relief from the SDD contract due to lack of time and funding
Question #4: Is Secretary James’ Block 3F full combat capability certification, as required by the Fiscal Year 2016 NDAA, still valid?
• DOT and E Answer: For many reasons, it is clear that the Lot 10 aircraft that will begin delivery in early 2018 will not initially have full Block 3F capability. These reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:
– Envelope limitations will likely restrict the full planned Block 3F carriage and employment envelopes of the AIM-120 missile and bombs well into 2018, if not later.
– The full set of geographically specific area of responsibility mission data loads (MDLs) will not be complete, i.e., developed, tested and verified, until 2019, at the soonest, due to the program’s failure to provide the necessary equipment and software tools for the U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL).
– Even after the MDLs are delivered, they will not be tested and optimized to deal with the full set of threats present in IOT and E, let alone in actual combat, which is
part of full combat capability
Deficiencies continue to be discovered at a rate of about 20 per month, and many more will undoubtedly be discovered during IOT and E
Question #7: When will you make the Milestone C/Full-Rate Production decision?
• DOT and E Answer: Since the Milestone C/Full-Rate Production decision cannot be made until after IOT and E is completed and DOT&E has issued its report, it cannot occur by the threshold date of October 2019 and will likely not occur until early 2020, at the soonest.