The Joint Program Office (JPO) for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 fighter at Patuxent River, Md. has received a preliminary analysis by Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute that the program’s Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) is feasible, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, the program executive officer for the F-35 JPO, told a May 12 McAleese Associates’ FY2022 Defense Programs conference.

That analysis is important for JSE to move forward and get the F-35 into full-rate production (FRP), but Fick said that the program is already buying at FRP rates and thus the purpose of an FRP Pentagon go-ahead will mainly be to blunt criticism of the program.

“We are effectively at full-rate production today,” he said. “We actually have a very close relationship with A&S [the DoD office of Acquisition and Sustainment], with our defense acquisition executive, as well as our service acquisition executive. Those interactions and engagements I don’t foresee will change, as we move forward. In some ways, Milestone C used to kind of be a departure from the close management of OSD and the services. I don’t see us getting away from that.”

“Really for me, I don’t sense that the lack of that milestone is doing anything, other than providing a launching point for criticism of the program,” Fick said. “For that reason perhaps alone, I would love to get past Milestone C [into] full-rate production.”

The U.S. Air Force is procuring 48 to 60 planes per year, but, at that rate, it will take until 2048 for the service to field what it has advertised as its goal–1,763 planes (Defense Daily, March 22). Some defense analysts expect that the Air Force will soon call for a reduced overall buy of the planes.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said last week that the service’s F-35A fleet is now the second most numerous in the Air Force arsenal behind the Lockheed Martin F-16. The Air Force has 283 F-35As to date.

The Heritage Foundation has proposed increasing the F-35A buy rate to 80, 100 and 120 over the next three years. A Heritage Foundation internal analysis of Air Force requirements determined a need for just 1,265 F-35As and said that accelerating the F-35A buy to 120 per year would result in an Air Force fleet of 1,265 planes by 2030.

A big challenge to DoD approval of 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). The JPO has said that it now expects the completion of JSE testing by the end of next year.

The program established JSE for F-35 initial operational test and evaluation some five years ago after the program decided to take over work on the simulation environment from Lockheed Martin.

Fick has said that the JPO has found that integrating the F-35 aircraft, other friendly aircraft, enemy aircraft, weapons, and ground and airborne threats into the JSE environment “is a very daunting problem.”

The F-35 program is facing a number of issues, including engine removals because of the lack of depot maintenance capacity, delays in Tech Refresh 3 (TR3) hardware that may be $450 million over budget, and more than $1.2 trillion in projected sustainment costs laid out in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of Affordability Are Needed.

The report said that the F-35 has an overall full mission capable rate of 54 percent–18 percent below the goal.

The TR3 hardware is to enable the aircraft’s Block 4 capabilities so that the F-35 take on “near peer” adversaries, Russia and China.

Lockheed Martin has said that it is working with L3Harris Technologies [LHX] to resolve the TR3 issues.

Under TR3, Elbit Systems of America [ELST] is providing the F-35 Panoramic Cockpit Display (PCD), while L3Harris is providing the PCD-Electronic Unit (PCD-EU), the display’s computer. L3Harris has provided more than 1,000 larger PCDs for the F-35 in Tech Refresh 2 and earlier.

In 2017, Lockheed Martin chose L3Harris to supply the F-35’s PCD-EU and the F-35’s Aircraft Memory System (AMS) for TR3. AMS is to provide solid-state mass storage for the plane’s avionics subsystems.