F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: JSF Events & Contracts 2007-08
The F-35 Lightning II is a major multinational program intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role strike fighter that will have three variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE) Lightning jet. System development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3). Now the challenge is agreeing on production phase buys, with initial purchase commitments expected around 2008-2009. Export interest is also beginning to stir in a number of quarters, even though full testing will not be complete until 2014.
This entry covers events until the end of 2008, while a newer article offers continuing coverage of the F-35 program.
The F-35 Family of Aircraft
For full treatment of the controversies regarding the F-35 family’s air-to-air combat capabilities, and the aircraft’s performance, see: “The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy“.
As noted at the beginning of this article, the F-35 is designed as an ‘affordable stealth’ counterpart to the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter, one that can share “first day of the war” duties against defended targets but can’t perform air-air or air-ground missions to the same standard. Its air-air combat flight benchmarks are only on par with the F-16, it has a larger single engine instead of twin thrust-vectoring F119s, removing both supercruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability options. The F-22A is a much stealthier aircraft on both radar and infrared, but the F-35 is a big improvement over existing ‘teen series’ fighters and even beats Generation 4+ options like the Eurofighter, Rafale, and JAS-39 Gripen.
Once targets are found, the Lightning II will be well equipped with weapons. A large order base, and a wide international client base, will provide considerable incentive for manufacturers to qualify their weapons with the aircraft. MBDA has already pledged a compatible version of its long-range Meteor air-air missile, for instance, and other manufacturers can be expected to follow.
Initial internally-stowed weapons qualified during system design and development will include 1,000-2,000 pound JDAM GPS-guided bombs, 500 pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, AGM-154 JSOW precision glide bombs, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM and MBDA’s AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles; the UK’s Paveway-IV dual laser-GPS bombs, and the USA’s GBU-39 GPS-guided Small Diamater Bombs, may also be qalified. Weapons initially qualified for external mounting will include 500 pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, AIM-9X Sidewinder SRAAMs, and a 25mm centerline gun pod for the F-35B and F-35C. Kongsberg’s new Naval Strike Missile and MBDA’s ASRAAM may also receive initial qualification; and early customer Israel is certain to qualify a range of its own weapons, including the Python 5 SRAAM and various smart bombs and missiles.
Weapons will continue to be added beyond the SDD phase, with full warfighting capability currently scheduled for 2014. At present, internally stowed additions will include the 500 pound JDAM, The Brimstone and Joint Common Missile anti-armor weapons, and GPS-guided WCMD cluster bombs. All of these weapons will also be qualified for external mounting, along with the full family of Paveway smart bombs up to 2,000 pounds, MBDA’s Storm Shadow and Lockheed Martin’s JASSM stealthy long range cruise missiles, a baggage pod for naval use, and other weapons as required.
Finally, the F-35 has a large number of design features designed to simplify maintenance and keep life cycle costs down, most notably the innovation of self-diagnosing aircraft wiring. See references in “Additional Readings & Sources,” below, for more detailed information.
For its power plant, the F-35 will offer interchangeable engine options – at least for now. Pratt & Whitney’s F135 powers the current test aircraft, and a special version with add-ons will also power the vertical-landing F-35B. GE and Rolls Royce are working on the F136, however, which can fit into any F-35 without modifications and also has a special version for the F-35B. If Congress continues to win, and the Pentagon continues to fail in its efforts to kill the F136 sub-program, customers will be able to select which company’s engine model and service package they want for their F-35 fighters. They will also have a choice of fighter models:
The basic F-35A, sometimes called the CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) version, is the basic USAF version, with a 9g maneuverability limit. It is expected to be the predominant export type as well, and is considered the “baseline” version.
Its main difference from other versions is its internal 25mm cannon, rather than having to use a weapons station for a semi-stealthy gun pod option. The USAF removed guns from some of its planes back in the 1960s, and didn’t enjoy the resulting experiences. Many allies wanted the 27mm Mauser cannon installed; it was originally specified, and is widely believed to offer the world’s best combination of firing rate and hitting power. In the end, however, ammunition standardization benefits involving 25mm land and sea platforms trumped pure performance.
The F-35A has been the first variant to fly, but it will be the second type to reach Initial Operational Capacity, in 2013.
The F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing) will serve the US Marines, Royal Navy, other navies with ski-ramp equipped LHDs or small carriers, and militaries looking for an “expeditionary airplane” that can take off in short distances and land vertically. To achieve this, it has a large fan behind the cockpit and nozzles that go out to the wing undersides. In 2005, the JSF program took a 1-year delay because the design was deemed overweight by about 3,000 pounds. The program decided to reduce weight rather than run the engine hotter, because the latter choice would have sharply reduced the durability of engine components and driven life cycle costs higher. Weight cutting became a focus of various engineering teams, with especial focus on the F-35B because the weight was most critical to that design.
Those efforts pushed the F-35B’s design to greater readiness than other variants, but changed its airframe. The F-35B gives up some range, some bomb load (it cannot carry 2,000 pound weapons internally, and the shape of its bay may make some weapons qualifications a challenge), some structural strength (7g maneuvers maximum instead of 9g), and the internal gun. The F-35B completed its Critical Design Review in October 2006, and the 2nd production F-35, scheduled for completion in late 2007, will be a STOVL variant. Flight testing will take place in 2008, with Initial Operational Capability expected in 2012 – the earliest of the 3 variants.
The F-35B will probably be the most expensive F-35 version, but it has a unique market niche as a more capable and safer replacement for the aging Sea Harriers and AV-8B Harrier IIs currently operated from small carriers and LHD ships by US Marines and Royal Navy, as well as nations like Italy, Spain, and Thailand. The proliferation of fighter-capable LHDs and small carriers to nations like Australia, Korea, India and others will expand this variant’s future market options, as it currently has no viable competitors.
The F-35C carrier-based fighter features 30% more wing area than other designs, with larger tails and control surfaces plus wingtip ailerons. These changes provide the precise slow-speed handling required for carrier approaches, and offer better wing-loading for turns. The F-35C’s internal structure is strengthened to withstand the punishment dished out by the catapult launches and controlled crashes of carrier launch and recovery, and an arrester hook is added to the airframe. The US Navy gave up the internal gun, and the aircraft will be restricted to 7.5g maneuvers. The F-35C will be the last variant designed; it passed its Critical Design Review in June 2007, and the first production version is scheduled to fly in January 2009. Initial Operational Capability is currently scheduled for 2014.
The F-35C is expected to be the US Navy’s high-end fighter, as well as a strike aircraft; this may be challenging, given the aircraft’s design goal of merely equaling the F-16 in air-air combat. Enemies flying the SU-30 series with canards and thrust-vectoring, the thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT/-35, and even European designs like the Eurofighter, Rafale, and Gripen, can be expected to become much more numerous during the F-35 family’s 2010-2045+ service period. Many of these aircraft will also carry, or upgrade to, options like AESA radars, long-range infrared search & tracking, et. al. This has serious implications for the US Navy’s future power projection capabilities, unless the F-35 can also perform as a superior air-to-air combatant.
F-35 Program: Production Timelines & Structure
The first test aircraft, an F-35A model AA-1, had its formal rollout on July 7/06. The F-35B STOVL’s forced redesign for weight reasons has led to F-35 AA-1 being a unique airframe used to validate design, manufacturing, assembly and test processes. A total of 23 test aircraft will be built for various purposes (15 flight, 7 non-flight, 1 radar signature), but the exact order of build for the variants involved has shifted several times.
The testing phase has been delayed, and will now continue into 2014; meanwhile, funding for the first two production-model aircraft is approved, parts fabrication is under way as of June 2007, and component assembly will begin later in 2007. The pair of F-35A aircraft are scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Air Force beginning in 2010 – a sore point with the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office, which believes this dual-track approach increases project risks. Production will continue to ramp up year-to-year, and BAE Systems releases indicate that by 2015, when the F-35 is expected to reach Full-Rate Production, the program intends to build 240 F-35s per year.
The JSF program is ‘tiered,’ with 4 possible levels of participation based on admission levels and funding commitments for the System Design & Development (SDD) phase. Note that all SDD funding totals below are in US dollar equivalents:
- Tier 1 Partners: The USA (majority commitment), Britain ($2 billion)
- Tier 2 Partners: Italy ($1 billion); The Netherlands ($800 million)
- Tier 3 Partners: Australia ($150M), Canada ($150M), Denmark ($125M), Norway ($125M), Turkey ($175M)
- Security Cooperative Participants status: Israel ($35M), Singapore.
- Exports: In September 2006, Lockheed Martin vice president for the JSF program Tom Burbage said that Greece, Japan, South Korea, and Spain have expressed interest in buying F-35s. India has also been rumored as a future JSF customer, and Indian representatives have been invited to Joint Strike Fighter events.
All Tier 1-3 nations have also signed MoUs for the Production Phase. This is not a commitment to buy, just the phase in which production arrangements are hammered out – subject to revision, of course, if that country decides not to buy F-35s. Italy has expressed an interest in a Lockheed-Martin Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) plant for European orders, and Fellow Tier 1 partner Britain is examining a FACO of its own for BAE. The Netherlands, meanwhile, wants to be a center for engine sustainment and heavy maintenance. The Dutch have signed an agreement with Italy to help each country get what it wants; Norway was added to that agreement in June 2007.
Production and Players
At present, F-35 production is led by Lockheed Martin, with BAE and Northrop-Grumman playing major supporting roles, and many subcontractors below that. F-35 main production and final assembly is currently slated to take place in Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, TX plant. To cut F-35 production cycle time, the team produces major sections of the aircraft at different feeder plants, and “mates” the assemblies at Fort Worth. This is normal in the auto industry, but it’s a departure from the usual fighter-building process which has raw materials and individual parts or small sub-assemblies feed into production lines, and fighters roll out the other end.
The precise tolerances required for a stealthy fighter, however, are much more exacting than even high-end autos. To cope, Manufacturing Business Technology reports that the team has turned to an integrated back-end IT system. It begins with 3D engineering models (Dassault Systemes CATIA CAD), and extends into production management, where the company has rolled out a manufacturing execution system to handle electronic work instructions, workflow and process modeling, serialized parts data, quality records tracking, et. al. (Visiprise). This combination has enabled greater use of techniques like automated drilling, and product record management and collaboration around designs (Siemens PLM, TeamCenter) is also possible. On the back-end, the team uses a custom system it calls Production & Inventory Optimization System (PIOS) for manufacturing resources planning and supply chain management; it began using ERP software (SAP) in January 2008 for financials, however, and may eventually use it to handle supply-chain functions as well.
This ‘digital thread’ has been very successful for the team, with part fits showing incredible precision, and successful coordination of plants around the end schedule for key events like the Dec 18/07 F-35B rollout. The system’s ultimate goal is to cut a plane’s production cycle time from the usual 27-30 months to about a year, and lead time from order creation to printed, matched manufacturing orders from 15-20 days to 6-8 days.
BAE Systems is deriving substantial benefits from Britain’s Tier 1 partner status; they will be responsible for the design, manufacture and assembly of the F-35 JSF aft fuselage and empennage (vertical and horizontal tails), and are also involved in other areas including the crew escape system, fuel system, life support system and proactive aircraft diagnostics system integration.
Northrop Grumman is responsible for the F-35’s important ‘center barrel’ section, where the wings attach to the fuselage. Denmark’s Terma and Lystrup, and Turkish Aerospace Instries, act as center fuselage subcontractors. NGC also provides the aircraft’s AN/APG-81 AESA radar, other key radar and electro-optical subsystems, the aircraft’s communication, navigation and identification avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, and pilot and maintenance training systems.
Other subcontractors playing confirmed roles in the production phase include EDO (weapons release from internal bays), SimiGon (simulation tools), Stork (wiring), and the Elbit/Rockwell partnership Vision Systems (HMDS helmet with heads-up display). A number of firms in the various partner countries will also receive production phase contracts.
F-35 Program: Events & Developments (CY 2007 – 2008)
During CY 2006 and the first months of 2007, the JSF program saw the formal rollout of the first test plane on July 7, 2006, the bestowal of its official name “F-35 Lightning II”, and a set of production phase agreements with all of the program’s participants.
