Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We don't know if it works, and won't know for years

Words and music by the US GAO, in its latest report on the F35 superprogram.
Among the headlights:

IOC dates are yet to be determined. The USMC reportedly aims for an early IOC with interim capabilities in 2015, while USAF and US Navy are expected to put their IOC around 2018, more prudently chosing to fully develop their airplanes before trying to use them.

Full-Rate production will not start before 2018, more likely 2019.

Testing of a fully capable and integrated F35 (with Block 3F software) is likely to happen in 2015 at the earliest, with interim operational testing to follow in 2017. 

Already 373 million dollars are required in mods and fixes for the airplanes produced this far. And more will follow, with the DoD expecting airplanes up to production Lot 10 to need some kind of fixes and mods in the future, due to the number of fixes yet to be determined, tested, rolled out.

The last year in which development funding will have to be committed is expected to be 2016.

US Navy and US Marines will receive all of their planes by 2027, (C and B), while the USAF will get the last F35A in 2035. 

Despite enormous cuts in the number of airplanes to be delivered in the near term, Lochkeed Martin is delivering the F35s with an average delay of 1 year. Only 9, over a planned 30, production F35s were delivered in 2011.
Deliveries of the engines are just as late, so that the only good thing is that engines still meet planes. 

About the F35B, the report notes:

The Department concluded that STOVL development, test, and product maturity is now comparable to the other two variants. While several technical issues have been addressed and some potential solutions engineered, assessing whether the deficiencies are resolved is ongoing and, in some cases, will not be known for years. According to the program office, two of the five specific problems cited are considered to be fixed while the other three have temporary fixes in place.
The Director, Operational Test and Evaluation reported that significant work remains to verify and incorporate modifications to correct known STOVL deficiencies and prepare the system for operational use. Until the proposed technical solutions have been fully tested and demonstrated, it cannot be determined if the technical problems have been resolved.

Software needs have grown to over 24 million lines of code, of which 9.5 millions on board of the airplane itself, and there are delays in the development and release of software. Some capabilities have been pushed to the right, and only 4% of mission system requirements have been validated this far. 

Concurrency is a disaster. It was the worst possible decision to make, and the GAO bitterly notes:

[...] a recent high-level departmental review of JSF concurrency determined that the program is continuing to discover issues at a rate more typical of early design experience, questioning the assumed design maturity that supported the highly concurrent acquisition strategy.

The future of the UK's airpower, in particular at-sea airpower, is tied tightly to the destiny of an airplane, the F35B, that is and will be produced for several more years without real assurances that it works. 

Now, that's what you call a gamble.


  1. hi Gabby

    I've put forward on another blog the idea that there is an upgrade route to allow the tranche 1 block 5 typhoons to take on the Sea Typhoon role.

    these would act as CAP working with the F35B which would be procured in smaller numbers and there would also be a cost saving by buying F35A for non carrier JCA work

    50 (sea) typhoon upgrades
    28 f35Bs
    30 f35as
    all from an F35 budget of £5 billion

    ? any commencts

  2. Problems with the proposal include:

    - Unlikely feasibility of turning Typhoon tranche 1 into a naval figher. The T1 is the model of Typhoon with the weakest airframe, besides: Tranche 2 introduced strenghtening for heavy loads, and a strong airframe is needed for at sea work.

    - No idea of how much navalizing Typhoon can cost

    - A STOBAR Typhoon still needs some significant carrier expenditure and modification (angled deck and arrestor wires)

    With all respect for the proposal and for you, it is an unworkable plan.

    1. I thought of £30 million per aircraft which would cover vectored thrust, air frame strengthening improved tail hook and undercarriage as well as corrosion resistance

      £1.5 billion for 50 aircraft

      The twin seat T1 would be best choice as it has the available human resource for precision strike and later ECM rolE

      arrestor gear from 900 million allocated to
      cats /traps- not all just 350 million for traps for both CVF

      still unworkable?

    2. I'm afraid it just won't work.

    3. assume it won't work and we don't follow the italian lead on the F35, and then please give some ideas of the would be the advantages if it did?

  3. Is it me or do all these multi-national weapons programs always seem to come at excessive cost for very little?

    There doesn't seem to be any alternative suggested by the Royal Navy, so it seems we have no choice but to use the f-35, though its incredible that they have no contingency plan. So we will again waste loads of money on one project and find the armed forces ill-equipped

  4. Actually, there is alternative (Sea Typhoon) but procurement is dictated more by politics than by anything else...

    1. Sea Typhoon is a very virtual plan B, little more than a paper concept which could easily go awfully wrong.
      It is about as concrete as the "Super Harrier" or Harrier III concept.
      Sea Typhoon might do the trick for the SNP claims, but a lot of work and money would be needed to make of it a realistic Plan B, and even more to bring the plan to fruition.


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