Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning and F-22 'Raptor' : News & Discussion

Amarante

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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter:Cost Growth and Schedule Delays Continue​

GAO, apr.25

Fast facts:
Operational testing of the F-35 continues to be delayed—primarily by holdups in developing an aircraft simulator—even as DOD goes forward with the purchase of up to 152 aircraft a year. The more aircraft produced before testing is complete, the more it might cost to retrofit those aircraft if issues are discovered.

If DOD moves forward as planned, it will have bought a third of all F-35s before determining that the aircraft is ready to move into the full-rate production phase.

This report also provides an update on the F-35 modernization effort, which is delayed by 4 years. DOD continues to address related concerns we (and others) have raised.

Highlights:

What GAO Found​

The Department of Defense (DOD) has not yet authorized the F-35 program to begin full-rate production. Full-rate production generally is the point when a program has demonstrated an acceptable level of performance and reliability; and in the case of the F-35, is ready for higher manufacturing rates. The delay in reaching this milestone stems largely from problems and delays developing the F-35 simulator, needed for crucial testing. The program is projected to finalize its schedule in spring 2022. As a result, the date for the full-rate production decision remains undetermined at this time. Despite this delayed decision, DOD is planning on acquiring up to 152 aircraft per year. At that rate, DOD would purchase about one-third of all planned F-35 aircraft before achieving this production milestone, which increases risk. For example, it means that more aircraft will need to be fixed later if more performance issues are identified, which will cost more than if those issues were resolved before those aircraft were produced. At the same time that DOD is purchasing aircraft at these high rates, those that are already in the fleet are not performing as well as expected.

DOD is also 4 years into development of its modernization effort, known as Block 4, which is continuing to experience cost growth and schedule delays. Block 4 costs continued to rise during 2021 due to higher costs associated with upgrading crucial hardware and testing upgrades, among other things. The program office extended Block 4 development and delivery into fiscal year 2029—which is now 3 years beyond the original plan (see figure). To avoid further delays, the program office is taking steps to improve the timeliness and quality of software deliveries, but it is too soon to tell whether these actions will result in improved outcomes for Block 4.

F-35 Block 4 Modernization Schedule Changes since 2018 Plan
The F-35 program office has changed plans from replacing its logistics system and is now taking incremental steps to improve and modernize it. The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) has faced long-standing challenges, including technical complexity, poor usability, and inaccurate or missing data. Initially, the F-35 program intended to develop a new system to replace ALIS. However, the program office now plans to make gradual improvements to ALIS and eventually rename it. These planned improvements include smaller hardware and improved program data access. The program has yet to identify a date for when it will consider this transition complete but has mapped out the improvements it intends to make over the next 3 years.

Why GAO Did This Study​

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program remains DOD's most expensive weapon system program. It is estimated to cost over $1.7 trillion to buy, operate, and sustain. DOD is 4 years into a development effort to modernize the F-35 aircraft's capabilities. An important element to operating and maintaining the F-35 is a complex logistics system called ALIS. In 2020, DOD began an effort to improve ALIS after years of concerns regarding its performance. Congress included provisions in two statutes for GAO to review the F-35 program.

This report (1) identifies the F-35's progress towards full-rate production, (2) addresses the program's progress and improvements towards developing, testing, and delivering modernization capabilities, and (3) describes DOD's plan for improving its logistics system. To assess progress for the F-35 and its modernization program, GAO compared the cost and schedule targets in the original development program documentation to the most recent data available. GAO also reviewed DOD and contractor documentation and interviewed DOD officials and contractor representatives.


Recommendations​

Since 2001, GAO has made a number of recommendations to DOD to improve aspects of the acquisition of F-35 aircraft. In 2020, GAO recommended DOD develop a strategy for its logistics system redesign. In 2021, GAO made 3 recommendations aimed at improving Block 4. DOD concurred with these recommendations and has addressed or is taking steps to address them.

Full report:
 

RISING SUN

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Dec 3, 2017
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UK to purchase at least 74 F-35 jets​

It was revealed yesterday that the MoD is in negotiations with the F-35 Joint Project Office to buy another tranche of F-35 jets. This second batch will consist of 26 aircraft, in addition to the 48 already under contract.





The Integrated Review published in March 2021 stated only that vaguely there was an intention to buy “more than 48” F-35s. Speaking in a Parliamentary Defence Select Committee session, Air Marshal Richard Knighton, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff specified the exact figure for the first time in public. The first tranche of 48 jets already on order will be delivered by 2025 and Knighton said the MoD now has the funding in place for the purchase of a further 26 aircraft, including the support and personnel costs. This will bring the UK fleet up to a total of 76 aircraft (minus the one jet lost in a non-fatal accident at sea in 2021).