During FY/CY 2007-08, developments related to the overall program and to international partner participation included…
Dec 18/08: Tier 2 JSF partner The Netherlands issues a comparative study of the F-16 Block 60+, JAS-39NG Gripen, and F-35A, which has been compiled in cooperation with several organizations, and audited by 2 ministries and RAND Europe. Unsurprisingly, it recommends the F-35 as the best combat aircraft. Surprisingly, it also concludes that the F-35 also has the lowest capital costs, and the lowest anticipated life-cycle costs. The issue will now go before Parliament.
Dec 14/08: Noise becomes an issue in the Netherlands. The Eglin AFB noise issue has received international notice, especially in light of Dutch laws that require demolition of houses in the “noise zone”. The F-35 is estimated to be 4 times louder than the RNLAF’s current F-16s, which creates issues if, in fact, any F-35s end up based at Leeuwarden. Read “F-35: I am Fighter, Hear Me Roar” for more background.
Dec 4/08: Dutch Economic affairs minister Maria van der Hoeven (CDA party) reports to Parliament. By the ministry’s October 2008 calculations, industry is EUR 308 million short on its promised public-private partnership commitment toward the EUR 858 million spent to become a Tier 2 development partner. She declares that she had assessed industry objections and denied them, and that negotiations are at an end. Industry must pay, and if they don’t like it, the Dutch NIFARP companies can seek arbitration per the terms of their 2002 agreement.
The Dutch government paid for the country’s Tier 2 status following an agreement with a consortium of Dutch defense firms, which included a provision that the funds would be repaid through a 3.5% tax on all F-35 related contracts. In July 2008 the government raised the tax to 10.3%, a move that could “kill the golden goose,” and make it very difficult for Dutch industry to compete for production contracts.
Nov 30/08: Aviation Week reports that the USAF (F-35A) and US Marines (F-35B STOVL) are moving toward plans that would let them convert F-35s into electronic attack aircraft that would serve the same role as the Navy’s EA-18G Growlers. Plans aren’t firm yet, but officials apparently hope that the F-35’s extremely advanced electronics and sensors, combined with parallel efforts like the Next Generation Jammer program, will allow the planes to be used as “EA-35s” without requiring dedicated and modified airframes.
In a world where small pods that can clip onto any fighter in the fleet have completely replaced dedicated “RF-” reconnaissance fighters, the idea of a parallel development for “EA-” fighters does not seem ridiculous. Nevertheless, any program to create a full EF-35 capability will face challenging technical questions. An EW specialist interviewed by Aviation Week explained some of them:
“…if it’s in an external pod, [the extra radar reflectivity] will give away the aircraft’s location. Yet, if you put the guts of an NGJ into the weapon bays of a single-engine single-generator aircraft in order to maintain all-aspect stealth, you are rapidly going to run out of available power to run it… [And] If the aircraft has to maintain all-aspect stealth, then how can you do the necessary jamming… [Plus,] electronic attack is one area where size does matter… an EB-52 carrying large-aperture, active electronically scanned array radar with the output of an electronic techniques generator routed through it can be a very long-range electronic weapon. [Large military aircraft of many types] are also possible platforms for the Next-Generation Jammer. Finally, unmanned aircraft of the Global Hawk and Reaper size could have the necessary size, power and payload.”
Nov 28/08: Eurofighter GmbH submits a blog report that Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is touring Europe and has visited Getafe, Spain for a briefing on the Eurofighter’s capabilities. If Australia decides not to buy the F-35A, and America decides not to offer an F-22EX for sale, Eurofighter’s air superiority strength and twin-engine configuration would make it a very strong contender to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18 Hornets.
Nov 27/08: In a new letter to Parliament, the Dutch Secretary of Defense says that the Netherlands will delay making a decision concerning the first F-35 IOT&E (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation) test aircraft by 3 months, to the end of April 2009.
JSFnieuws.nl adds [in Dutch] that this works both ways, noting that the Netherlands would also have to pay more for its own plane if the British or the USA postpone or cancel aircraft buys during LRIP Lot III; the USA, for instance, has already removed 2 aircraft from that lot. Indeed, the Dutch will already be paying quite a bit more than expected, unless some form of production cost averaging agreement is signed soon; in 2006, the plan for LRIP Lot III was 49 aircraft, which would have pushed the production curve down and lowered costs.
Nov 20/08: Norway’s Ministry of Defence releases its decision in favor of the F-35A as Norway’s F-16 replacement, though Parliament still needs to approve the deal to buy up to 48 aircraft. In response, Saab’s CEO takes the unusual stepof holding a public presentation, in which he offers very specific complaints regarding the conduct of the procurement process and revisions of Saab-supplied figures.
At this point, the immediate procurement cost is expected to be NOK 18 billion (about $3.27 billion), and the total cost of the deal over a 30-year life span is expected to be about NOK 145 billion ($26.3 billion) for the fighter, weapons, maintenance, infrastructure and operations.
Nov 20/08: The Dutch daily ‘Trouw’ reports that 2 of the 3 parties in the Dutch government coalition want the decision on an IOT&E aircraft purchase to be delayed by 3 months, in order to compare it with Saab’s JAS-39NG.
Nov 13/08: F-35 AA-1 accelerates to Mach 1.05, or about 680 miles per hour at 30,000 feet, with a full internal load of 5,400 pounds/ 2,450 kg of weight to simulate weapons carriage. This is the first supersonic flight for the fighter, and comes during AA-1’s 69th test flight.
Trans-sonic data from the flight would be very interesting. One of Lockheed Martin’s claims for the F-35 is optimized transonic performance, which would allow the aircraft to accelerate into and out of the low supersonic range more easily than current fighters. JSF PEO Major General Charles Davis, who was previously the program manager for the F-15 Eagle, has been quoted as saying that the Eagle may technically be a Mach 2.0 class fighter, it has rarely exceed the threshold of Mach 1.2 to Mach 1.3 during it’s entire 30 year life span. This is normal for “supersonic” fighters, due to the excessive fuel cost of keeping the afterburners on throughout supersonic transition and flight. It remains to be seen if the F-35 can improve on previous designs in that regard, and if so by how much. Lockheed Martin release.
Nov 12/08: Finnish media outlets report that their Air Force is looking to the F-35 as a potential replacement of the country’s 63 F/A-18C/D Hornets, which are set to begin retiring in 2025 and finish by 2030. A political decision on replacing the F/A-18s is not expected until 2015, which would be about half way through the fleet’s service life.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia has delivered something of a shock to its neighbors, however, and Russia’s invasion of Finland in the 1930s remains recent history to that country. With Russia accelerating its own rearmament, its neighbors may begin to find that military purchase timelines are influenced by external factors as well. Helsinki Times.
Nov 4/08: The Dutch government releases 2 documents. One is the ‘decisions report’ from the Defense Committee [PDF, Dutch]; Agenda item #9 mentions that Secretary of Defense De Vries has sent the second document, a letter to the chamber with further information on the F-35 IOT&E phase. In schedule terms, he says that the decision has to be made by the end of February 2009 for the first Dutch IOT&E JSF to be delivered in November 2011, and in February 2010 for the 2nd IOT&E aircraft for deliver in Q1 2012
Nov 4/08: The Netherlands was scheduled to hold an important Parliamentary vote today re: participation in the F-35 test program. The vote was expected to be very close, but Motion 26 488 nr 116 [PDF, Dutch] is stamped AANG (Aangehouden, means ‘detained’ or postponed’), per the Secretary of Defense’s recommendation. The decision will now have to take place some time before the end of February 2009.
Oct 31/08: Jane’s Defence Forecasts publishes “Analysis: Reducing F-35 purchase could save UK up to USD5.8bn,” which speculates that Britain’s planned buy of 150 F-35Bs could drop to 100 or even 85 aircraft:
“The global financial crisis and the UK’s subsequent response in October (including the multi-billion pound buttressing of the banking system and a commitment to increase public spending to offset recession) has since added to the strain felt by the Treasury. Lingering hopes that extra funding would be made available to supplement the defence budget in the short to medium term appear to have been dashed. Despite already scaling back programmes… further cuts are expected… one programme that could see drastic cuts is the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) programme… Jane’s believes this total is likely to be reduced down to around 85-100 aircraft when the production contract is finalised, creating savings of at least USD4.5 billion (GBP2.7 billion) to USD5.8 billion in acquisition costs alone.
The potential for cutting the programme stems from the fact that JCA is the only high-profile, high-cost project that the MoD could scale back significantly without detrimentally affecting the capabilities of the UK’s armed forces in future… as few as 85 aircraft would allow the RAF to maintain its current fast jet combat aircraft inventory levels while at the same time increasing the capability and flexibility of the force.”
Oct 28/08: Space War relays an AFP report involving Royal Netherlands Air Force spokeswoman Sascha Louwhoff. She discusses required changes to the F-35’s cockpit, in order to accommodate taller Dutch men and let the RNLAF choose from a wider variety of candidates:
“We had a list of operational requirements, and one of these was that Dutch pilots should fit in the cockpits… It may be funny, but it’s true… Our pilots are obviously taller than Italian or Turkish pilots. Over the years, the Dutch people have grown taller, and we’ve had to keep up with that.”
Oct 23/08: Former Australian research scientist and defense analyst Dr. Dennis Jensen, MP [Liberal – Tangney], reveals that respected senior analyst and Pacific Vision 2008 lead John Stillion has left RAND. In a speech to Parliament, he says the departure raises “deeply disturbing” questions, adding that:
“There are suggestions in some quarters that he was dismissed over the document and that his removal was ordered by the US military.”
Oct 23/08: F-35A AA-1 is at Edwards AFB for advanced testing. The plane arrived on Oct 1/08, and on this media day it performed an “air-start” test, in which the plane shuts down its engine in flight and restarts it. The test marks the beginning of the “largest flight test program in history,” said Doug Pearson, the Lockheed Martin vice president of the F-35 Integrated Force. USAF release.
Oct 20/08: Flight International covers 2 new USAF spending proposals worth a combined $8.4 billion, which may be able to restore plans to buy 110 F-35As per year from FY 2013. Barring a 25% cut in the US defense budget, of course.
“A leaked internal planning document, first reported last week by InsideDefense.com, proposes retiring about 300 conventional fighters early and diverting the $3.4 billion savings mostly towards buying more F-35As. That proposal comes less than three months after [USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton] Schwartz told lawmakers the Department of Defense would contribute an extra $5 billion to the USAF’s fighter recapitalisation account, with part of the proceeds flowing to the JSF account.”
Oct 10/08: The USAF released an environmental impact report that could inflame the community debate at Eglin AFB (see Sept 30/08 entry). It says that the noise over base facilities, including housing and schools, F-35 Lightning II operations will reach 83 decibels, rising up to 90 decibels in civilian neighborhoods under an Eglin flight path. The report goes on to say that military takeoff power is about 9 decibels higher than an F-15C at military takeoff power, and 19 decibels higher during landing. With respect to perceptions of loudness, every 10 decibels doubles volume, so that’s about 2x as loud on takeoff and 4x as loud on landing. Gannett’s Air Force Times | Everyday decibel loudness comparison chart | Full DID coverage.
Oct 10/08: Politicians in the Netherlands reveal that Tier 2 partner Italy has opted out of participation in the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation phase, leaving the USA, UK, and the Netherlands to shoulder that effort. Italy’s 2009 defense budget is being slashed by 6.9%, and its defense procurement budget is being slashed by over 20%.
Lockheed Martin states that this will not affect Italy’s position in the program, or the ramp-up of production. What it will do, is remove a planned aircraft from F-35 Lot III, leaving 16 aircraft (16 USA, 2 UK). It is also very likely to remove a second Italian plane from Lot IV. Italy’s original plans for 131 Joint Strike Fighters (109 F-35A, 22 F-35B) may even be in question, with reports that the total buy will be cut to about 100. If so, most of the cuts are likely to be F-35As, as the F-35Bs will replace Av-8B Harriers on Italy’s new Cavour Class carrier.
