Tag Archives: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

F-35 Full Rate Production Challenges Include Failing Engine Tests And Replacing 1,005 Turkish Parts

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 Image: Senior Airman Quay Drawdy/U.S. Air Force

DEFENSE NEWS

According to the GAO, the number of F-35 parts delivered late skyrocketed from less than 2,000 in August 2017 to upward of 10,000 in July 2019. At one point in 2019, Pratt & Whitney stopped deliveries of the F135 for an unspecified period due to test failures, which also contributed to the reduction of on-time deliveries.

And those supply chain problems could get even worse as Turkish defense manufacturers are pushed out of the program, the Government Accountability Office said in a May 12 report.

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 “Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is on the verge of full-rate production, with a decision slated for early 2021. But a congressional watchdog group is concerned that as the company ramps up F-35 production, its suppliers are falling behind.

The number of parts shortages per month also climbed from 875 in July 2018 to more than 8,000 in July 2019. More than 60 percent of that sum was concentrated among 20 suppliers, it said.

“To mitigate late deliveries and parts shortages — and deliver more aircraft on time — the airframe contractor has utilized methods such as reconfiguring the assembly line and moving planned work between different stations along the assembly line,” the GAO said.

“According to the program office, such steps can cause production to be less efficient, which, in turn, can increase the number of labor hours necessary to build each aircraft,” which then drives up cost, the GAO added.

Those problems could be compounded by Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program, which was announced last year after the country moved forward with buying the Russian S-400 air defense system. Although Turkey financially contributed to the development of the F-35 as a partner in the program, the U.S. Defense Department has maintained that Turkey cannot buy or operate the F-35 until it gives up the S-400.

The Pentagon has also taken action to begin stripping Turkish industry from the aircraft’s supply chain, a process that involves finding new companies to make 1,005 parts, some of which are sole-sourced by Turkish companies.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, had hoped to stop contracting with Turkish suppliers by March 2020, but in January she said that some contracts would extend through the year, according to Defense One.

While the Defense Department has found new suppliers to manufacture the parts currently made in Turkey, it is uncertain whether the price of those components will be more expensive. Furthermore, as of December 2019, the new production rates for 15 components were lagging behind that of the legacy Turkish producers.

“According to program officials, some of these new parts suppliers will not be producing at the rate required until next year, as roughly 10 percent are new to the F-35 program,” the GAO said.

“Airframe contractor representatives stated it would take over a year to stand up these new suppliers, with lead times dependent on several factors, such as part complexity, quantity, and the supplier’s production maturity. In addition, these new suppliers are required to go through qualification and testing to ensure the design integrity for their parts.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office disagreed with the GAO’s recommendation to provide certain information to Congress ahead of the full-rate production decision, including an evaluation of production risks and a readiness assessment of the suppliers that are replacing Turkish companies.

In its statement, the JPO said it is already providing an acceptable number of updates on the program’s readiness for full-rate production.

Hard times for the F-35’s engine supplier

Not all F-35 production trends reported by the GAO were bad for the aircraft. Since 2016, Lockheed has made progress in delivering a greater proportion of F-35s on schedule, with 117 of 134 F-35s delivered on time in 2019.

However, one of the biggest subsystems of the F-35 — the F135 engine produced by Pratt & Whitney — drifted in the opposite direction, with a whopping 91 percent of engines delivered behind schedule.

At one point in 2019, Pratt & Whitney stopped deliveries of the F135 for an unspecified period due to test failures, which also contributed to the reduction of on-time deliveries.

According to the Defense Contracts Management Agency, “there have been 18 engine test failures in 2019, which is eight more than in 2018, each requiring disassembly and rework,” the GAO wrote. “To address this issue, the engine contractor has developed new tooling for the assembly line and has established a team to identify characteristics leading to the test failures. Plans are also in place for additional training for employees.”

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2020/05/12/some-f-35-suppliers-are-having-trouble-delivering-parts-on-schedule-and-turkeys-departure-could-make-that-worse/

Government Considers Cost Reductions To $1.2 Trillion F-35 Logistics Program

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Photo: Bloomberg

BLOOMBERG QUINT

Dissolving Joint Program Office, prodding Lockheed Martin to give up data rights on some spare parts so other suppliers could be sought and a “Performance Based” Logistics contract among possibilities.

