Two panels of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) plan to hear from F-35 program officials on Apr. 22 after DoD missed a planned full-rate production decision last month for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] fighter.
“The F-35 joint program office continues to work on a revised acquisition program baseline (APB) for submission to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment, and will deliver it when complete,” the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said on Apr. 19 in response to emailed questions.
“We expect this to be in the coming months,” per the JPO. “Our focus is on building an executable plan that addresses previous schedule overruns. Creation of an updated schedule that addresses all previous causes of schedule overruns must be informed by a detailed understanding of remaining Joint Simulation Environment technical challenges, and associated timelines. We are continuing this analysis, and will deliver the proposed APB revision when complete. Updated timelines and threshold dates will be official when the APB is approved and finalized by the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment, who serves as the Defense Acquisition Executive for the F-35. When the APB is finalized, we will be able to provide an update.”
On Apr. 22, the HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces panel and the HASC Readiness subcommittee are to question officials, including U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, the program executive officer for the F-35 JPO, on program updates related to testing of the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE); Technical Refresh – 3/Block 4 capabilities development, production line cut-in, and fielded jet retrofits; propulsion system performance and sustainment; mission capability and availability statistics and requirements; and the transition of the two-decade old Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) to the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN) system.
By early summer, the F-35 JPO said it plans to have cost-per-flight hour data for last year, as the program tries to reduce cost-per-flight hour to $25,000 by 2025. The latest 2019 cost-per-flight hour, averaged across F-35 variants, is $38,300 in constant 2012 dollars, per the F-35 JPO, and Air Force officials have expressed doubt about whether the F-35 program can reduce the cost-per-flight hour to $25,000 by 2025–a reduction that will likely be key to fielding the 1,763 F-35As that the Air Force has planned.
Air Combat Command (ACC) has said that the specialty coatings for low-observability on acrylic F-35 canopies by GKN Aerospace have sometimes delaminated and 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. The Air Force is looking 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 ALIS to ODIN may save funds, as ALIS is a complex system that requires contractor teams to deploy with F-35s to fix any issues that arise, ACC said.
The Air Force’s on-the-books goal of 1,763 F-35s may change after the completion of an Air Force tactical aircraft study by the service and the Pentagon Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (Defense Daily, March 22).
While the Air Force has fielded some 250 F-35As, at the current buy rate of 60 per year, it would take until 2048 for the service to field 1,763.
The Heritage Foundation has proposed increasing the F-35A buy rate to 80, 100 and 120 over the next three years, and a Heritage Foundation internal analysis of Air Force requirements determined a need for a smaller number of the aircraft–1,265, a number it said the Air Force could achieve by 2030, if the service increases the buy rate to 120 per year.
A big challenge in a DoD decision to approve F-35 full-rate production has been JSE testing, which is to assess how the F-35 will fare against advanced threats. A delay in that testing has pushed back the full-rate production decision, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in February that the completion of such testing is “long overdue” (Defense Daily, Feb. 24).
This month, the Air Force Test Center (AFTC) at Edwards AFB, Calif. announced its intention to award two sole-source JSE contracts–one to California-based Aerospace Drive Technologies, Inc. for the JSE F-35 Panoramic Cockpit Display (PCD) and another to United Kingdom-based Stirling Dynamics Ltd. for F-35 Simulated Throttles and Grips.
Regarding these contracts, the F-35 JPO on Apr. 19 said that they are part of an Air Force JSE effort–an F-35 JSE expansion that “will support F-35 and other USAF platforms for high-end modeling and simulation in the future.”
AFTC said that both JSE contracts “will be executed by means of other than full and open competition, due to the need to maintain commonality, interoperability and compatibility with the current systems located at Edwards AFB already used by the JSE team.”
Under Tech Refresh 3, Elbit Systems of America [ELST] is providing the F-35 PCD, while L3Harris Technologies [LHX] is providing the PCD-Electronic Unit, the display’s computer. L3Harris has provided more than 1,000 larger PCDs for the F-35 in Tech Refresh 2 and earlier.
Last November, the Air Force broke ground on a planned, 52,000 square foot, $27.5 million JSE facility at Nellis AFB, Nev. The service plans to build a second, 72,000 square foot, $34.4 million JSE facility at Edwards AFB.