The Netherlands may add another 2 planes for the F-35’s IOT&E phase, and a recommendation on whether to acquire the aircraft or buy Saab’s rival JAS-39 Gripen NG is expected by early 2009. Dutch parliamentary reply | Defense News | Flight International | Reuters. See also the March 11/08 entry for the GAO’s assessment of the IOT&E effort, which has reportedly spend 2/3 of its budget but is only half-way through the process.
Oct 9/08: An Alenia Aeronautica release discusses a recent report by the Italian Institute for International Affairs, which analyzed the F-35’s benefits to Italy, its capabilities, and its relative advantages and disadvantages vs. other options. See: Alenia Aeronautica release | Full IAI report [Italian, PDF].
The report is generally positive for the F-35, which would fulfill naval aviation (F-35B) and attack (F-35A) roles for the Italian Air Force, with Eurofighters alongside as high-end air superiority aircraft. Technology transfer, efficient spare parts supply, and shaky European bargaining power stand out as concerns in the IAI report.
Sept 30/08: NWF Daily News reports that complaints from local residents may threaten the F-35’s proposed Integrated Training Center at Eglin AFB, FL. Maj. Gen. Charles Davis was speaking at the roundtable symposium organized by the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.
“The real issue we have to help deal with is doubled flight operations [up to every 30 minutes]… I can’t imagine that any community in the world would not like to have a (JSF training center). It’s a great mission to have… I’ve got to park these airplanes somewhere. I don’t think (Eglin losing the JSF mission) is going to happen, but I have to prepare for that.”
Sept 26/08: The US DSCA publicizes Israel’s request for 25 F-35A aircraft, with an option for another 50 F-35A or F-35B STOVL aircraft. Total cost? Up to $15.4 billion, or over $200 million per plane.
Note that this is not a contract yet, but the announcement allows one as long as Congress doesn’t block it within 30 days – which will not happen here. But sticker shock at the price tage, uncertain final costs, and issues integrating Israeli technology remain as obstacles to the deal.
Sept 12/08: Australia’s opposition Liberal Party wades into the fray in support of its previous decision to buy the F-35A. See full coverage of the controversy, and the RAND report that spawned it, in “The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy.”
Sept 11/08: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has asked for a full report from Australia’s DoD, in response to public reports that a classified computer simulation of an attack by Russian-built SU-30 family aircraft on a mixed fleet of F-35As, Super Hornets and F-22s, had resulted in success for the Russian aircraft. Fitzgibbon, who questioned the strategic logic behind Australia’s plans for an F-35/ F-18F fighter fleet while in opposition, asked for an Australian Department of Defence review, and added that:
“I’m determined not to sign on the dotted line on the JSF until I am absolutely certain it’s capable of delivering the capability it promises and that capability can be delivered on time and on budget.”
Sept 9/08: The left-wing American Center for Defense Information releases “Joint Strike Fighter: The Latest Hotspot in the U.S. Defense Meltdown.”
Aug 25/08: Gripen International delivers its formal response to The Netherlands’ F-16 replacement program, which has been re-opened due to ongoing political controversies concerning the F-35’s eventual costs.
July 16/08: The GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team announces successful tests of their F136 alternate engine, including the STOVL variant, at GE’s testing facility at Peebles, Ohio.
The Fighter Engine Team’s recent tests were conducted with F136 engines originally produced during the pre-SDD contract. Since then, the powerplants have been updated with new fan, augmentor and controls technology designed during the SDD process. The first full F136 SDD engine is scheduled to begin testing in early 2009, with first flight in the F-35 to follow in 2010.
July 11/08: A July 7th Reuters report says that Singapore is considering buying 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters, and quotes F-35 program executive officer (USAF) Major Gen. Charles Davis.
A follow-up Defense News report notes that the number seems rather large, given the RSAF’s total fleet size and near-term requirements, but acknowledges that there have been discussions about replacing 35 F-5 Tigers with F-35s within 10 years.
June 11/08: First flight of the F-35B STOVL variant takes place, piloted by former RAF Harrier pilot and BAE employee Graham Tomlinson. As planned, all initial F-35B flights will be made using conventional takeoffs and landings. Transitions to short takeoffs, hovers and vertical landings are expected to begin early in 2009. Lockheed release | Aviation Week re: F-35 and F-22 | Video.
May 25/08: Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has submitted an official request to the U.S. government to purchase 25 F-35 warplanes for the Israel Air Force. The report adds that Israel wants to receive the first squadron in 2013 and 2014, and continue with another 50 planes. Barak also reportedly asked the U.S. for 3-5 C-130J Super Hercules transport planes, to replace some of the Hercules aircraft used by the Israeli Defense Forces.
If true, this would represent a cut of Israel’s total planned buy from 100 F-35 aircraft to about 75, and a later in-service date than previous reports of 2012 or so. While 2013 is the planned date for the end of the F-35 family’s testing program, current consortium plans call for several squadrons worth of production aircraft to be flying by that time.
May 10/08: The Dutch social-democratic leaning newspaper de Volkskrant reports that the JSF program may be delayed for a year, and adds that a combination of those delays, plus American production decisions, may raise the entire program’s cost by about EUR 300 in the Netherlands. DID correspondent Johan Boder translates from “Ontwikkeling JSF is opnieuw vertraagd“:
[D] “Vorig jaar werd bekend dat Nederland 206 miljoen euro extra moet uitgeven aan de eerste JSF-toestellen, omdat de Verenigde Staten hun eigen vliegtuigen pas later zullen kopen. Volgens de accountantsdienst is voor deze strop nog eens 90 miljoen aangewend uit de reserve, die daardoor tot nul is gedaald. De extra kosten voor Nederland vanwege het Amerikaanse besluit, zouden daardoor geen 206 miljoen, maar bijna 300 miljoen euro bedragen. Dit geld moet binnen de Defensiebegroting worden gevonden.”
[E] Last year it became known that the Netherlands has to spend an extra 206 million euros, because the United States will by their own aircraft later. According to the audit for this sling they used another 90 million from the reserve, which now has fallen to zero. The additional costs for the Netherlands because of the U.S. decision would therefore not 206 million, but almost 300 million euros.
April 7/08: The Pentagon releases its latest official Selected Acquisition Report, which includes new figures for the F-35 program:
“Program costs decreased by $981.3 million (-0.3 percent) from $299,824.1 million to $298,842.8 million, due primarily to the application of revised escalation indices (-$1,955.8 million), lower material estimates because of prime contractor’s material agreements (-$1,650.6 million), and incorporation of revised prime/subcontractor labor rates (-$879.4 million). There was an additional reduction for a revised estimate of support costs (-$7,445.0 million). These decreases were partially offset by higher estimates for elements of procurement nonrecurring costs (+$4,369.0 million), an adjustment to reflect manufacturing actuals for the System Demonstration and Development (SDD) flight test articles (+$3,849.9 million), and a revised propulsion estimate to include additional hardware and increased lift fan cost (+$2,769.1 million). Overall, it should be noted that the Nunn-McCurdy unit costs are stable relative to the current and original baseline estimates.”
See also Lockheed Martin’s related release “US Government Report Shows Decreased Costs For F-35 Program,” and compare also to conclusions from the full March 11/08 GAO report.
March 28/08: The Turkish newspaper Sabah reports that the Turkish National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee recommends approving the F-35’s production phase, and intends to purchase 100 planes for $10.7 billion.
“The minister of defense, Vecdi Gonul, stated that the project is worth $250 billion and added: “some of the F-4 and F-16 planes comprising the main hitting team of the Air Force Command will expire in the year 2010. The activities to choose new generation war planes for the air forces began in the 90s.”
March 28/06: In the wake of a March 11/08 GAO report (q.v.), a Pentagon Defense Acquisition Board reviews the F-35 program. Knight Ridder reports that John Young, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, subsequently gave conditional approval for F-35 production.
The move allows the Pentagon to proceed with spending F-35 monies from the 2008 defense budget, but with conditions. Work on 6 F-35As can proceed immediately, but Young reportedly wants to see the first F-35B STOVL test model fly in May or June 2008 and review performance data before approving 6 F-35Bs in Y 2008. Young has also reportedly asked for an updated price estimate of the F-35’s scheduled 2010-2015 activities from the Pentagon’s internal Cost Analysis Improvement Group. Military.com > Lockheed Martin release.
March 14/08: Lockheed Martin begins aerial refueling flight tests with the first F-35A from the US Air Force Boeing KC-135 tanker. Flight International report.
March 11/08: The USA’s GAO delivers its 2008 annual report on the F-35 program to Congress. “Recent Decisions by DOD Add to Program Risks” pretty much sum up the opinion delivered. See also derivative reports from Aviation Week and Gannett’s Navy Times. GAO:
“Since last year’s report… acquisition costs increased by more than $23 billion, primarily because of higher estimated procurement costs. The JSF development cost estimate stayed about the same… Facing a probable contract cost overrun, DOD implemented a Mid-Course Risk Reduction Plan… Progress has been reported in several important areas… The midcourse plan carries the risk of design and performance problems not being discovered until…it is significantly more costly to address such problems. The plan also fails to address the production and schedule concerns that depleted management reserves… Two-thirds of budgeted funding for JSF development has been spent, but only about one-half of the work has been completed. The contractor is on its… fourth, manufacturing schedule, but test aircraft in manufacturing are still behind… We believe that JSF costs will likely be much higher than reported… Three independent defense offices separately concluded that program cost estimates are understated by as much as $38 billion and that the development schedule is likely to slip from 12 to 27 months… Even so, DOD does not plan for another fully documented, independent total program life-cycle cost estimate until 2013… With almost 90 percent (in terms of dollars) of the acquisition program still ahead, it is important to address these challenges, effectively manage future risks, and move forward with a successful program that meets our and our allies’ needs.”
March 4/08: Britain originally intended to fit its F-35Bs to carry 4 of its short-range ASRAAM missiles internally, and ASRAAM customer Australia would have leveraged that for any F-35A purchase as well. Jane’s announces that this planned configuration has now changed to 2 missiles internally, and 2 on underwing pylons, which could be fitted to any F-35 variant.
Pylons can compromise stealth, but Jane’s adds that a stealthier pylons has been developed. The MBDA ASRAAM also has a low radar cross section, due to its near-absence of steering fins. while some penalties are still imposed by this new arrangement, there is one offsetting benefit in the F-35’s ability to use long-range passive infrared search and track (IRST) to cue missile firing at the ASRAAM’s short-medium range limits, without opening the weapon door and compromising stealth that way.
Feb 29/08: Back in 2006-2007, when it was time for partner nations to sign on to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s production definition phase, the Dutch came aboard relatively early. That appears to be true again, as a Dutch MvD release indicates that they will participate in the multinational Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) Phase of the JSF program, rather than conducting this phase on their own. IOT&E will be used to validate the F-35A’s capabilities, while testing and refining both operational tactics & employment concepts, and ensuring smooth integration of the aircraft into the Dutch Air Force in time for the scheduled Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2016. Read “Dutch Signing on to Multinational F-35 Testing” for more details.
Feb 13/08: GE and Rolls Royce announce: “GE/RR F136 Jet Engine Passes Critical Design Review.” This allows them to begin producing full development engines for the F-35 program, and is expected to lead to delivery of the first production engines by “late 2012”, during Lot IV of F-35 production.
February 2008: The US Air Force Association’s Washington Watch reports that the recent grounding of the USA’s entire F-15A-D Eagle fleet is sparking questions in Congress re: the viability of the Eagle force. If aging and structural issues mean that the Eagles cannot be depended upon until 2025 as planned, what are the production options?
“Replacing them with F-22s – above and beyond the 183 Raptors now planned – would require buying at least 20 a year to be minimally efficient. At that rate, it would take nine extra years of production to replace the F-15 fleet fully. Raise the rate, and replacement time would decrease. At 30 per year, the F-15s could be wholly replaced in six years. However, USAF is also struggling to fund the F-35 fighter. It needs to build 110 per year to replace the F-16 in a timely manner, but can only afford 48 per year in its budget…”
Jan 30/08: They call him Flipper! Flipper! Faster than lightning? U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James “Flipper” Kromberg becomes the first military pilot to fly the F-35A Lightning II. Flipper took off from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant and tested takeoff, flight to plane to 6,000 feet, handling qualities at 15-degrees angle of attack, up-and-away flight-control response to 10-12,000 feet, engine performance and formation-flying characteristics. In Lockheed Martin’s release, he said that:
“The aircraft flew very well, exceeding my expectations. I was surprised by the amount of power on the takeoff roll. And the handling, particularly with the gear up, was phenomenal.”
