Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command (ACC), said on Feb. 26 that he is not confident that the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 will reach the $25,000 cost-per-flying hour goal by 2025.
“In terms of confidence level of getting to $25,000 by 2025, I’m not brimming with confidence,” he told reporters during the Air Force Association 2021 virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.
In the past two years, Pentagon officials, including those from the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, have voiced similar skepticism about reaching the $25,000 goal. Last summer, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said that the cost-per-flying hour was $35,000, down from $44,000 in 2019.
Of the seven or eight lines of effort that the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has in its purview, Kelly said that he concerns himself with three–F-35 capability, availability and affordability.
“The fact of the matter is we’re not on target with affordability, but it’s a continual topic as we go forward,” he said. “It’s still teething pains, whether it be with some parts, like canopies, the engines that are challenges to the affordabiity. I’m taking a trip out to talk to different contractors on the [F-35] capability, availability, and affordability, and it’s a lead topic out there.”
The meetings with the contractors are meant to establish a plan of milestones to meet the $25,000 cost-per-flying hour goal by 2025.
The specialty coatings for low-observability on acrylic F-35 canopies by GKN Aerospace have sometimes delaminated, while Kelly said that the depot maintenance for the F-35’s F135 engine by Pratt & Whitney [RTX] has been unable to keep pace with demand, as the Air Force has deployed and used the F-35 more often than expected in the Middle East. Kelly said that the Air Force is to bolster depot capacity by adding additional technician shifts, tooling, and technology data at the F135 depot at Tinker AFB, Okla.
The F-35 program’s transition from the 20-year-old Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) to the cloud-based Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN) may also save funds.
“One of the main things that’s of benefit…is a reduction in contractors that we need to support ODIN, as compared to ALIS,” Kelly said. “When we deploy forward to anywhere around the globe, right now we have to take a handful of ALIS contractors that can help us work through the very complex system. ODIN requires less of those contractors. That not only makes us more affordable as far as a system, but it makes us more deployable. I’m looking forward to getting ODIN on time just as soon as we can and hoping that there’s no delays to getting to it.”