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“House lawmakers trying to reduce the projected $1.1 trillion cost of maintaining the F-35 over 60 years are considering options including eliminating the Pentagon’s central office in charge of the fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin Corp. Dispersing responsibility to the three military services that are getting variations of the plane is among possibilities drafted by the Defense Department that will be reviewed Tuesday in a closed-door briefing of two House Armed Services subcommittees.

The proposal to “potentially dissolve and disaggregate the F-35 Joint Program Office” is aimed at gains in “efficiency and effectiveness,” Monica Matoush, a spokeswoman for the Armed Services Committee, said in an email.

Other possibilities include prodding Lockheed Martin to give up data rights on some spare parts — so that other suppliers could be sought — and pushing for improvements in the aircraft’s flawed diagnostic system.

Matoush said the briefing, which will include Under Secretary of Defense Ellen Lord and representatives of the Government Accountability Office, will also “evaluate the merits and disadvantages” of an unsolicited proposal by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed to enter into a long-term, “performance-based” logistics contract for F-35 sustainment.

If accepted — and delivered on — that could be worth billions of dollars to the company. The proposal would tie financial incentives to reducing the plane’s cost per hour of flight to $25,000 from $35,000 and maintaining 80% fleet readiness. Lord said Tuesday at a meeting with defense reporters that she’s still undecided on the proposal’s merits. The Navy is taking the lead in gathering the data needed to thoroughly assess the plan and an official assigned to review it will present his findings Friday, Lord said.

Cost ‘Clarity’

“At this point, I don’t know whether” the Lockheed proposal “makes sense or not because I have not seen all the elements of cost” and data backing it up, she said. Lord added that she’s seen similar “performance-based logistics” proposals “be very efficient and effective when it’s a ‘win’ for industry and a ‘win’ for the government,” but “right now we need some clarity around cost” and intellectual property issues.

Separately, Lord later told Bloomberg that the F-35’s crucial but problematic aircraft diagnostics system known as ALIS, for Autonomic Logistics Information System, has been improved to replace the current version and renamed “ODIN,” after the father of the god Thor in Norse mythology. It stands for Operational Data Integrated Network.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-14/scrapping-pentagon-s-f-35-office-an-option-to-cut-upkeep-costs

Deceptive Pentagon Math In $89.2 Million F-35 Fighter Price

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(Photo: DoD / Staff Sgt. Devin Doskey, U.S. Air Force)

THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)

This figure is the unit recurring flyaway cost—the price tag for just the aircraft and engine, which by themselves do not make a fully functioning weapon system.

That $89.2 million does not include procurement funds spent on initial spare parts, flight training simulators, the expensive – and poorly performing – ALIS support system, and more, all unique to the F-35.

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“Pentagon leaders are likely reveling in the news that they have negotiated an agreement with Lockheed Martin that they claim drives down the unit cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter to below $80 million in the next few years. While any reduction in costs for the most expensive weapons program in history is an improvement, all is not as it appears in the industry trade press. A quick perusal of publicly available Pentagon budget documents shows the real cost of the F-35 to be above $100 million per copy for the fiscal year 2020 buy. Given the work that remains, and the way the Pentagon has surrendered many key responsibilities to the manufacturer, the price is likely to be at least that amount or higher for the foreseeable future.

The most commonly mentioned figure is for the F-35A, the Air Force’s conventional takeoff variant and the least expensive model. The current estimate for the lot of aircraft currently in production is $89.2 million apiece. This figure is the unit recurring flyaway cost—the price tag for just the aircraft and engine, which by themselves do not make a fully functioning weapon system.

When we also consider the future modifications necessary to correct both the known and potential design flaws and the aircraft’s $44,000 per-flight-hour cost, it is easy to see why the F-35 program is the most expensive in history.

A handy tool for anyone interested in knowing more about actual costs of military programs and weapons is readily available online. The Pentagon posts budget materials for each fiscal year on the comptroller’s webpage. Included are budget estimates and the justification documents containing more charts and figures than any reasonable person would care to view.

The Air Force’s fiscal year 2020 budget pays for the 48 F-35As in Lot 11. The current $89.2 million dollar price the Pentagon uses is calculated by separating out just the costs for the airframe and the engine from the larger total procurement cost that includes ALIS, simulators, initial spare parts, and more to get to the artificially low $89.2 million. That is far from the whole story.

