Will the U.S. Retrofit Older F-35s to Fight or Buy New? (excerpt)
(Source: Aviation Week; posted Sep 20, 2017)
By Jen DiMascio
Paper Lightning? After having declared that two F-35 variants had reached Initial Operational Capability, and then deploying them to Europe and Asia, the Pentagon has finally had to admit that over half its F-35s cannot fly combat missions. (JPO photo)
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. --- Faced with a set of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that are too limited to fly in combat, the U.S. military is faced with the question of what to do with them—upgrade or buy new?
The F-35 Joint Program Office is on the cusp of a major increase in F-35 production of F-35s. In 2016, Lockheed Martin delivered 46 of the fighters. By the end of 2018, the company should be producing 130 per year, according to Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the program. And the rate of production will increase even further.
At the same time, the program is juggling multiple configurations of the aircraft—not just because there are Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy variants, but also because production began before flight tests were finished. That issue, known as concurrency, continues to bedevil the military’s ability to afford the program, as it will take a lot of work to bring some of the oldest F-35s up to the standard they will need to fight in combat.
“From a production perspective, we have literally 150 to 160 modifications (Emphasis added—Ed.)
that have to occur on some of our tails to get it to a Block 3 configuration,” Winter said during a Sept. 18 speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber conference here. “Our mods program is almost as exciting and dwarfing our production program.” (end of excerpt)
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Aviation Week Reader Comments Above Story
(Source: Don Bacon; posted Sep 20, 2017)
"We have literally 150 to 160 modifications that have to occur on some of our tails to get it to a Block 3 configuration."
That's disingenuous. As another reader said, the over 200 modifications include many problems, including structural ones, uncovered in testing, with the more rigorous tests yet to come. It's not a "Block 3 configuration" software problem.
The F-35 system is still deep in development with a lot of work yet to be done, including on ALIS, to enable the start of initial operational test and evaluation.
They don't know what the prototype plane actually costs (1) nor what the modification of the current crop of prototypes would cost to make them combat capable since the remaining testing will uncover the need for yet more modifications (2).
And it's not over yet, with more program delays while premature prototype manufacturing continues and even increases. The F-35 project office won't be able to provide 23 aircraft in a production representative configuration for initial operational test and evaluation scheduled to begin in February 2018, and it has no estimate of when it will be able to do so.
The important Milestone C production decision must be delayed beyond the current April 2019 date.
(1) The Pentagon’s director of defense pricing announced that his office would conduct a “deep dive” to find the “true cost” of the joint strike fighter prototype F-35 aircraft currently being manufactured.
(2) The JSF program executive officer has said that looming modification bills are threatening to suck resources from manufacturing costs of more than 900 prototype aircraft projected for delivery over the next five years.