In negotiations with Lockheed Martin and the JPO, the Defence Secretary has stated that the contractor must demonstrate reductions in support costs and more urgency applied to UK weapons integration. Work on the integration of Meteor BVRAAM and SPEAR-3 has begun but there is no definitive date for their entry into service which is largely dependent on how quickly LM can deliver the Block IV software update for the aircraft. The flyaway cost of an F-35B is now approximately £85M so the MoD has considerable leverage when negotiating what is potentially a £2.2Bn deal. It is unclear when the UK can expect delivery of this second batch but will need to reserve aircraft from the production runs which are divided into ‘Lots’. LM’s target is to build 156 jets per year for customers worldwide but recently COVID, inflation and supply chain issues have complicated negotiations for Lots 15-17 and the price tag may begin to rise, reversing the downward trend as production has ramped up.


The idea that the UK could go for an F35-B / F-35A split buy has thankfully now been consigned to history but for now, it is unclear if there will be a third tranche of F35Bs. Knighton noted that: “the decision around further purchase beyond that 74 will be taken in the middle of the decade in the context of what we decide to do on our Future Combat Air System [FCAS] programme. It’s perfectly plausible we have a fleet of 138 as we described back in the early 2000s.” If the UK goes all-in with FCAS – ie, Tempest and its associated UCAV, distributed sensors and novel munition components there are unlikely to be any spare funds available for further F-35 purchases in the 2030s.


FCAS may have three possible outcomes. (A) Overcoming vast technical challenges, it will be second only to the nuclear deterrent in defence spending and the centrepiece of the UK aerospace industry, ideally with multiple international partners and export buyers. (B) A technical demonstrator that achieves some success but proves ultimately beyond the reach of the UK capability and is used as leverage to be a tier-1 partner in a future US fighter development programme. (C) A failure that results in the UK buying more F-35Bs and eventually replacing the Typhoon with an ‘off the shelf ‘ purchase from the US, having little UK industrial input.


The RAF now plans to have 3 frontline F-35B squadrons (4 were originally planned). Each will have a strength of between 12-16 aircraft. Assuming that around 20% of the jets are in maintenance at any given time, this leaves about 60 available for the ‘forward fleet’ which includes aircraft assigned to the OCU (207 Squadron – pilot training) and OEU (17 Squadron – operational evaluation unit based in the US). The 47 aircraft remaining aircraft that make up the tranche 1 purchase provide a bare minimum output for carrier strike capability. Routinely the carrier will deploy with 12 jets (although this may be frequently enhanced with USMC aircraft). In ‘surge’ condition 2 squadrons totalling 24 jets could be deployed. The carriers are designed to embark up to 36 fixed-wing aircraft (plus helicopters) but this could only be managed by the UK alone in a dire emergency by stopping pilot training and severely disrupting the maintenance cycle.




Although just 54% of the promised 138, a force of 75 jets provides a little more depth and the possibility of 24 aircraft more routinely deployed on the carrier. Of course, this will also be dependent on what other land-based tasks the Lightning Force is required to undertake in addition to its core naval aviation role.
 
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BMD

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Dec 4, 2017
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UK to purchase at least 74 F-35 jets​

It was revealed yesterday that the MoD is in negotiations with the F-35 Joint Project Office to buy another tranche of F-35 jets. This second batch will consist of 26 aircraft, in addition to the 48 already under contract.





The Integrated Review published in March 2021 stated only that vaguely there was an intention to buy “more than 48” F-35s. Speaking in a Parliamentary Defence Select Committee session, Air Marshal Richard Knighton, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff specified the exact figure for the first time in public. The first tranche of 48 jets already on order will be delivered by 2025 and Knighton said the MoD now has the funding in place for the purchase of a further 26 aircraft, including the support and personnel costs. This will bring the UK fleet up to a total of 76 aircraft (minus the one jet lost in a non-fatal accident at sea in 2021).


In negotiations with Lockheed Martin and the JPO, the Defence Secretary has stated that the contractor must demonstrate reductions in support costs and more urgency applied to UK weapons integration. Work on the integration of Meteor BVRAAM and SPEAR-3 has begun but there is no definitive date for their entry into service which is largely dependent on how quickly LM can deliver the Block IV software update for the aircraft. The flyaway cost of an F-35B is now approximately £85M so the MoD has considerable leverage when negotiating what is potentially a £2.2Bn deal. It is unclear when the UK can expect delivery of this second batch but will need to reserve aircraft from the production runs which are divided into ‘Lots’. LM’s target is to build 156 jets per year for customers worldwide but recently COVID, inflation and supply chain issues have complicated negotiations for Lots 15-17 and the price tag may begin to rise, reversing the downward trend as production has ramped up.


The idea that the UK could go for an F35-B / F-35A split buy has thankfully now been consigned to history but for now, it is unclear if there will be a third tranche of F35Bs. Knighton noted that: “the decision around further purchase beyond that 74 will be taken in the middle of the decade in the context of what we decide to do on our Future Combat Air System [FCAS] programme. It’s perfectly plausible we have a fleet of 138 as we described back in the early 2000s.” If the UK goes all-in with FCAS – ie, Tempest and its associated UCAV, distributed sensors and novel munition components there are unlikely to be any spare funds available for further F-35 purchases in the 2030s.