The Pentagon’s own budget documents list the FY 2020 procurement cost for those 48 aircraft as more than $101 million, nearly $12 million more than the figure rolled out for press reports. Using the Navy’s charts and the same math shows that the real costs for each F-35C is more than $123 million, while each F-35B costs in excess of $166 million. But even that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

None of this factors in the research and development costs of the program. Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, announced on October 29 that the program needs more money to complete the developmental and testing phase of the program. The latest publicly available figures show that taxpayers will have spent approximately $55.5 billion for F-35 research and development. If the Pentagon purchases all 2,470 F-35s in the current plan, the true cost of each aircraft goes up by nearly $22.5 million. Program officials had expected to complete development and operational testing by December 2019. But designers and engineers have struggled to complete the Joint Simulation Environment, a highly accurate simulator necessary to complete operational testing. The troubles stem from programming flight data and aircraft performance data gathered during real-world flights into the simulation software. The Joint Strike Fighter program will run out of development money before the simulator and the subsequent operational testing can be completed. The Pentagon expects to announce before the end of 2019 just how much more money beyond the program’s current $406.4 billion budget will be needed to complete this phase of the program.

No matter how the production costs are calculated, that money alone will not buy you a fully functional F-35. Engineers were not able to complete all of the combat capabilities that were supposed to be included as part of the original development phase of the program. This incomplete work, which taxpayers have already paid for, will now be completed in a new development phase and called “follow-on modernization.” Only time will tell how much will ultimately be spent in this effort, but taxpayers are already on the hook for $10.5 billion.

There is also the matter of the cost of maintenance and ownership. Lockheed Martin stands to make most of its money from the F-35 program in annual non-competitive sustainment contracts. As POGO has reported before, the services can’t independently perform many of the most basic maintenance functions on the F-35 and must instead rely on civilian contractors. Lockheed Martin currently receives $2 billion a year to keep the fleet of approximately 400 aircraft flying, meaning the annual operating cost for each F-35 is $5 million.

Pentagon officials had expected to make the long-anticipated full-rate production decision for the F-35 program before the end of this year. Also known as a Milestone C decision, the program must complete all the steps, including operational testing, as required by federal law. No one appears to be letting such trifling details stand in their way, however. The recent cost estimates emerged as part of the announcement of a $34 billion deal for three years’ worth of F-35 production—478 aircraft for the U.S. services and international customers—beginning in 2020. Officials continue to call this “low-rate initial production,” but this is essentially full-rate production in everything but name. The announced 169 F-35s for Lot 14 is the full-rate production figure for the program.

The public shouldn’t fall for the gimmicks the Defense Department constantly uses on aircraft unit cost, but the press, amazingly, seems to fall for it every time. Congress shouldn’t buy these phony cost projections and compound the program’s problems, based on a phony buy-in price by buying more F-35s before testing is complete.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2019/11/deceptive-pentagon-math-tries-to-obscure-100-million-price-tag-for-f-35/

DoD Inspector General Slams Government Property Management on F-35 Fighter Program

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EDITORS NOTE: For the details of acquisition law on title to, control and management of government owned property please see: https://www.smalltofeds.com/2009/04/small-business-government-contract.html

“DEFENSE NEWS”

“Over the lifespan of the program, the F-35 JPO has not followed the mandated procedures used to manage government-furnished property, or GFP, and instead depended on Lockheed and its subcontractors to keep track of such equipment, stated a DoD IG report released Friday.

Lockheed has self-reported losing $271 million in government property, but the Pentagon has no way to validate that figure, the report noted. “

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“The F-35 Joint Program Office has not adequately tracked government property leant or leased to Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors, an oversight that a new investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general said could impact readiness.

Building the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter requires the use of government property such as materiel, special tooling like molds used to form the jet’s structure and unique test equipment.

As a result, the DoD does not know the actual value of the F‑35 property and does not have an independent record to verify the contractor‑valued government property of $2.1 billion for the F‑35 program,” the report said. “Without accurate records, the F‑35 Program officials have no visibility over the property and have no metrics to hold the prime contractor accountable for how it manages government property.