Dec 18/07: Lockheed Martin holds the rollout ceremony for the first F-35B STOVL aircraft. An additional 6 development F-35Bs are now in production. In 2007, long-lead procurement funds for the first 6 production STOVL aircraft were authorized, with the first Marine Corps training jets planned for a 2011 delivery. Lockheed Martin release.
Dec 7/07: F-35A AA-1 resumes flight, while the modified 737 CATBird test aircraft takes off on one of its final test flights before aerial avionics testing begins in the F-35s themselves. Lockheed Martin release.
Dec 4/07: The F-35 was supposed to resume test flights today, but the mission is scrubbed. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s aerospace blog Sky Talk reports that “there was a problem discovered with one of the many sensors on board the aircraft.”
Dec 4/07: The Dutch Rekenkamer (Court of Audit) issues a follow-on report covering The Netherlands’ planned F-35 purchase. Uncertain costs remain an issue, as do software-related risks and insufficient project staffing by the MvD. “Dutch Rekenkamer Issues F-35 JSF Program Reports” has excerpts from and links to the 2006 and 2007 reports.
Dec 3/07: DID runs a guest article from Johan Boeder, “F-35 JSF Hit by Serious Design Problems“. The article examines a series of testing failures that have grounded the F-35 test fleet for several months, and resulted in serious redesign of critical components.
The article raises concerns re: both the issues involved (electrical, engine, software), and the program’s lack of transparency regarding these issues, which has raised political questions in the Netherlands.
Oct 30/07: The Dutch may have been the first to sign the production phase MoU, but they are keeping their options somewhat open. Pulling out of the F-35 program would be costly, but the country does have a clear set of ‘Plan B’ options if the F-35 doesn’t live up to their expectations or cost requirements. Reader David Vandenberghe sends in a translation of a written parliamentary Q&A document related to the Dutch MoD Budget:
“(number 25) concerning possible alternatives to the JSF. In Short there are 3 alternatives to the JSF for the Netherlands: The Rafale F4, Eurofighter tranche 3 and the Advanced F-16. The governmental cabinet has decided, during the formation talks [to form a new Dutch government], to present its conclusion to replace the F-16 to the parliamentary chamber in 2010. For that purpose a re-evaluation will be made of all possible alternatives to the F-16 replacement…from JSF to the three above mentioned.”
Of the 3, the Eurofighter’s $100+ million price tag rules it out as a cost substitute, though its superior air-air prowess could make it a capability substitute if the Netherlands decides that the F-35 can’t meet its needs. The French might be persuaded to cut an excellent deal on the 4+ generation Rafale due to that jet’s export failures, which might make it a cost substitute as well as a capability substitute if the F-35A’s price rises much over $55 million. The F-16 E/F Block 60 with the APG-80 AESA radar and built-in infrared tracking currently serves with the UAE, and is a clear cost substitute option at $40-50 million per aircraft.
Oct 25/07: The Jerusalem Post reports the Pentagon has agreed to supply the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Israel as early as 2012, which could make Israel the first nation after the USA to receive operational aircraft, instead of in 2014 or 2015 as planned. Previous objections to Israel’s installation of its own technology in the F-35 (as it has done with every US fighter it has received) were also reportedly overcome; at present, the only Israel technology in the standard version will be the JSF HMDS helmet mounted display system, designed in cooperation with Elbit Systems.
The agreement reportedly came in the wake of a Washington meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and may represent an attempt to deflect Israeli calls for an export version of the F-22A Raptor, which has more stealth and capability. “This plane can fly into downtown Tehran without anyone even knowing about it since it can’t be detected on radar” said an Israeli defense official. One hopes that the statement comes from someone who is not involved with the Air Force. For full coverage and links, read: “F-35s to Israel Early?”
July 30/07: Flight International reports that with its signing of the production, sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD) phase MoU, and US government approval to establish a final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility, Italy is set to capitalize on its commitments to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 by creating a regional support center at Cameri air base, near Novara, in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy. The facility will assemble aircraft for the Netherlands as well as Italy, and will be operated by Alenia under contract to Lockheed Martin. The Italian government will fund the facility, with construction and equipment provided almost totally by local companies and a decision on final approval and initial funding for the facility are expected in late 2007-early 2008.
“Italy is the second largest contributor partner after the UK in the PSFD phase with a $903 million investment, which will see $158 million in spending between 2007 and 2011 and a further $745 million between 2012 and 2046,” says undersecretary for defence Lorenzo Forcieri… Forcieri adds that a decision on aircraft acquisition is expected in 2010, so that F-35 deliveries can start by 2014.”
July 9/07: Australia’s cost per aircraft controversy returns like a recreational boomerang, as an article in Australia’s The Age Newspaper places the total per-aircraft cost at A$ 131 million in order bring each aircraft to full readiness for operational service. “Jets dearer than admitted” also explains the difference between “flyaway cost” to roll another aircraft out the door, and the “average procurement unit cost” which includes documentation, training, support systems and initial spares.
Australia’s DoD fires back with “JSF: Setting the Record Straight.” This release places the estimated average flyaway cost for Australia’s F-35As at about $A 80 million (currently USD$ 68.7M), and offers a “total project costs” figure of “around $A120 million” per aircraft. Note that A$ 80 million is still significantly higher than the USD $45-55 million (USD$ 55.0M currently = A$ 63.7M) Australian officials had quoted in response to previous questions.
See DID’s full, updated costing controversy coverage; including our note from official US documents that F-35As bought in 2013, which is when Australia wants to begin buying aircraft, would cost USD $108.8 million each as the flyaway cost.
July 9/07: Lockheed Martin and the Joint Strike Fighter program office have finalized the definition of the F-35’s Block 3 software. Software is a critical part of the F-35’s capabilities, and Block 3 is the production standard that the entire SDD(System Development & Demonstration) phase is aiming for.
The revised definition actually includes some enhancements, including a wide-area synthetic-aperture radar capability called “big SAR” in addition to the narrow field-of-view SAR modes that were already planned. Most IT projects of any stripe tend to see a lot of deletions just before production standard is reached; enhancements to planned capabilities are rather rare. Flight International report.
June 28/07: The US Congressional Research Service issues its report re: selling F-22EX aircraft to Japan (last revised: July 2/07). The report itself is completely non-committal – see “F-22 Raptors to Japan?” for full DID coverage of this issue. In a particularly interesting sidenote, however, the CRS report adds:
“A final industrial base issue pertains to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Although originally intended to be complementary aircraft, F-22 and JSF capabilities, development, and production have converged. Implicitly if not explicitly, these aircraft are competing for scarce procurement funds. Extension of F-22 production would likely bring these aircraft into even sharper competition.”
June 18-22/07: The U.S. Navy’s F-35C Lightning II carrier variant completes its Critical Design Review (CDR), a prerequisite for the F-35C to move into Low Rate Initial Production. The review was conducted at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, TX; it involved officials from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, the F-35 international-participant nations and the F-35 contractor team. Terry Harrell, Lockheed Martin’s director of F-35 carrier variant development, said in the firm’s release that:
“We met our objectives for detailed design and performance while removing more than 200 pounds from the aircraft in the past seven months — a major accomplishment. Getting the design ready for this important milestone required tremendous teamwork among NAVAIR, the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, Air Force Materiel Command’s Aeronautical Systems Center and the entire JSF contractor team.”
June 21/07: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the US Air Force (USAF) and Lockheed Martin officials in charge of the F-35 program are working on implementable budget and planning alternatives in case any partner country decides to drop out of the program and buy a different fighter during the final contract phase.
Any international program of this scope needs to have planning like this in hand. At least 3 countries are still weighing up formal offers of alternatives to the JSF, including Norway (JAS-39N Gripen+, Eurofighter), Denmark (JAS-39DK Gripen+), and Turkey (Eurofighter).
June 20/07: The influential, non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments releases a report arguing that the F-35 family’s short range, even with fuel tanks added and long-range strike weapons fitted, creates major disadvantages in key areas of operation, especially in the Pacific theater. They argue that the USAF’s planned F-35 buy, “now seems neither affordable nor needed, and the U.S. buy can probably be reduced by as much as 50% without driving unit costs through the roof or abandoning close allies.” Reuters report via Canada’s Financial Post | Full CSBA Study [PDF format].
While the CSBA was not specific re: how to restructure the force, we recently covered another CSBA report that noted the shrinking reach of US carrier aircraft, even as anti-ship threats acquired longer reach and the USA headed toward a future with 11 carriers but only 10 active carrier squadrons. Their recommendation? More unmanned UCAVs for the US Navy, to extend its reach significantly and fill in the missing aircraft.
June 13/07: Italy and the Netherlands have already signed a joint operating agreement, according to which the Netherlands will to consider whether its JSF aircraft can be assembled in Italy, while Italy will examine the feasibility of maintaining its engines and other aircraft components in the Netherlands. At the 2007 European JSF partners’ meeting, Norway also joined this agreement.
The participating countries also agreed to a Dutch initiative to set up a database on which students from European JSF countries looking for internships and training periods will be able to find opportunities with manufacturers involved in the JSF program. The aviation students of 32 universities in Europe will be organised and linked through a project called Euroavia. Dutch MINDEF release [in Dutch] | defense-aerospace translation.
April 19/07: US Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) approves the release of full funding for 2 F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing Variant in Low-Rate Initial production (LRIP) Lot 1, and long lead funding for the 5 F-35A CTOL and 6 F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing variants in LRIP Lot 2.
As well as the first two LRIP aircraft in production, the end of 2007 will see another 20 test aircraft in production/assembly. See Australian DoD release.
April 9/07: The Pentagon releases its April 2007 Selected Acquisition Report, and the F-35 is one of the systems covered.
Overall, program costs rose 8.5% from $276.46 billion to $299.82 billion. The biggest culprit was the Pentagon’s decision to decrese the annual buys and stretch the production schedule end from FY 2027 – FY 2034 (+$11.2 billion); accompanying that is a support increase due to aircraft configuration update, revised procurement profile, and methodology changes (+$6.42 billion). Commodity price increases for key structural materials like titanium was also an issue (+$5.47 billion).
Beyond that, increases due to revised assumptions based on contractor LRIP(low rate initial production) I proposals and methodology (+$8.3 billion) were offset by revised assumptions for prime and subcontractor labor rates (-$3.58 billion) and subcontractor costs (-$5.2 billion). Whether these changes will even out during the LRIP(low rate initial production) batches of F-35s, which already come with a much higher price tag than later production sets, was not discussed.
April 2/07: The US Government Accountability Office releases report #GAO-07-415: “Tactical Aircraft: DOD Needs a Joint and Integrated Investment Strategy.” They are not optimistic re: current Pentagon plans for its future TacAir mix of F-22s, F-35s and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
March 22/07: The US military is trying to end the GE/Rolls Royce F136 engine program again in FY 2008, leaving Pratt & Whitney’s F135 as the only engine option for the aircraft (see Feb 10/07 entry). The US Government Accountability Office is asked to examine the issue, and releases report #GAO-07-656T: “Analysis of Costs for the Joint Strike Fighter Engine Program.” An excerpt:
“Continuing the alternate engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter would cost significantly more than a sole-source program but could, in the long run, reduce costs and bring other benefits. The current estimated life cycle cost for the JSF engine program under a sole-source scenario is $53.4 billion. To ensure competition by continuing to implement the JSF alternate engine program, an additional investment of $3.6 billion to $4.5 billion may be required. However, the associated competitive pressures from this strategy could result in savings equal to or exceeding that amount. The cost analysis we performed suggests that a savings of 10.3 to 12.3 percent would recoup that investment, and actual experience from past engine competitions suggests that it is reasonable to assume that competition on the JSF engine program could yield savings of at least that much. In addition, DOD-commissioned reports and other officials have said that nonfinancial benefits in terms of better engine performance and reliability, improved industrial base stability, and more responsive contractors are more likely outcomes under a competitive environment than under a sole-source strategy. DOD experience with other aircraft engine programs, including the F-16 fighter in the 1980s, has shown competitive pressures can generate financial benefits of up to 20 percent during the life cycle of an engine program and/or improved quality and other benefits. The potential for cost savings and performance improvements, along with the impact the engine program could have on the industrial base, underscores the importance and long-term implications of DOD decision making with regard to the final acquisition strategy solution.”
