F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II Program
The F-35 program of record for the US and UK held steady at 2,593 for four years, and those numbers were reaffirmed in the January 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. There were reports in early 2006 that the Air Force had an internal plan to ultimately reduce the number of joint strike fighters from 1,763 to somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200.
The JSF program was one of many defense programs reviewed as part of a broad Government Accountability Report in March 2007. In the report the GAO noted that JSF program data indicated that two of the system's eight critical technologies were mature, four were approaching maturity, but two were immature despite being past the design review. These critical technologies were mission systems integration and prognostics and health maintenance. Design stability was not reached by the design review, the two variants had released fewer design drawings (a measure of designs stability) than suggested by best practices and the program had not demonstrated the successful integration of the system. The program planned to enter production in 2007 with little demonstrated knowledge about performance and producibility. All three variants would not be in flight testing until 2 years after production began with a fully integrated aircraft in flight testing 4 years after testing begins. DoD organizations have raised concerns with the program highlighting cost, schedule, and performance risks.
Also cited in the 2007 report was that as of October 2006, JSF officials reported to the GAO that 91 percent of the short takeoff and vertical landing variant and 46 percent of the conventional variant drawings have been released. At the February 2006 design review, the program reported that 46 and 3 percent of the drawings had been released respectively, less than the best practices standard. Also, the program had not prototyped the expected designs or demonstrated the successful integration of the system. The program projected it would have released 47 percent of the carrier variant drawings at its design review in 2007. Issues with stabilizing the design have impacted the delivery of the first production representative aircraft by about 2 1/2 years.
The program was collecting information on the maturity of manufacturing processes. However, because the design had not been proven to work, the potential for design changes during flight testing weakened efforts to mature processes. A change in design could also require a change in the manufacturing processes, a costly proposition once production begins. The development uncertainties still facing the program were reflected in DoD's plans to use cost reimbursement contracts for initial production orders. The 7-year flight test program began in late 2006 and a fully integrated variant was scheduled to fly in 2011 leaving a significant time period where changes could occur. By 2011, DoD expected to have invested more than $20 billion in production aircraft. Further, manufacturing processes currently planned had not been proven. The first test aircraft (nonproduction representative) encountered inefficiencies requiring 32 percent more manufacturing hours to date than planned. Since entering manufacturing, the aircraft design and the manufacturing processes had changed substantially.
The GAO reported that since the program rebaseline in 2004, costs had increased more than $30 billion (then year dollars), delivery of the key development aircraft had slipped as much as 10 months with other development activities slipping as well. The contractor's cost performance had also decreased. Internal DoD organizations had expressed concerns about the program. A February 2006 operational assessment noted risks with the flight test schedule, software development, maintainability and mission effectiveness. DoD cost analyst and contract management officials had expressed concerns that costs to complete the program would be higher than estimates.
In response to the March 2007 GAO report the JSF program office said that for the third year, the GAO ignored F-35 successes, did not measure against the 2004 replan, and misapplied commercial best practices. The F-35, according to the PO was more mature than any comparable program at a similar development point. Advanced virtual prototyping tools would ensure structure, avionics and propulsion fit together before production. The first test aircraft was completed with unprecedented assembly fit and quality, problem-free power-on, rapid execution of engine and secondary-power tests and actual weight within 1 percent of predictions. Ten development aircraft were in manufacturing. Lab investment was substantially larger and earlier than in legacy programs promoting early risk burndown. The acquisition strategy provided the best balance of cost, schedule and risk via sequential development of variants and spiral blocks of mission capabilities. The GAO's approach would result in multibillion-dollar cost increases and significant legacy fleet impact.
The GAO countered that the evaluation did consider all pertinent information including JSF progress and program office technical comments on this assessment and found the JSF program consistently proceeding through critical junctures with knowledge gaps that exposed the program to significant risks. Like past programs that have followed this approach, the consequences were predictable as the JSF has continually missed its cost and schedule targets, even after the 2004 replan. If the program were to follow a knowledge-based approach it would lower risks allowing for more realistic cost and schedule estimates.
As of August 2007, the contractor said it had released 99 percent of planned engineering drawings for the short takeoff and vertical landing variant, 91 percent for the conventional takeoff and landing variant, and 46 percent for the carrier variant. All three variants fell significantly short of meeting the best practices standard of 90 percent of drawings released by the time of their critical design reviews, 46 percent for the short takeoff and landing variant, 43 percent for the carrier variant, and 3 percent for the conventional takeoff and landing variant. The late release of drawing had led to late parts deliveries, delaying the program schedule and forcing inefficient manufacturing processes. The program began production before delivering an aircraft representing the expected design.
Flight testing, which began in late 2006, was still in its infancy, with only 19 of some 5,500 planned flights completed as of November 2007. The JSF development program in 2001 was estimated to cost $34 billion with an aircraft average aircraft procurement unit cost of $69 million. The December 2007 estimated development cost was $44 billion -- a 30 percent increase -- and an aircraft average unit cost of $104 million -- a 50 percent increase per aircraft over 2001. And the initial operation capability date has slipped at least two years, to 2012.
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