“The lack of asset visibility restricts the DoD’s ability to conduct the necessary checks and balances that ensure the prime contractor is managing and spending F‑35 Program funds in the government’s best interest and could impact the DoD’s ability to meet its operational readiness goals for the F‑35 aircraft.”

The report claims the program office did not:

  • Maintain a record of GFP known as an “accountable property system of record,” or APSR.
  • Award contracts with complete GFP lists.
  • Coordinate with the Defense Contract Management Agency on the contracting actions necessary to transition property from being “contractor acquired” to “government furnished.”

In short, “DoD officials failed to implement procedures … to account for and manage government property for more than 16 years” and, during that time, did not hold specific officials responsible for the resulting mismanagement, the report said.

As a result, the IG asserts that the JPO hasn’t been able to provide the level of oversight needed to establish that contractors aren’t misusing government property. 

Meanwhile, Defense Contract Management Agency officials indicated that confusion over the inspection procedures necessary to shift equipment from the “contractor-acquired property” label to the GFP designation led to delays in the ability to use that equipment — which could have a detrimental effect on readiness.

In a statement, the F-35 JPO responded that it was not surprised by the report’s findings and that efforts are underway to address the IG’s recommendations.

“The F-35 Program will continue to inventory, track and contractually account for all GFP associated with the F-35 system, and will diligently strive for opportunities to improve as highlighted by the DoD IG report,” the statement said. “By incorporating both the lessons learned from the DoD IG findings and the JPO’s own internal assessments, we expect to measurably enhance our management of GFP.”

The IG recommended a course of action that it advised should be put in place before the move to full-rate production later this year.

It suggests that the JPO should ensure current lists of GFP are complete and accurate before awarding contracts. It calls for appointing a “component property lead” and “accountable property officer” to ensure that happens and that a formal APSR is created. The IG also directs the program to create procedures that ensure the APSR is updated with the latest data.

The F-35 JPO, in its response, said that a component property lead will be named and will be responsible for ensuring all government property is properly tracked and maintained — and that all relevant financial statements are accounted for.

“Prior to the onset of full-rate production, the JPO has begun physical inventories at all F-35 sites housing GFP. This inventory is expected to run through the end of calendar year 2019,” it said. “Some corrective actions already determined are in process for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 12 and should be complete prior to [a full-rate production] decision. These actions will be worked in concert with the stand-up of the F-35 Program’s Accountable Property System of Record.”

The IG, in its report, said it was satisfied with the corrective actions proposed by the JPO, but that it would review their implementation at a later date.

Creating a record of government property will not be as simple as copying over Lockheed Martin’s record.

Lockheed estimates there are 3.45 million pieces of government property used for the F-35 program, and that equipment is worth an estimated $2.1 billion. However, its records are not written to the same standard that the Defense Department mandates.

For instance, federal regulations require that government records keep track of the contract number associated with a given piece of GFE, while Lockheed did not include that information. Other data recorded by the company — such as the name of a part or its quantity — were incomplete by Pentagon standards.”

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2019/03/15/dod-inspector-general-slams-f-35-program-office-for-allowing-lockheed-to-manage-government-property/

Foreign Governments Receiving Obsolete Export F-35s Until 2023

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F-35-Money-4-copy AR15 dot com

“DEFENSE-AEROSPACE.COM”

“Three-quarters of all the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters delivered to foreign customers until 2023 are [or will be] obsolete and will require major retrofits before they can deliver their promised performance.  

[10] Foreign “partners,” [See table] who have already paid a portion of the F-35’s development costs as well as paying for their own aircraft, will realize that they have been abused by Lockheed and the Pentagon.”

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“An analysis of F-35 contracts awarded to date shows that fully 343 – or 74% — of the 460 export F-35s that Lockheed is to deliver until end 2024 will be in the current, obsolete Low-Rate Initial Production configuration.

These 343 aircraft are limited both in terms of operational capabilities and of the weapons they can use. They are, and will remain, obsolete because their software is incomplete and because their sensors – designed over 20 years ago – have been overtaken by several generations electronics progress.

Lockheed and the F-35 Joint Program Office have quietly decided that all of the planned sensor and avionics upgrades needed to bring the F-35 to full capability will be deferred until 2023, when the first Full-Rate Production (FRP) aircraft (Lot 15) will begin to roll off the production lines.

