The U.S. Department of Defense plans to award a major follow-on development contract for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in June 2019, about 10 months later than previously planned, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The slippage will give the F-35 program more time to finish its original, often-delayed development effort and “lay a more solid, knowledge-based foundation for modernization,” the GAO wrote in its report, released June 5.
DoD is still refining many details for Block 4, the GAO noted. This month, the department intends to update the acquisition strategy and convene a high-level Defense Acquisition Board to determine when a request for proposals will be issued. In March 2019, DoD is scheduled to give Congress a report that makes a “full business case” for the follow-on work.
The GAO urged lawmakers to freeze Block 4 funding until they receive that business-case report, saying that caution is warranted to avoid repeating the mistakes of the initial, 17-year development phase. DoD’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $278 million for Block 4 development, whose total cost is expected to be billions of dollars.
“DOD requested funding for modernization over a year before the program has a business case for Block 4,” the GAO wrote. “This means that the program is asking Congress to authorize and appropriate funds for Block 4 without insight into its complete cost, schedule and technical baselines.”
The GAO said the Block 4 report should include an independent cost estimate, technology readiness assessments, a test and evaluation master plan, a system engineering plan, a preliminary design review and an approved acquisition strategy.