The newest Pentagon restructuring of the $380 billion Joint Strike Fighter program will result in an overall cut of $6.9 billion through Fiscal 2016, according to F-35 program officials.
This money was removed from the production portion of the program; 124 aircraft will be cut from the U.S. buy of F-35s through Fiscal 2016 if Congress approves the plan laid out by Defense Secretary Robert Gates early this month (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 7).
The $6.9 billion cut from the production profile is on top of another $4.6 billion shifted from that account into research and development. “After funding the JSF [system design and development] program cost increase, approximately $6.9 billion was returned to the services over the Fiscal 2012-16 time frame,” according to Joe DellaVedova, director of public affairs for the government’s F-35 office. This money was dedicated to other service priorities, and does not reflect an overall reduction to the Pentagon’s topline in Fiscal 2012.
The United Sates is working with eight partner nations to develop the single-engine, stealthy F-35, which has three variants — conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), short takeoff and vertical landing (Stovl) and a carrier version (CV). This is the third major restructuring since Lockheed Martin won the development contract in 2001. At that time, development was thought to cost $38 billion; it is now estimated at $59.4 billion.
It remains unclear exactly what the $4.6 billion added to the development program will buy. But program officials say there is money “to address known discrete improvements to include propulsion lift system, durability and structuring testing shortfalls, training systems, pilot-vehicle interface upgrades and others,” DellaVedova says.
Several problems with Stovl are known, including cracking in a bulkhead and issues with the propulsion system.
Testing and fielding of the Stovl version was previously the priority for the program to provide much-needed AV-8B Harrier replacements to the Marine Corps. Because of the commonality among the variants, Stovl testing was expected to satisfy many requirements for testing of the F-35A/C. Now, however, Gates proposes to decouple Stovl flight testing from the CTOL and CV versions and prioritize work on A and C.
Developmental testing for the A and C versions would be extended by 10 months until the first quarter of 2016, with double the amount of time needed to shore up Stovl developmental testing. The 20 months added to Stovl developmental testing will go until the fourth quarter of Fiscal 2016 (which ends in September 2017).
It remains unclear when the CTOL variant will be released to international customers for use; that was slated for 2014.
DellaVedova describes each of the known problems for the F-35B Stovl jet as “readily solvable through engineering adjustments and then testing to validate sufficiency of the adjustment.” Among the issues now being worked are problems with the lift-fan clutch heating, thermal expansion of the lift-fan drive shaft and roll post heating (which takes place in the wing near where fuel is stored). Additionally, “selective redesign” of the lift-fan doors is likely necessary to “increase durability,” DellaVedova says.
Also in the $4.6 billion added to development is additional reserves, or “funding to address unknown items that may be discovered in developmental flight test,” DellaVedova says. The government added up to 500 additional flights for the program as margin to avoid the need for further restructurings; if all of those flights are not needed, the development and operational testing phase could end earlier, according to a program source.
Gates did not say during his press conference what must be done for Stovl to graduate from probation. Completion of the system design and development (SDD) phase, including developmental and operational testing, is being assessed as part of a detailed schedule that will be released later this year, DellaVedova says. An integrated baseline review is expected to take place in the fall.