All this, however, is a best-case scenario, and assumes that the F-35 will pass its Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E). Due to be completed in 2019 or 2020, IOT&E will allow the Pentagon to take the (Milestone C) decision to launch Full-Rate Production (FRP).

If it doesn’t – and the GAO reported on June 5 that “As of January 2018, the F-35 program had 966 open deficiencies, of which 111 category 1 (critical)” – then all bets are off, and the program will have to undergo a major restructuring.

Fully-capable F-35 only after 2023

Aircraft of the first Full-Rate Production batch (Lot 15) will be the first to benefit from the new package of sensors, electronics and software bringing them to full capability, and which will notably include:

— a new TR-3 (Technology Refresh 3) computer supplied by Harris Corporation that is key to allowing integration of the new capabilities planned for the Block 4 standard. This will include computing infrastructure for new panoramic cockpit displays, advanced memory systems and navigation technology, according to Brad Truesdell, Harris Corp.’s senior director of aviation systems.

— Raytheon’s new Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System, which Lockheed announced June 13 would replace Northrop Grumman’s current AN/AAQ-37.

— a new Advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) to replace the current system, also made by Lockheed. The company says the current EOTS meets all the contractual specifications, but that the new system – which offers a significant increase in terms of target recognition and detection capability – “would be a further upgrade option purchased at the discretion of the DOD and international F-35 partners and customers,” Lockheed told FlightGlobal at the time.

— a new Panoramic Cockpit Display System (PCDS) made by Elbit Systems of America. In June 2017, Elbit announced a contract from Lockheed Martin to develop a panoramic cockpit display unit to replace the current one, made by L3 Aviation Products.

These new sensors are crucial for the F-35 to achieve the capabilities it was designed to deliver, but which are still not available today, after 17 years of development. Lockheed says, for example, that the new DAS will have five times the reliability and twice the performance of the current system, despite being 45% cheaper to buy and 50% cheaper to operate.

However, Lot 15 deliveries will only begin in early 2023 and, meanwhile, deliveries will continue with the current electronics and sensors.

The US services will also receive obsolete aircraft, but their problem is less severe because they all operate other kinds of combat aircraft, and because they already have indicated they may use the early aircraft for flight-training or as spare parts banks if the cost of upgrading them to Block 4 standard is too expensive.

This is not an option for export customers, however, as for several – notably Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands — the F-35 will be the only combat aircraft, while for all others it is the primary strike aircraft.

Allies to receive obsolete aircraft until 2022

Until 2023, all the Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) aircraft ordered by the program’s foreign partners (Australia, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom) and Foreign Military Sales customers (Israel, Japan and South Korea) will be delivered in the current configuration.

They will require substantial — and expensive — upgrades to bring them up to the latest Block 4 standard, after the new sensors and electronics become available in 2023.

The cost of developing and implementing the Block 4 configuration is as yet unknown, and figures have been quoted of between $3.9 billion and as much as $16.4 billion.

In any case, it is high enough that the F-35 Program Executive Officer, Vice Admiral Mat Winter, “said his office is exploring the option of leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production in the coming years,” according to an October 2017 report by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO)

To our knowledge, European operators of the F-35 also have “overlooked” mentioning the cost of upgrading their older aircraft to Block 4 standard when reporting to their respective Parliaments, to which they will now have to go cap-in-hand to request the necessary funds. One can imagine the welcome they will receive from their lawmakers.

And Block 4 is non-negotiable because unless upgraded, all F-35s delivered before 2023 will be severely limited in their capabilities and will only be able to use very few weapons.

Lockheed is currently delivering aircraft with the latest Block 3F software, the first “combat-capable” standard. Block 3F should (but maybe will not) be retrofitted to earlier aircraft. Block 3F allows the use of the Small Diameter Bomb, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missile, in addition to the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) and various kinds of laser-guided bombs used with earlier software.

Only Block 4 allows most capable weapons – after 2023 

But only Block 4 will allow the F-35 to use the most capable air-to-air missile in the Western inventory – MBDA’s Meteor – as well as two new long-range missiles being developed specifically for the F-35: the Joint Strike Missile (made by Kongsberg, Norway) and the SOM-J air-launched cruise missile (Roketsan, Turkey) as well as the Small Diameter Bomb II and other cutting-edge weapons to come.