March 15/07: The US Government Accountability Office issues a report on the F-35 program, which is well-described by its title: “Joint Strike Fighter: Progress Made and Challenges Remain” (#GAO-07-360). The strategy of buying aircraft before testing is complete was flagged as especially risky.
Feb 27/07: Denmark becomes the 9th and final partner nation to sign up, as Minister of Defense Soren Gade signs the F-35 Production and Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding in Copenhagen, Denmark. Denmark joined the JSF program in 1997, and was the first European nation to enter the program’s system design & development (SDD) phase in 2002. Danish companies have received SDD contracts for advanced composites, communications software, control-surface components, and weapons pylons. See Lockheed Martin release.
Feb 20/07: Controversy continues in Australia regarding the F-35, and has spread to include the 24 F-18 E/F Super Hornets the government is moving to buy as a stopgap until the F-35A arrives.
Feb 10/07: The option of interchangeable engines (P&W F100, GE F110) worked so well for the global F-16 and F-15 fleets that a similar approach became part of the F35 Lightning II program. In 2006, the Pentagon tried to cancel GE/Rolls Royce’s F136 engine to save development dollars. High-level British protests and congressional opposition followed, and $340 million was restored to the F136 engine in the FY 2007 budget. Now Inside Defense reports that the FY 2008 budget submission cut all F136 funding again… can the F136 get itself resurrected again?
Feb 8/07: F-35 Lightning II Faces Continued Dogfights in Norway. Endre Lunde chronicles developments in Norway, including endorsement of the rival JAS-39 Gripen by one of the governing coalition’s political parties, and criticisms re: the F-35’s fit for air patrol over Norway’s long, over-water exclusive economic zone.
Jan 31/07: Norway formally signs the Production Phase MoU. See also Jan 23/07 entry.
Jan 25/07: Turkey signs the MoU for the F-35’s production phase. Early estimates are that Turkey will want around 100 F-35As. During the session, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul was asked about the Eurofighter (q.v. Nov 30/06 item). He replied that Turkey had decided to buy around 30 F-16 planes instead.
Jan 23/07: Norway announces that it will participate in the F-35’s production phase. Norway’s Forsvardsdepartmentet has issued a release saying that Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen has decided to sign the production phase agreement for the Joint Strike Fighter Program, owing to improvements in “industrial cooperation.” On the other hand, the release takes pains to note that Norway plans to sign agreements with the Gripen and Eurofighter teams as well.
Dec 15/06: Lockheed Martin’s release announces F-35 AA-1’s successful first test flight, and provides details. This flight begins a 12,000-hour flight-test program. Defense-Aerospace, meanwhile, quibbles that the flags on the aircraft were mistakenly arrange back-to-front, instead of front-to-back.
Dec 12/06: Britain formally signs the F-35 Production Phase MoU. See UK MoD Release.
Dec 11/06: Anglosphere up. Tier 3 Partner Australia formally signs the production phase MoU, at a Pentagon ceremony that Canada and Britain also attended.
Dec 11/06: Tier 3 partner Canada formally signs the production phase MoU, and estimates up to $7 billion in industrial opportunities. In the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase of the F-35 program, Canada’s contribution is expected to exceed C$ 500 million (currently about $435 million) over 44 years. Thus far, 54 Canadian companies, universities and research institutions have won 154 contracts to date valued at approximately C$ 157 million (about $135 million).
While no commitment has been made yet re: replacing the current F-18 fleet with up to 80 F-35As, Canada is using its participation in the F-35 program to help define its future fighter requirements.
Nov 30/06: With Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee convening on December 12, 2006 to discuss the F-35 Lightning II’s looming production MoU milestone (among other issues), Eurofighter officials said that the group has made Turkey an offer of its own for the estimated $10-12 billion fighter program. The consortium is offering Turkey “equal partnership with equal voting rights as other member nations” and a sliding scale of local work share depending on the number of fighters bought. The offer reportedly includes a $9 billion local work share with a 120 fighter buy, $6 billion with 80 aircraft, or $3.2 billion with a 40 aircraft purchase.
Nov 20/06: The GE/ Rolls-Royce F136 fighter engine team held a successful Preliminary Design Review (PDR), a three-month process led by the F-35 Program Office and Lockheed Martin and including Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and defense officials representing the F-35 program’s international participants. The PDR assesses the progress to the F136 design and its unique hardware, as well as the strategy to move the engine into a production phase later this decade. The event is a key milestone in the F136’s $2.4 billion System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, launched in August 2005. The next major milestone is the Critical Design Review in late 2007. Thus far, GE says the F136 program is moving forward on-budget and on-schedule. See GE press release.
Nov 17/06: Inside the Navy reports that the Marine Corps wants to reverse course on a summer 2006 funding cut, in order to ensure the maiden flight of the short-takeoff variant takes place in FY 2008. Concerns about the F-35B vertical landing variant’s technical maturity had prompted the Marines and Navy to propose a 14-month delay, removing 35-72 aircraft from the FY 2008-2013 spending plan (see Aug 22/06 entry). What changed? A recent program analysis and evaluation said the technical and schedule risk were within acceptable margins. With renewed confidence in the schedule comes renewed eagerness to keep the F-35B on track. If funding can be found as the Office of the Secretary of Defense finishes its FY 2008 defense budget proposal and attendant six-year spending plan.
Nov 14/06: The Netherlands’ Secretary of Defense Cees Van der Knaap has signed the Production Sustainment & Follow On Development (PSFD) MoU in Washington D.C. together with his American counterpart, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England. See the Ministerie Van Defensie release [Dutch], and the speech given during the signing ceremony [English]. With the help of our readers, DID also expands our coverage to include translations detailing the divergent Dutch political positions around the F-35 as their elections approach.
Nov 13/06: Aviation Week’s Aerospace Daily & Defense Report publishes “Rumsfeld’s Ouster, Dems’ Arrival Could Bring TACAIR Changes.” There are a number of predictions that the changes will involve more F-22As, followed by fewer F-35s and more F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Nov 10/06: Australian Defence Minister Dr. Brendan Nelson announced that the Australian Government has given First Pass approval for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The minister plans to sign the JSF Production Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in December 2006, once final administrative arrangements are in place. The decision has been strongly criticized in Australia, with concerns centering around its air superiority during the period from 2010 (when its F-111s receive early retirement) to operational capability with the F-35s around 2015-2018.
Nov 6/06: EDO Corporation announces a contract from Lockheed Martin for the fabrication of precision, advanced-composite structures for the F-35 Lightning II. The contract calls for the delivery of components for 14 aircraft, and is valued at $1.8 million with delivery scheduled to be completed by December 2008. In addition to composite structures, EDO is developing pneumatic weapons-release systems and advanced antennas for the F-35s. See EDO press release.
Nov 1/06: AVM Criss: Does Groupthink Power Australia’s JSF? Follow-on to DID’s updated Oct 2/06 article. Retired Australian Air Vice Marshal Peter Criss pens a guest article, and discusses both the JSF decision and what he contends is a larger problem of groupthink within Australia’s DoD.
Oct 31/06: News services in South Korea contend that they may be considering the F-35 Lightning II instead of their Phase 2 purchase of 20 F-15K Strike Eagles. The Lightning may fly in South Korean colors one day – but probably not as a 2007-2011 acquisition, given the program’s timelines as noted above and the cost of low-rate initial production F-35s.
Oct 19/06: DID’s article “Elec Tricks II: $9.7M for Further Research” is a follow-on to our earlier piece that cites the potential for the F-35’s AN/APG-81 AESA radar to act as a secure, high-bandwidth communications relay (see section introduction). It seems the concept is being taken seriously, and given additional funding.
Oct 13/06: Pratt & Whitney’s F135 jet engine has achieved Initial Flight Release from the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO). This makes it eligible to power the F-35A flight test program, set to begin in late 2006.
Oct 11/06: The Dutch Court of Audit has issued its report on the F-35 project, covering subjects ranging from the auditing challenges on international programs to program cost and risks, to Dutch industrial participation. Its overall tone can be fairly described as cautionary, and it presents the F-35 as a risky investment. This could be significant given the November 22, 2006 elections, which are currently seen a a very close race for the current center-right coalition.
Oct 2/06: Recently-retired Australian Air Vice Marshal Peter Criss has publicly broken ranks with Australia’s DoD, and advocates buying the F-22A Raptors for Australia instead of early-production F-35As.
Opposition in Australia is fueled in part by the country’s expected buy of early-production aircraft, whose cost could be over $100 million each (July 12/06 entry).
F-35 Program: SDD & Production (2006-2008)
DID is keeping this set of entries current from the beginning of 2006 to the end of calendar year 2008. Unless otherwise specified, contracts are issued by the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, MD. Unless otherwise specified, the contractor is Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX.
Dec 15/08: Rolls-Royce anounces a $131 million contract with Pratt & Whitney to supply LiftSystems for the first 6 F-35B Lightning II STOVL aircraft. The Rolls-Royce LiftSystem comprises a LiftFan, Roll Posts and a 3 Bearing Swivel Module, and is used to enable vertical landing on board ship.
Parts deliveries are expected to begin in January 2009, and the scope of the contract also includes spare hardware, production investment and sustainment planning. This order represents the first F-35 production phase contract for Rolls-Royce.
Nov 24/08: United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT received a $98.9 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus incentive fee contract (N00019-07-C-0098). It exercises an option for one F135 Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) propulsion system, one F135 STOVL initial spare module, initial spare parts, and associated sustainment efforts for the U.S. Navy. In addition, this modification provides for special tooling and test equipment, and a low rate initial production proposal and planning effort for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.
Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (70%); Bristol, United Kingdom (19%); and Indianapolis, IN (11%) and is expected to be complete in February 2011. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
Oct 15/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX received a $39.1 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded cost plus award fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002). This modification requires Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., to incorporate operating system changes into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (80%); Baltimore, MD (7%); Nashua, NH (7%); Eagan, MN (3%); and Ft Worth, TX (3%), and is expected to be complete in October 2013. Contract funds in the amount of $16.25 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract.
Sept 23/08: United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT received a $332.1 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus incentive fee contract (N00019-07-C-0098, see Sept 2/08 entry). It establishes the final price, and provides full funding for, 7 conventional F135 engines for the USAF, 1 initial spare module, initial spare parts, 6 U.S. Navy F135 STOVL propulsion systems, and associated special tooling and special test equipment, program management, and financial and technical data.
Additionally, this modification establishes an option for 1 spare Navy F135 STOVL propulsion system; 1 STOVL initial spare module; STOVL initial spare parts and associated sustainment effort; future low-rate production proposal and planning efforts; and site activation in the United Kingdom.
Work will be performed East Hartford, CT (73%); Bristol, United Kingdom (17%); and Indianapolis, IN (10%), and is expected to be complete in February 2011. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract. Pratt & Whitney release.
Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (70%), and Bristol, United Kingdom (30%), and is expected to be complete in January 2012. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-08-C-0033).
July 22/08: See the July 27/07 entry for the $2.2 billion LRIP 2 contract. The government had previously released long-lead funding of $158 million in July 2007, and in May 2008, another $933 million was released for the 6 F-35As – but the 6 F-35B STOVLs received only conditional approval.
Those stipulations were met by the first flight of the initial F-35B test aircraft on June 11/08, and completion of an F135 propulsion system review on July 22/08. Upon completion of that review, the US government exercised the $1 billion option for the 6 STOVL aircraft. An additional $110 million of sustainment options remains to be authorized in the 4th quarter of 2008. Lockheed Martin release.
