F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II Program
As of March 2008 two of the eight JSF critical technologies were mature, three were nearing maturity, and three (mission systems integration, prognostics and health management, and manufacturing technologies) were still immature 6 years past the start of development. None of the variants demonstrated design stability at their design review, though two had met the standard by the time of the report. The program collected data to manage manufacturing maturity, but currently unproven processes and a lack of flight testing was of concern to the GAO because of a potentially costly future of changes to design and manufacturing processes. Program costs continued to increase and the schedule had slipped since the 2004 rebaseline. Very little flight testing occurred as of the report's publication and the first fully integrated aircraft was not expected to begin flight testing for at least 4 years. In 2007 DoD cut the number of test aircraft and flight test hours to maintain cost and schedule plans.
A fully integrated, capable aircraft was not expected to enter flight testing until 2012, increasing risks that problems could be found and would require design and production changes, as well as retrofit expenses for aircraft already built.
Since 2007, the JSF program office estimated that total acquisition costs increased by more than $23 billion, primarily because of higher estimated procurement costs. According to the GAO estimated procurement costs rose due to greater material costs, labor costs, and labor hours, a 7-year extension of the procurement schedule from FY27 to FY34, and a reduction in annual production rates. Development costs since the 2004 rebaseline had been stable largely because the program removed about $2.8 billion for risk reduction and an alternate engine program. Development costs were held constant by reducing requirements, eliminating the alternate engine program, and spending management reserve faster than budgeted. Facing a probable contract cost overrun, DOD implemented a Mid-Course Risk Reduction Plan to replenish management reserves from about $400 million to about $1 billion by reducing test resources. The program restructured development efforts to meet schedule and budget requirements. DoD cut the number of flight test aircraft and flight test sorties, putting greater reliance on the remaining flight test aircraft, as well as ground tests to free up funds to replace dwindling management reserves.
As in 2007, the US Air Force responded to the GAO report, and challenged its balance, use of best practices, and depiction of program status. They noted that the first aircraft was in flight test, included all major subsystems, and along with other aircraft in work was showing unprecedented assembly fit and quality improvements with each aircraft. They stated the flying test bed was flying mission systems software and reducing risk prior to their first flight on a JSF in early 2009, and all mission systems were maturing as planned. The final software block was planned to enter testing in 2011, and later blocks mainly incorporated sensor and weapons updates after lab testing. Officials asserted that data on design maturity and drawing release at critical design reviews were not accurately presented, saying drawing changes were very low compared to legacy systems. They said their plan for spiral blocks of capability balances cost, schedule and risk, while GAO's approach would have increased costs by billions and delayed delivery of capability to warfighters.
The GAO again responded by saying that JSF cost increases and schedule delays were indicative of a program that consistently proceeded through critical junctures with knowledge gaps that exposed the program to significant risks. The new plan to cut test assets and test activities was another example of adding risk.
In December 2008, the Defense Acquisition Executive (DAE) approved full fundingfor 7 Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft and engines, plus sustainment and associated equipment as part of the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 3 acquisition decision memorandum. In addition, the DAE approved full funding for seven STOVL aircraft plus sustainment and associated equipment contingent upon successful completion of the F135Pratt & Whitney lead engine Stress Test, Flight Test Engine 6 Proof Test and receipt of fullSTOVL flight clearance [which occurred on 30 January 2009].
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