If 74% of all export F-35s will be obsolete when delivered, some export customers will receive an even higher proportion: Australia will receive 63 of its 72 aircraft (87%) in LRIP configuration, while the proportion of LRIP aircraft will attain 100% for South Korea, 81% for Japan and 77% for Norway. (see Table 1 above).

Foreign operators will receive a few of the state-of-the-art Lot 15/Block 4 aircraft after 2023, except for South Korea, whose deliveries will be completed in 2021. Quantities will be limited, however, as for example Norway will receive only 12 Block 4 aircraft out of 52, and Australia only 9 out of 72.

These foreign operators are caught up in a dilemma: the F-35 needs new sensors, but cannot integrate them without new computers and memories that will only be available with Block 4 software, in 2023 at the earliest.

In other words, pray there’s no shooting war in the next 6-7 years.

Assuming they do decide to retrofit Block 4 improvements, export customers will have to pay for it themselves, on top of acquisition and post-delivery upgrade costs.

This is when foreign “partners,” who have already paid a portion of the F-35’s development costs as well as paying for their own aircraft, will realize that they have been abused by Lockheed and the Pentagon who, in their rush to produce as many F-35s as fast as possible, have delivered “fifth-generation” aircraft that do not meet contractual performance and cannot match the capability of “legacy” aircraft like Typhoon, and the latest F-15 and F-16s.”

http://www.defense-aerospace.com/articles-view/feature/5/194043/fully-74-of-export-f_35s-delivered-until-2024-are-obsolete.html

 

Pentagon Declares Lockheed F-35 “Too Big to Fail”

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F-35 Too Big to Fail

(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/US Air Force)

“DEFENSE NEWS” By Michael P. Hughes

“Officially begun in 2001, with roots extending back to the late 1980s, the F-35 program is nearly a decade behind schedule, and has  failed to meet many of its original design requirements.

It’s also become the most expensive defense program in world history, at about $1.5 trillion before the fighter is  phased out in 2070.

The F-35 was billed as a fighter jet that could do almost everything the U.S. military desired, serving the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy — and even Britain’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy — all in one aircraft design. It’s supposed to replace and improve upon several current — and aging — aircraft types with widely different missions. It’s marketed as a cost-effective, powerful multi-role fighter airplane significantly better than anything potential adversaries could build in the next two decades. But it’s turned out to be none of those things.

The unit cost per airplane, above $100 million, is roughly twice what was promised early on. Even after U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the cost of the program in February, the price per plane dropped just $7 million — less than 7 percent.

And yet, the U.S. is still throwing huge sums of money at the project. Essentially, the Pentagon has declared the F-35 “ too big to fail.” As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force and current university professor of finance who has been involved in and studied military aviation and acquisitions, I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history.

Forget what’s already spent

The Pentagon is trying to argue that just because taxpayers have flushed more than $100 billion down the proverbial toilet so far, we must continue to throw billions more down that same toilet. That violates the most elementary financial principles of capital budgeting, which is the method companies and governments use to decide on investments. So-called sunk costs, the money already paid on a project, should never be a factor in investment decisions. Rather, spending should be based on how it will add value in the future.

Keeping the F-35 program alive is not only a gross waste in itself: Its funding could be spent on defense programs that are really useful and needed for national defense, such as  anti-drone systems to defend U.S. troops.

Part of the enormous cost has come as a result of an effort to share aircraft design and replacement parts across different branches of the military. In 2013, a study by the think tank Rand found that it would have been cheaper if the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy had simply  designed and developed separate and more specialized aircraft to meet their specific operational requirements.

Not living up to top billing

The company building the F-35 has made grand claims. Lockheed Martin said the plane would be far better than current aircraft — “four times more effective” in air-to-air combat, “eight times more effective” in air-to-ground combat and “three times more effective” in recognizing and suppressing an enemy’s air defenses. It would, in fact, be “ second only to the F-22 in air superiority.” In addition, the F-35 was to have better range and require less logistics support than current military aircraft. The Pentagon is still calling the F-35 “ the most affordable, lethal, supportable, and survivable aircraft ever to be used.”