May 14/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX received an advance acquisition contract with an estimated value of $197.1 million for long-lead materials and effort associated with the LRIP Lot III buy of 18 Joint Strike Fighters: 8 USAF F-35As, 8 US Marine Corps F-35B STOVL, and 2 United Kingdom F-35B STOVL aircraft.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and work is expected to be completed in February 2009. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-08-C-0028).
April 30/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX received a not-to-exceed $190 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract (N00019-07-C-0097) for special tooling and special test equipment associated with the Low Rate Initial Production Lot II (LRIP II) of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Work will be performed in Ft. Worth, TX (25%), El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom, (15%); Orlando, FL (10%); Torrance, CA (5%); Eagan, M (5%); Nashua, NH (5%); Broomfield, CO (5%); and San Jose, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in April 2010.
March 14/08: United Technologies Corp. subsidiary Pratt and Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT received a $70.3 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3003) for weight reduction activities for the F135 jet engine.
Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (56%); Bristol, United Kingdom (43%); and Indianapolis, IN (1%), and work is expected to be completed in September 2013.
Jan 16/08: BAE Systems announces its first F-35 Low Rate Initial Production full funding contract worth over GBP 25 million (about $51 million). They will deliver the aft fuselage and empennage (vertical and horizontal tails), as well as key mission and vehicle systems, for 2 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) fighters. The BAE release adds that: “By 2015 the programme is projected to reach Full Rate Production (FRP) when the programme partners will deliver the aircraft at a rate of one a day.” DID asked BAE, and found that this was based on 20 manufacturing days per month, which makes it a promise of 240 fighters built per year by 2015.
Tom Fillingham, BAE Systems’ Managing Director for the F-35 Lightning II program, said that: “We will start assembly of the aft fuselage and empennage for these first production aircraft in 2008, and the first F-35 aircraft is scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Air Force in 2010.”
Dec 6/07: Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) announces that it has authorized Terma and Lystrup in Denmark, and Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI) in Ankara, Turkey, to begin fabricating subassemblies for the first 2 F-35 Lightning II production aircraft. Their composite components and aircraft access doors will be used in the F-35 center fuselage, which are produced at NGC’s F-35 assembly facility in Palmdale, CA
Janis Pamiljans, vice president and F-35 program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector, said that Terma and TAI will each serve as a 2nd source supplier during F-35 low rate initial production (LRIP), beginning with the initial phase (LRIP-1), which started in October 2007. A February 2007 letter of intent with TAI also makes the Turkish firm a second source for producing F-35 center fuselages; under that agreement, TAI will produce a minimum of 400 center fuselages, beginning in LRIP-2. NGC release.
Nov 28/07: Pratt & Whitney delivers the first F135 short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) propulsion system, including the Rolls-Royce Lift System, to Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The propulsion system will support airframe and engine interface evaluations for the first STOVL flight test aircraft, scheduled for its initial flight in May 2008.
The P&W release states that as of their release date, the F135 STOVL propulsion system “has accumulated over 1,700 STOVL hours and over 4,300 total run hours. Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine has exceeded 8,500 system development and demonstration (SDD) ground test hours.”
Nov 21/07: A $13.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive/award-fee contract (N00019-06-C-0291) to conduct pre-production manufacturing assistance and planning tasks to ensure sufficient subcontractor technical knowledge to support the F-35 II Lightening Joint Strike Fighter production ramp rate.
Work will be performed El Segundo, CA (72%); Fort Worth, TX (14%); and Preston, United Kingdom (14%) and is expected to be complete in November 2008.
Nov 15/07: The issue of how to give all F-35 recipients the same fighter, without compromising key American secrets, has always been a tough balancing act. Toward that end, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX received a $134.2 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002) to continue the design, development, verification, and test of Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Partner Version Air System development under the JSF Delta System Development and Demonstration Effort (Delta SDD). In English, they want to develop a version of the F-35 Lightning II that meets U.S. National Disclosure Policy, but keeps as much commonality as possible so it doesn’t create a second-class export aircraft – or the perception of same.
Stealth “low observable” technology is one good example of sensitive technology that comes under restrictions, and key features like wing edges and surface coatings are made in secure US facilities and added post-assembly. The decision on whether to release stealth technology is made a high-level American group called the LO/Counter-LO Executive Commitee (LO/CLO-Excom). See also Aviation Week’s Ares: “My JSF Is Stealthier Than Yours, Or Is It?” Other highly sensitive areas include software code, which can be protected with lock-outs and tamper-proofing – but that runs up against the widely-expressed requirement of partner nations for “operational sovereignty” and modifiability. Tamper-proofing, plus APIs that serve as software “sockets” for other programs to plug into, may be the best solution. If the F-35’s core software hasn’t been designed like that from the outset, however, redesigns that maintain security while enabling the right APIs can be expensive.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (68%), Orlando, FL (24%), and El Segundo, CA (8%), and is expected to be completed in October 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD issued the contract, which is a follow-on to a $602.6 million contract issued on Nov 10/03. Time will tell how successful the Delta SDD effort will be.
Nov 12/07: BAE Systems announces that electrical power has been applied on schedule to the first production F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL), initiating a series of ground tests of the aircraft’s circuits, electronic components and wiring that will lead to the inaugural flight of the STOVL aircraft in spring 2008. BAE System’s employees from Warton and Samlesbury, UK, who are currently based at programme partner Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth, TX, represented the company at a special ceremony to mark the ‘power on’ milestone. Maj. Gen. C.R. Davis, F-35 program executive officer, was also present at the event and commented:
“Power-on is one of the major milestones in the life of the STOVL aircraft and we have eagerly anticipated it for some time. The F-35 has the most complex electrical system of any fighter to date. We had great success with the first jet we flew, but that jet taught us some very important lessons about its electrical system and those lessons have been incorporated into the jet we powered up today. Congratulations to the team and on to first flight.”
See Aug 17/07 entry and “F-35 JSF Hit by Serious Design Problems” for more background re: that cryptic comment.
Oct 26/07: Northrop Grumman completes the center fuselage for the first weight-optimized F-35A Lightning II aircraft. This “weight optimized” version is the final initial production design, and comes about as a result of a year of intensive design efforts that targeted the F-35B in particular but also affected other models. The AF-1 center fuselage is one of 19 center fuselages Northrop Grumman is producing for the current system development and demonstration (SDD) phase of the F-35 Lightning II program.
The milestone comes just 24 hours after the company officially began the first phase of F-35 low rate initial production at Northrop Grumman’s composites manufacturing center in El Segundo, CA. NGC release.
Oct 18/07: BAE Systems announces that they have started manufacturing the first titanium and aluminum frames that will form part of the aft fuselage for the first F-35C carrier-launched aircraft.
Aug 24/07: United Technologies Corp. subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT received an estimated $60 million advance acquisition contract for long lead components, parts and materials associated with the Lot 2 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) of 6 F-135 F135 Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) propulsion system installs and 2 spares for the U.S. Air Force and 6 F135 Short Take-off and Vertical Landing Air Systems (STOVL) propulsion system installs and 2 spares for the U.S. Navy. Work will be performed East Hartford, CT (70%), and Bristol, United Kingdom (30%), and is expected to be complete in March 2011. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-07-C-0098). Pratt & Whitney release.
Note that $60 million provides only for advance ordering items, not complete engine sets for the 6 F-35A and 6 F-35B aircraft ordered under the July 27/07 entry. See the “F-35B JSF cutaway” graphic, above, to note the additional center lift fan and wing exhaust nozzles added to the F135 on the F-35B STOVL version.
Aug 17/07: United Technologies Corp. subsidiary Pratt and Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT received a $71.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3003). It covers F135 gearbox redesign and re-qualification, and delivery of 9 redesigned gearboxes that will be incorporated into F135 flight test engines being delivered to Lockheed Martin for the F-35 flight test aircraft. Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT and is expected to be complete in December 2009.
Follow-up investigations by Flight International reveal that this contract was awarded because the F-35C’s power generator was mistakenly designed to offer only 2/3 of the required maximum output. The generator is made by Hamilton Sundstrand, and a Lockheed subcontractor could be subcontracted with no publicity – but because the increase required was so large, Pratt & Whitney’s gearbox that transfers the power coming off the F135 engine into energy that can be used by the generator also required redesign. Since P&W has their own separate government contract, the US DoD must publicly award a contract to redesign the part.
July 27/07: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX received an estimated $2.44 billion advance acquisition contract for long lead components, parts, and materials associated with the Lot 2 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP II) of 6 F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) for the U.S. Air Force and 6 F-35B STOVL(Short Take-off and Vertical Landing) for the U.S. Marine Corp. In addition, the contract provides for associated ancillary mission equipment, sustainment support, special tooling/special test equipment and technical/financial data.
The inclusion of the F-35B in similar numbers would appear to be a positive sign for that variant’s engineering progress. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (75.5%); El Segundo, CA (15.6%); and Samlesbury, United Kingdom (8.9%), and is expected to be complete in February 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-07-C-0097).
Feb 20/07: Fighter manufacturing affected by the position of the moon? Apparently. BAE is using new systems as part of Eurofighter manufacturing, and they’ve also been incorporated into F-35 production:
“To get round the problem BAE Systems has spent over GBP 2.5 million putting in special automated alignment facilities which use laser-trackers and computer-automated jacks. But what really ensures that each Typhoon’s airframe is built as close to perfection as is humanly possible are the giant ‘floating’ concrete rafts on which the aircraft and measuring equipment sit…”
Feb 6/07: Northrop Grumman ISS International has signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Tusas Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI) to be a second source for the F-35 Lightning II center fuselage. TAI will produce a minimum of 400 center fuselages starting in the low rate initial production (LRIP) phase of the program. The LOI represents a potential value in excess of $3 billion in then-year dollars.
TAI had previously signed a $100 million, long-term agreement with Northrop Grumman in June 2005 to produce composite parts and sub-assemblies for the F-35 center fuselage, a component for which Northrop Grumman has primary responsibility. See Northrop Grumman release.
Jan 23/07: Norwegian firm Kongsberg announces almost NOK 2 billion (about $308 million) in “framework agreements” with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman related to composite structure production for the F-35. That award could triple or quadruple over the F-35’s lifetime – Kongsberg will have to invest in a new factory, and the whole agreement set is conditional on Norway choosing the F-35. Which is why the other yet-to-be satisfied condition is a guarantee from the Norwegian government to reimburse Kongsberg at some agreed-upon level if they choose another fighter. Those negotiations are ongoing. See full DID coverage.
F-35 Program: Ancillary and Sub-contracts
These contracts are issued by the program’s prime contractors to other companies for work on the program.
Nov 17/08: General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products announces a pair of contracts from Lockheed Martin worth nearly $9 million in total. In exchange, the firm will provide GAU-22/A 25mm gatling gun systems for the F-35 Lightning II production line. Production under this contract is scheduled to begin immediately, and extend through August 2010 at General Dynamics’ Saco, Maine, facility. Program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Burlington, VT Technology Center, which is the company’s engineering center of excellence.
The GAU-22/A will serve as the F-35A’s internal gun, and is based on the GAU-12/U currently used aboard Harrier fighters. General Dynamics is also developing an external gun system for the F-35B and F-35C variants.
Nov 12/08: Volvo Group announces that its subsidiary Volvo Aero Norge has received a contract from Pratt & Whitney to make diffuser cases for the F135 engine, adding that all of Volvo Aero Norway’s agreements with Pratt & Whitney, taken together, have a potential total value of over $700 million.
Volvo Aero Norway is 78% owned by Volvo Aero Corporation, and 22% owned by Pratt & Whitney’s parent firm United Technology. Volvo Aero | Trading Markets report.
Oct 9/08: Alenia Aeronautica releases a study evaluating the F-35’s industrial potential, and the steps European firms will need to take, in order to maximize the program’s value to them. In the course of that release [PDF format], they note that:
“In the past weeks Alenia Aeronautica signed the first contract for wing production, for which it will be the second source supplier with a potential run of 1,200 wings.”