FCAS may have three possible outcomes. (A) Overcoming vast technical challenges, it will be second only to the nuclear deterrent in defence spending and the centrepiece of the UK aerospace industry, ideally with multiple international partners and export buyers. (B) A technical demonstrator that achieves some success but proves ultimately beyond the reach of the UK capability and is used as leverage to be a tier-1 partner in a future US fighter development programme. (C) A failure that results in the UK buying more F-35Bs and eventually replacing the Typhoon with an ‘off the shelf ‘ purchase from the US, having little UK industrial input.


The RAF now plans to have 3 frontline F-35B squadrons (4 were originally planned). Each will have a strength of between 12-16 aircraft. Assuming that around 20% of the jets are in maintenance at any given time, this leaves about 60 available for the ‘forward fleet’ which includes aircraft assigned to the OCU (207 Squadron – pilot training) and OEU (17 Squadron – operational evaluation unit based in the US). The 47 aircraft remaining aircraft that make up the tranche 1 purchase provide a bare minimum output for carrier strike capability. Routinely the carrier will deploy with 12 jets (although this may be frequently enhanced with USMC aircraft). In ‘surge’ condition 2 squadrons totalling 24 jets could be deployed. The carriers are designed to embark up to 36 fixed-wing aircraft (plus helicopters) but this could only be managed by the UK alone in a dire emergency by stopping pilot training and severely disrupting the maintenance cycle.




Although just 54% of the promised 138, a force of 75 jets provides a little more depth and the possibility of 24 aircraft more routinely deployed on the carrier. Of course, this will also be dependent on what other land-based tasks the Lightning Force is required to undertake in addition to its core naval aviation role.
Likely because they will buy some F-35As as well as Bs.
 
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Picdelamirand-oil

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Nov 30, 2017
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Lockheed In A Soup! US Air Force Demands ‘Evidence Of Capability’ Over Block 4 Upgrades For F-35A Jets

The US Air Force wants evidence that Lockheed Martin will be able to produce Block 4 upgrades for the F-35A fighter jet before boosting the plane’s purchase, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said on May 13.

The service’s fiscal 2023 budget reduces the anticipated purchase of F-35As from 48 planes in fiscal 2022 to 33 planes in 2023.

“The reduction we took this year will probably extend into next year was based on several factors,” Kendall said in answer to a query from Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) about why the Air Force cut its projected F-35A purchase in fiscal 2023.

“There were several things we need to do in the TacAir (tactical aircraft) portfolio. One of them was to buy out the remaining inventory of F-15EXs that we need, for the capabilities that the F-15EX will provide. We want to increase the funding for the Next Generation Air Dominance [platform], which will be the follow-on to the F-22. We’ve got some other programs we need to move forward as well, ” he added.


He made it clear that the US Air Force is interested in having Block 4 capabilities for the F-35, but the contractor has been slow to provide them thus far. Before expanding production, the service wants to have proof that the manufacturer will be able to do it, so that was a key consideration as well.

The Air Force has also reduced its projected F-15EX acquisition goal from 144 to 80, “all while shifting expected timelines for the NGAD project significantly later than originally planned,” according to Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel, who testified at a hearing on April 27.

Issues with Block 4

To “unlock” the F-35 Block 4 updates, the Technical Refresh 3 upgrade is required.

TR3 features a new core processor, upgraded radar, a redesigned cockpit display, and software upgrades to improve electronic warfare capabilities. However, Lockheed Martin has taken longer than projected to produce this.

The L3Harris [LHX] integrated core processor poses a significant issue for TR3, and the Government Accountability Office is concerned about the likelihood of further delays in processor delivery as well as the low software quality for Block 4.

The TR3 upgrade will be available in Lot 15, scheduled for 2023, according to the F-35 Joint Program Office. Kendall started early on in his tenure that he had previously dealt with concerns relating to the Joint Strike Fighter program as the undersecretary of defense for procurement, technology, and logistics.

His approach was to freeze acquisitions for several years to put pressure on Lockheed Martin and to avoid buying jets that would eventually have to be updated.

Similarly, a report by Mitchell Institute previously highlighted that delays in the delivery of Block 4 aircraft until 2029 might have an impact on the US Air Force’s acquisition plans.

The improvements under the Block 4 program will greatly increase the jet’s technological capabilities. Block 4 will include the integration of 16 additional weapons on the F-35.

The Block 3F F-35 software upgrade, for example, boosted the Joint Strike Fighter’s (JSF) weapons delivery capabilities, allowing it to launch a Small Diameter Bomb, the 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition, and the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.

The F-35 fighter plane can launch the Sidewinder missile “off-boresight,” as well as an increasing number of other armaments, due to software improvements.

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The report also expresses reservations about Block 4’s arrival date, emphasizing the importance of quickly incorporating new software to improve the planes’ ability to fight in military conflict.

It further claimed that in a high-end clash with an unusually advanced enemy like Russia or China, even some of the most modern fifth and sixth-generation aircraft are likely to be lost or destroyed, implying that the US requires more fighter jets.

According to the study, “operational analysis has indicated that the even more advanced Block 4 configuration is required to be effective in a fight with China”.

“However, delays in maturing all of the Block 4 technologies have pushed the whole Block 4 suite’s delivery date back to at least 2029, and this is a major factor in the Air Force’s decision to delay F-35A procurement”.
 

BMD

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Dec 4, 2017
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