But that’s not how the plane has turned out. In January 2015, mock combat testing pitted the F-35 against an F-16, one of the fighters it is slated to replace. The F-35A was flown “clean” with empty weapon bays and without any drag-inducing and heavy, externally mounted weapons or fuel tanks. The F-16D, a heavier and somewhat less capable training version of the mainstay F-16C, was further encumbered with two 370-gallon external wing-mounted fuel tanks.

In spite of its significant advantages, the F-35A’s test pilot noted that the F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

Stealth over power

One key reason the F-35 doesn’t possess the world-beating air-to-air prowess promised, and is likely not even adequate when compared with its current potential adversaries, is that it was designed first and foremost to be a stealthy airplane. This requirement has taken precedence over maneuverability, and likely above its overall air-to-air lethality. The Pentagon and especially the Air Force seem to be relying almost exclusively on the F-35’s stealth capabilities to succeed at its missions.

Like the F-117 and F-22, the F-35’s stealth capability greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, its radar cross-section, the signal that radar receivers see bouncing back off an airplane. The plane looks smaller on radar — perhaps like a bird rather than a plane — but is not invisible. The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current — and even obsolete — weapons. As far back as 1999 the same type of stealth technology was not able to prevent a U.S. Air Force F-117 flying over Kosovo from being located, tracked and shot down using an outdated Soviet radar and surface-to-air missile system. In the nearly two decades since, that incident has been studied in depth not only by the U.S., but also by potential adversaries seeking weaknesses in passive radar stealth aircraft.

Of course, radar is not the only way to locate and target an aircraft. One can also use an aircraft’s infrared emissions, which are created by friction-generated heat as it flies through the air, along with its hot engines. Several nations, particularly the Russians, have excellent passive infrared search and tracking systems that can locate and target enemy aircraft with great precision — sometimes using lasers to measure exact distances, but without needing radar.

It’s also very common in air-to-air battles for opposing planes to come close enough that their pilots can see each other. The F-35 is as visible as any other aircraft its size.

Analysts weigh in

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon say the F-35’s superiority over its rivals lies in its ability to remain undetected, giving it “ first look, first shot, first kill.” Hugh Harkins, a highly respected author on military combat aircraft, called that claim “a marketing and publicity gimmick” in his book on Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35S, a potential opponent of the F-35. “In real terms an aircraft in the class of the F-35 cannot compete with the Su-35S for out and out performance such as speed, climb, altitude, and maneuverability,” he wrote.

Other critics have been even harsher. Pierre Sprey, a co-founding member of the so-called fighter mafia at the Pentagon and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 “inherently a terrible airplane” that is the product of “an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.” He has said the F-35 would likely lose a close-in combat encounter to a well-flown MiG-21, a 1950s Soviet fighter design. Robert Dorr, an Air Force veteran, career diplomat and military air combat historian, wrote in his book “Air Power Abandoned”: “The F-35 demonstrates repeatedly that it can’t live up to promises made for it. … It’s that bad.”

How did we get here?

How did the F-35 go from its conception as the most technologically advanced, do-it-all military aircraft in the world to a virtual turkey? Over the decades-long effort to meet a real military need for better aircraft, the F-35 program is the result of the merging or combination of several other separate and diverse projects into a set of requirements for an airplane that is trying to be everything to everybody.

In combat, the difference between winning and losing is often not very great. With second place all too often meaning death, the Pentagon seeks to provide warriors with the best possible equipment. The best tools are those that are tailor-made to address specific missions and types of combat. Seeking to accomplish more tasks with less money, defense planners looked for ways to economize.

For a fighter airplane, funding decisions become a balancing act of procuring not just the best aircraft possible, but enough of them to make an effective force. This has lead to the creation of so-called multi-role fighter aircraft, capable both in air-to-air combat and against ground targets. Where trade-offs have to happen, designers of most multi-role fighters emphasize aerial combat strength, reducing air-to-ground capabilities. With the F-35, it appears designers created an airplane that doesn’t do either mission exceptionally well. They have made the plane an inelegant jack-of-all-trades, but master of none — at great expense, both in the past and, apparently,  well into the future.

I believe the F-35 program should be immediately canceled; the technologies and systems developed for it should be used in more up-to-date and cost-effective aircraft designs. Specifically, the F-35 should be replaced with a series of new designs targeted toward the specific mission requirements of the individual branches of the armed forces, in lieu of a single aircraft design trying to be everything to everyone.”

http://www.defensenews.com/articles/what-went-wrong-with-lockheeds-f-35-commentary

This article was originally published on The Conversation .