Oct 6/08: A feature in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram covers Heroux-Devtek’s American subsidiary Progressive Inc. in Fort Worth, TX. Their specialty is machining large, highly detailed one-piece structures for aircraft. It’s a long way from the parent firm Longeuil, Quebec, Canada, but the large aluminum bulkheads that make up the spine of the F-35 are one of their products. The firm is betting heavily on the F-35, and being close to their main customer is important.
The company has already invested $25 million for a new 72,000-square-foot building and machining equipment, andexpects to spend $20 million more to meet future production requirements. Heroux-Devtek aerostructures division VP and GM Rick Rosenjack is quoted as saying “…we’re betting the future of this company on the F-35… I’ve told [Lockheed Martin executive] Tom Burbage, ‘We’re your ninth country’.”
July 28/08: Pratt & Whitney has given Ultra Electronics Holdings plc new business under the F-135 Engine Ice Protection System (EIPS) controller sub-contract. The modification is worth about $21 million over the development phase, and will funnel work to the Controls unit based in Greenford, UK and Cambridge, UK. In exchange, Ultra will undertake the complete development of the LFIPS electronic controller, which will provide electro-thermal ice protection to the JSF lift fan in the engines powering F-35B STOVL variants. This limited deployment contrasts with the EIPS controller, which will be fitted to all F-35 models.
Ultra Electronics’ ice protection technology is also used in Boeing’s new 787 passenger jets. Ultra Electronics release [PDF].
July 16/08: The F136 team also announces receipt of its first parts from partner suppliers: titanium front fan frames from Canada’s Magellan, and fan cases and bladed disks from Dutch partners DutchAero and Atkins Nedtech.
July 16/08: Metaltec Precision International in Victoria, Australia, wins an A$ 2 million contract to manufacture assembly tooling for the F136 engine. The tooling will be used for engine components manufactured by Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce release.
July 3/08: Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace signs a final long-term framework agreement with Lockheed Martin to produce composite and titanium parts for the F-35. The parts will be produced at the new 30,000 square meter plant in Kongsberg, Norway, where production is scheduled to start in January 2009 and last until 2015.
The agreement is a result of negotiations conducted against the background of the original production framework agreement signed in January 2007. The finalized agreement makes Kingsberg the exclusive supplier for these components during the F-35’s first phase of serial production, involving parts for 306 aircraft valued at about NOK 1 billion (about $197 million). This part of the agreement is not conditional on Norway’s upcoming fighter choice.
If Norway does choose the F-35 as its F-16 replacement, however, the agreement could have a potential value of about NOK 6 billion (about $1.18 billion). Kongsberg release.
April 18/08: Stork Aerospace subsidiary Fokker Elmo announces a Total Integrated Wiring System (TIWS) contract from Lockheed Martin worth up to $2 billion. Wiring is one of the most troublesome features of any military aircraft or vehicle, and diagnosing faults can be a maddening exercise. The F-35’s wiring will include self-diagnostic features, and TIWS arrangements will include wiring management, configuration management, procurement and logistics, product support, set-up and management of all wiring production, and manufacturing of complex wiring harnesses both in the Netherlands and in a global supply chain that includes Fokker Elmo in Turkey.
During the development phase, Lockheed Martin has agreed to use Fokker Elmo’s advanced toolset and Fokker Elmo’s proprietary innovative system for developing, managing and producing complex wiring systems, in order to continue tight collaboration between design and manufacturingand get the most out of TIWS concept. Under the terms of the agreement, Fokker Elmo will provide production capabilities, support and sustaining engineering during the aircraft’s Low Rate Initial Production Phase, and bring the best features forward to support the Full Rate Production phase of the F-35 program.
In practical terms, this agreement establishes Stork as the global focus point for F-35 wiring-related activities, and also as a global leader in wiring systems. Stork Aerospace release.
March 6/08: The Danish defense company Terma announces delivery of the 1st Data Acquisition, Recording and Telemetry (DART) Flight Test Instrumentation Pod to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX. The DART pods are part of a $7.5 million June 2006 contract whereby Terma will design, develop, integrate, test, and build 7 fully-qualified test pods to gather information from the program’s test flights. Upon delivery, the Pod structures are fully qualified to meet shock, vibration, stress, and other general JSF technical requirements.
The pods will be installed in the internal weapons bays of the aircraft and Terma also manufactures equipment and nose-boom installations for the test program. Terma release.
March 5/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX receives a $57.8 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002), exercising an option for the Electronic Warfare Verification Station for the U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL) at Eglin Air Force Base. See Feb 06/08 for further details.
Work will be performed in Ft. Worth, TX (68%); Orlando, FL (24%); and El Segundo, CA (8%), and is expected to be completed in Oct. 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
Feb 6/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX receives a $123 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002). This modification will create a facility to develop and update operational and training mission data files, which will help the military analyze and counter advanced electronic warfare and other targets picked up by the F-35’s multi-spectral sensors.
The best analogy to the new center is the Norton Antivirus software most of you have on your computers – but the primary danger at this point is external threats like radars and missiles rather than cyberwarfare. As new threats are introduced or existing threats evolve their tactics, the aircraft need to have their electronics reprogrammed, and new threat data files added. The F-35 reprogramming center will be sent data from a variety of intelligence sources, as well as strategic and tactical reports from many platforms. It will then be reviewed and interpreted by experts for unique application to the F-35 family, and turned into software reprogramming, threat data files, and possibly even hardware swap-out recommendations that can be rolled out to the global F-35 fleet.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. will develop, integrate, and instal these reprogramming and validation/verification capabilities at the United States Reprogramming Laboratory in Fort Worth, TX (68%), Eglin Air Force Base in Orlando, FL (24%), and El Segundo, CA (8%), and work is expected to be complete in October 2013.
Dec 4/07: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX receives a $38.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002) to provide for the design, development, integration and testing the Joint Strike Fighter autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) central point of entry system. Work will be performed in Orlando, FL (67%) and Fort Worth, TX (33%), and is expected to be complete in October 2013. The Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
ALIS is designed to be the F-35’s complementary maintenance hub, and an IEEE paper has described it as “perhaps the most advanced and comprehensive set of diagnostic, prognostic, and health management capabilities yet to be applied to an aviation platform.” See “You Can Track Your F-35s, At ALIS’ Maintenance Hub” for more on the system, its connection with the ongoing defense procurement death spiral, and the reason it is so critical to the F-35’s success.
Nov 12/07: BAE Systems announces that it has completed Design Verification Testing for the crew escape system for the F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant.
The F-35’s Martin-Baker Mk16E ejection seat will be different from the Mk16s in the Eurofighter and Rafale, for 2 reasons. One, it must accommodate a very wide range of pilot sizes under its multinational charter. Two, the HMDS helmet-mounted display weighs more than a standard pilot helmet. That puts a lot more stress on the neck, especially when rockets are blowing you out of the plane fast enough to avoid hitting the tail while moving at supersonic speeds. Just to make things interesting, requirement #1 makes requirement #2 harder.
Oct 12/07: The F-35B’s ultra-slimfast diet has a spinoff benefit for ALCOA. Alcoa’s expertise proved very useful during the F-35B’s weight reduction program. Now Lockheed Martin has handed Alcoa’s Power and Propulsion business a 10-year, $360 million contract by Lockheed Martin to supply advanced patented 7085 alloy aluminum die forgings for the F-35 program. Alcoa Forged and Cast Products in Cleveland, OH will design and manufacture all the large aluminum structural die forgings for more than 1,200 aircraft. Parts include 15 large bulkheads that weigh 1,800-6,000 pounds, range from 10-23 feet in length, and act as the primary structural support for the wing and engine. They will also work on 6 wing box parts which serve as an important component of the skeletal structure to the wing. Meanwhile, other Alcoa aerospace units will provide items like highly-engineered joining devices from Alcoa Fastening Systems, specialty alloy plate from Alcoa North American Mill Products, and high-pressure turbine blades for F-35 JSF engines and structural aluminum castings from Alcoa Power and Propulsion.
As part of the JSF contract, Alcoa plans to invest $24 million in Cleveland Works primarily for new machinery, equipment and infrastructure improvements. Alcoa Forged and Cast Products is being supported by the State of Ohio with a $400,000 Rapid Outreach Grant, and up to $450,000 for employee training. Full DID article.
Oct 9/07: The Royal Air Force Centre for Aviation Medicine at MoD Boscombe Down puts the F-35’s HMDS Helmet display through its paces. Pilots from the RAF, U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems flew 2 specially modified BAE Hawk T Mk1s in flight regimes ranging from -2g to +9.5g. Their objective was to verify comfort, fit and stability under high G conditions. Since the F-35 will be the first tactical fighter jet in over 30 years to fly without a Head Up Display above its instrument panels, this capability is mandatory and HMDS will ship with the F-35s to all domestic and international F-35 customers. The JSF HMDS first flew aboard an F-35 in January 2007, and additional RAF CAM flights with the system have been underway through September and October 2007. VSI release | DID article.
Sept 27/07: Cubic Defense Applications announces a $50.3 million development contract from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. to design and integrate an embedded version of its latest-generation P5 air combat training system for the F-35 Lightning II. The system will be based on Cubic’s successful pod-based P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System technology and Individual Combat Aircrew Display System (ICADS) software, and will reside on Lockheed Martin’s Offboard Mission Subsystem (OMS). The development contract also contains a requirement for a fully encrypted and exportable data link, a first-ever component for a Cubic air combat training system.
Cubic is scheduled to deliver 5 prototypes consisting of airborne instrumentation and ground station planning and debrief software systems as part of F-35 System Development and Demonstration. The airborne training instrumentation will be installed in all F-35s, and integrated in the aircraft as an embedded feature with easy removal if the need arises.
Cubic and its partners, DRS Technologies Inc. of Fort Walton Beach, FL and FAAC of Ann Arbor, MI will use a P5 Internal Subsystem designed for F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier aircraft as the baseline for the F-35 Internal Subsystem. FAAC will assist Cubic in developing the weapons simulations for the F-35 and its new-generation weapons systems. The subsystem is interoperable with P5 training systems now being produced, so fighter pilots using pod-based or embedded P5 systems will be able to train with F-35 pilots. Cubic release.
Sept 24/07: BAE Systems announces that it has completed acceptance testing at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ Mission Systems Integration Laboratory in Fort Worth, TX for the F-35 Lightning II electronic warfare (EW) suite spiral release 2. This spiral release provides the capabilities to perform initial manufacturing system checkouts on F-35 BF-4, the first full avionics aircraft, scheduled to fly in the first quarter of 2009. This system will be used for integration, and then released to the production floor and installed in an F-35 aircraft. After 66 months, this component of the F-35 project remains on-time, on-budget, and under its weight limit.
BAE Systems completed hardware and software testing on the initial flight-representative hardware for the electronic warfare system that included designing, building, and testing the electronic support measures and countermeasures hardware, and more than 120,000 lines of software code. The delivery provides several critical capabilities that comprise the foundation for 2 additional planned software releases to be introduced during the flight test program. The final electronic warfare suite will detect, analyze, evaluate, and react to radar and other EW threats fielded by potential adversaries.
The 5-year project has included an upgrade kit for the program’s electronic support measures test bench, which examines, correlates, and accounts for signals that reach an aircraft’s reflective surfaces. This has strong EW implications, as well as stealth implications. The project also included an update of the interface units for the F-35 radio frequency test system, which reflects how the system would operate under real-world conditions. BAE release.
- Lockheed Martin has extended Melbourne-based Marand Precision Engineering’s existing ground support equipment and tooling contracts, with substantial additional work in the offing.
- Partech Systems, a small company based in Nowra, NSW, has secured additional JSF test equipment work from Northrop Grumman.
- In its first JSF contract, Adelaide’s Levett Engineering will machine specialised components for Lockheed Martin.
- Production Parts in Melbourne has won additional work with JSF prime contractors and Parker Aerospace for airframe and engine components.
- BAE Systems (UK) has welcomed bids from both Marand and the Metaltec/Broens joint venture Aerotech International for the supply of specialized JSF tooling. BAE will begin discussions on the specific tool types required from each company.