About the Author

Image result for Michael P. Hughes is a professor of finance at Francis Marion University.

Michael P. Hughes is a professor of finance at Francis Marion University. He served more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force. During that time, he spent more than 14 years in nuclear treaty monitoring and related activities, while the initial 7 years were in the aircraft maintenance and engineering (propulsion) arena with F-4 and F-15 aircraft.

http://departments.fmarion.edu/business/hughes-michael-p.html

The F-35’s Terrifying Bug List

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buggy F-35

“DEFENSE ONE”

“The Pentagon’s top testing official has weighed and measured the F-35 and found it wanting.

The jet can’t tell old parts from new ones, randomly prevents user logins into the logistics information system, and trying to eject out of it will likely result in serious neck injury and maybe death.

A Pentagon office is warning that the plane is being rushed into service.

The Pentagon’s office of testing and evaluation on Monday released a report detailing major problems, or “deficiencies” with the aircraft. The report follows the release of a December memo by Michael Gilmore, the Department of Defense’s director for Operational Test and Evaluation, or OT&E. The report goes on to question the logic of pushing other governments to purchase large blocks of the aircraft until the issues are fixed.

The Air Force is currently scheduled to announce their version of the plane is ready to begin flying, known as “initial operating capability,” in August or December at the latest. That follows the Marines declaring their version flight ready last summer. After that, the next F-35 milestone is the initial operational test & evaluation phase, scheduled for 2017, in which program watchers test of the plane is operationally capable but also effective. That 2017 projection is unrealistic unless the Air Force takes some serious shortcuts in testing, according to the new report.

So what’s wrong with the F-35? Below are some of the report’s key findings.

The Version That the Marines Are Using Is Very Buggy

The Marines rushed to finish testing their version of the aircraft in May of 2015 in order to declare initial operating capability by July. The report describes serious problems with the computer software, (the Block 2B version of the software) in the Marines’ F-35 variant. Those software problems include “in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment result[ing] in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to respond to threats, and a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack.”

After the report came out Monday, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, of the F-35 program executive office, issued a statement to cast the report’s findings in a rather more flattering light. “Once again, the annual DOT&E report points out the progress being made by the program,” the statement read, as though responding to a different report altogether. “This includes the U.S. Marine Corps declaring Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2015. The USMC declared IOC with Block 2B software because it provides increased initial warfighting capability. Marine F-35s have the necessary weapons to conduct close air support, air interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defense missions.”

That means that the $90 to $180 million Joint Strike Fighter shares many—if not necessarily all—of the same close air support capabilities as the $18.8 million A-10.

ALIS Is Still Terrible, Perhaps Even Getting Worse

In a 60 Minutes segment, reporter David Martin in 2014 made famous problems with one of the F-35’s key computers, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, the internal diagnostic system on the plane that was supposed to keep track of the health of virtually every part. The system was heavily resistant to human overrides. After the segment aired, the Joint Program Office claimed that the override issues had been fixed.

Unfortunately, ALIS’s various updateshave left many of the old problems intact and added new ones, according to the report. “Each new version of software, while adding some new capability, failed to resolve all the deficiencies identified in earlier releases,” it states.

The program executive office acknowledges software bugs remain “the program’s top technical risks … There is more work to accomplish in both mission systems software and ALIS before the end of the development program.”

Lockouts, Confusion, etc.

What forms do these bugs take and what can they do the plane? Here a few of the more alarming finds:

The F-35 doesn’t know its new parts from old parts. The computerized maintenance management System, or CMMS, “incorrectly authorizes older/inappropriate replacement parts.”
The F-35 fails to detect if it’s been flying too fast or what effect that might have. “The Integrated Exceedance Management System, designed to assess and report whether the aircraft exceeded limitations during flight, failed to function properly.”
The plane “randomly prevented user logins” into ALIS.
The plane doesn’t know how broken broken parts are: “The maintenance action severity code functionality…designed to automatically assign severity codes to work orders as maintenance personnel create them—did not work correctly.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/02/f-35s-terrifying-bug-list/125638/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

By Almost any Measure, the Pentagon Acquisition System is Broken.

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