Sept 17/07: Lockheed Martin is leveraging experience from the F-35 program and its Autonomic Logistics Information System to place proactive diagnostics into the US Marines’ land vehicles. Read “USMC Putting Prognostics in its Vehicles.”
Aug 13/07: Northrop Grumman has delivered the 2nd round in a 5-round F-35 software release to prime contractor Lockheed Martin. This step includes the initial release of software required to perform manufacturing checkout of the first F-35B short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and continues Northrop Grumman’s unbroken, 2-year-long streak of on-time software deliveries to the F-35 Lighting II program.
The company has already delivered updates for software modules used to perform three critical functions: 1. functional test of key sensor subsystems such as radar, electronic warfare, and communication/navigation/IFF; 2. download of maintenance information from the aircraft; and 3. in-flight detection and pilot notification of safety-critical faults. This stage added 3 more key features as part of the initial manufacturing release (IMR): 4. Prognostic and Health Monitoring (HUMS) software; 5. Maintenance Interface Broker software, which is used by maintenance personnel to download diagnostic information from the aircraft; and 6. Mission Domain software, which includes navigation; software models for aircraft performance; and the Mission Systems Integrity Monitor (MSIM) that notifies the pilot of critical in-flight failures.
In the corporate release, Janis Pamiljans, F-35 program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector, says that “We’re doing everything we can to support the F-35 industry team’s goal of flying the first STOVL variant in the spring of 2008.” Northrop Grumman plans to deliver the other 3 rounds of software updates for the STOVL software modules between now and spring 2008.
July 26/07: Raytheon Systems Limited (RSL) has been awarded a contract to support the integration and flight trials of the GPS/INS and laser guided Paveway IV bomb on the F-35B STOVL Lightning II aircraft. The contract is valued at GBP 24 million (about $49.2 million). The integration program will focus on providing documentation, input to the development of the aircraft systems and flight clearance of the weapon on to the aircraft. The latter part of the program will concentrate on support to flight trials and certification.
Paveway IV is a British program that has experienced some delays. Raytheon Missile Systems (RMS) in Tucson, AZ will supply the Enhanced Computer Control Group (ECCGs) guidance sections, Telemetry sub-systems, Instrumentation, Test Equipment and associated support. In addition to the general support activities, Raytheon UK will also be providing BAE Systems with the required trials hardware. Raytheon UK release [PDF format].
The release adds that the Italian Navy also plans to operate the F-35B, alongside the US Marines and Royal Navy. While service with the Italian and Spanish Navies was seen as likely given the construction of their new carrier/LHDs to accommodate the F-35B, it had not previously been announced.
July 9/07: Simulation firm SimiGon announces that its SIMbox based NxLearn Learning Management System has been selected for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) training program. NxLearn will be one element of NxSys, Lockheed Martin’s integrated training system infrastructure. SimiGon release.
July 9/07: Aviation Week quotes Jean Lydon-Rogers, president of the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine team, as saying that “Heat dissipation is a huge problem” for JSF. The team is reportedly still brainstorming approaches, in order to manage internal heat without using air-cooling external vents that create detectable thermal hot spots. The idea is to cycle heat from the engine, electronics and power systems into the fuel.
The team also tells Aviation Week that because their F136 engine was designed after the F-35 had its weight growth issues and subsequent modifications, their design takes advantage of the aircraft’s larger inlet. The team claims that single-digit thrust percentage increases could be accomplished with a software change, and claims that even “double-digit increases are feasible without a major redesign.”
June 20/07: Alliant Techsystems (ATK) announces a Letter of Agreement (LoA) with Lockheed Martin to produce fiber placed components for low-rate initial production (LRIP) on the F-35 Lightning II. ATK will use advanced fiber-placement technology to provide upper wing-box skins, lower wing-box skins, and nacelle skins during LRIP lots 1-3 for the F-35A and F-35B STOVL. ATK also will provide upper wing-box and nacelle skins for the F-35C carrier variant. Beginning with LRIP lot 4, ATK is under contract to supply Lockheed Martin with a minimum of 30% of the total fiber-placed composite components used in wing production.
Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed. ATK release.
Jan 23/07: Vision Systems International, LLC in San Jose, CA (VSI) announces that their Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) recently flew for the first time on an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The release adds that:
“The HMDS has been in development for five years and recently completed all required safety of flight tests, allowing in-flight seat ejections up to 450 KEAS (knots equivalent air speed). It has demonstrated structural integrity to 600 KEAS as a critical risk mitigation step towards full flight certification.”
Jan 23/07: The Joint Strike Fighter Cooperative Avionics Test Bed (CATB), a 737-300 aircraft extensively modified by BAE Systems, successfully completed its maiden flight at Mojave, CA, following an effort that as lasted nearly 3 years. The “CAT-Bird,” is a flying test bed that replicates the F-35 avionics suite; among other things, it will be used to verify “sensor fusion” – the F-35’s capability to collect data from multiple sensors and fuse it into a coherent situational awareness display.
Creating the CAT-Bird was no minor task. Structural modifications include the addition of a nose extension to simulate the F-35, a 42-foot-long spine on the top, a 10-foot “canoe” on the bottom to accommodate electronic equipment, and twin 12-foot sensor wings that replicate the leading edge of the F-35’s wings. The inside of the plane also was transformed. An F-35 cockpit will allow the sensor inputs to be displayed as they would be in the fighter itself, while rest of the interior houses equipment racks for the avionics equipment, plus 20 workstations for technicians to assess the performance of the avionics. See BAE release.
Dec 16/06: Engine testing isn’t cheap. A USAF article puts some numbers beside the role Arnold Engineering Development Center will play in F-35 engine testing. Jeff Albro, AEDC’s program manager for the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbine engine, has said that:
“We spent about $17 million on facilities upgrades… Most of it was specifically and uniquely required for the JSF engine — things other legacy programs haven’t had to have before.” Engine test program costs here, ranging from facility upgrades that began here in 2001, through Operational Capability Release, are nearly $200 million according to Albro.
Nov 16/06: BAE Systems is using a new high-precision machining tool from StarragHeckert of Switzerland at the Company’s F-35 site in Samlesbury, UK. The new 5-axis machine immediately went into production, machining a titanium component that will sit in the F-35’s aft fuselage. A second 5-axis StarragHeckert machine is scheduled for installation by the end of the year. Machining metals like titanium is very difficult, especially at the precision levels required in a plane like the F-35. See also DID’s Nov 17/05 coverage re: titanium machining innovations by Stork NV and their resulting contract from Pratt & Whitney for engine components.
Tom Fillingham, BAE Systems managing director, F-35 Lightning II said: “Although we are still in the System Development & Demonstration (SDD) phase, which will see us deliver 23 aircraft over the next 3 years, we are already working to a schedule that requires a new aircraft to start assembly every 4 weeks “a rate which is more akin to production phases of a programme… As we are increasing the rate at which we start to assemble the aircraft, BAE Systems and the supply chain have to supply more components, hence we need additional capability and capacity.”
Additional Readings & Sources
DID Spotlight – The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy. Can the aircraft hold its own against existing fighter competitors like the Russian SU-30 family, French Rafale, the Eurofighters flown by Saudi Arabia, et. al.?
Aerospaceweb – F-35 JSF Weapon Carriage Capacity. Good discussion of the 3 versions and their specific limiting factors.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program site. For other news that includes testing results and other areas not covered by contracts, see the news section.
Lockheed Martin – F-35 Lightning II. Includes sections covering topics such as Earned Value Management, testing, partnerships, manufacturing, et. al.
UK Parliamentary Defence Committee. An important source of information re: Tier 1 partner Britain’s future participation in the F-35 program.
Martin Baker – US16E – JSF. The plane’s ejection seat. See the “F-35 Program: Ancillary and Sub-contracts” section’s Nov 12/07 entry for further details that explain why this was such a challenging design.
Lockheed Martin Code One magazine (Q2 2006) – The New Front Office: A Whole New View For Joint Strike Fighter Pilots. Describes the new cockpit and its related technologies.
US Government Accountability Office (April 2/07, #GAO-07-415) – “Tactical Aircraft: DOD Needs a Joint and Integrated Investment Strategy.” They are not optimistic re: current Pentagon plans for its future TacAir mix of F-22s, F-35s and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
US Government Accountability Office (March 22/07 #GAO-07-656T) – “Analysis of Costs for the Joint Strike Fighter Engine Program.” GAO concludes that keeping both engine programs going is likely to offer net financial benefits, even when the extra cost of development is considered.
US Government Accountability Office (March 15/07, #GAO-07-360) – Joint Strike Fighter: Progress Made and Challenges Remain. The strategy of buying aircraft before testing is complete was flagged as especially risky; AFA’s magazine has the USAF’s opposing view on that score.
The Dutch Rekenkamer/ Court of Audit (Oct 11/06) – Monitoring the Procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter [Web page with links | Full report in English, PDF format]. Covers subjects ranging from the auditing challenges on international programs to program cost and risks, to Dutch industrial participation. Its overall tone can be fairly described as cautionary, and it presents the F-35 as a risky investment. See also DID, “Dutch Rekenkamer Issues F-35 JSF Program Report.”
RAND Pacific View 2008 briefing – Full document. This analysis does not deal with the F-35 directly, but looks at the core assumptions underlying the USA’s fighter doctrine of stealth and beyond visual range engagement. It is reported that one of its key analysts was fired in retaliation for its conclusions, once they became public.
Anthony G Williams – Will The Fighter Gun Survive? Looks at the case for having guns on aircraft, then looks at the performance of various systems around the world. Both Boeing & Lockheed Martin originally specified the Mauser 27mm cannon for the F-35. The program later changed to the American GAU-12 rotary that equips the AV-8B Harrier, and is now being phased out of use on the AC-130 Specter fleet.
LiveScience.com – New Fighter Jet: Controversial Future of the U.S. Fleet. Generaly positive article, goes into considerable technical detail regarding a number of F-35 capabilities, including DAS, datalinks, and trans-sonic performance which is contrasted with the F-15’s.
Flight International (Oct 15/08) – US defence policy – and F-35 – under attack. Pulls together criticisms from RAND, CSIS, and other sources that involve the F-35 as part of a broader critique of USAF force modernization policy.
Center for Strategic and International Studies (Oct 2/08) – America’s Self-Destroying Air Power – Becoming Your Own Peer Threat [DID coverage & links]. A sharp critique of US force modernization plans, of which the F-35 program is one key component. In political terms, CSIS is a centrist and non-partisan think-tank.
CDI (Sept 8/08) – Joint Strike Fighter: The Latest Hotspot in the U.S. Defense Meltdown. A highly critical article from the left-wing think tank.
US Air Force Magazine (September 2006) – Struggling for Altitude. Offers insights into several aspects of the F-35 program, including their disagreement with the US GAO’s “fly before you buy” recommendation and its effects if adopted, explanations re: plans to keep the plane’s electronics current despite the rapid evolution of computer technology, self-diagnostics, features like seeing “through” the plane for vertical landings, and potential buyers. The article is on less solid ground when it quotes sources claiming that the F-35 will be the second best air-air fighter in the world – without any evidence offered.
Flight International (June 28/06) – First Strike: Flight International JSF Special. A very informative tour of F-35 production and key decisions to be made. Articles include “The Mating Game,” describing key wing-fuselage changes to save weight, and “Who Will Be Building JSF” which discusses the international production arrangements and issues.
DID (May 11/06) – Norway Remains in F-35’s SDD Program But Evaluates Other Aircraft. DID lists the official competitors. See also Norwegian reader Endre Lunde’s in-depth guest article “Norway’s Future Fighter Competition: A Norwegian View.”
DID (March 10/06) – F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: UK Update. Britain has its Plan B if the JSF doesn’t work out… France’s Rafale.
DID (March 3/06) – Norway to Back out of F-35 JSF Over Industrial Share? In the end, agreements were reached over the F-35, and a broader agreement was signed between the US and Britain in June 2007 to improve defense technology-sharing regulations.
DID (Aug 24/05) – $3.43B for F-35 JSF Engine Development. DID notes major contracts for development of the JSF’s F135 and F136 engines, and talks about their respective competitive strategies and progress.