F-35 Defects Must Be Fixed Before Full-Production, GAO Says (excerpt)
(Source: Bloomberg News; published June 5, 2018)
By Anthony Capaccio
The GAO reported Tuesday that DoD’s plan “to move into F-35 full-rate production without fixing key deficiencies brings into question the reliability and affordability of the aircraft.” (Navair file photo)
The Defense Department office that oversees the F-35 program was criticized by a government watchdog for its plans to delay fixing critical deficiencies on the fighter until after a decision to start full-rate production is made -- a move that won’t come before October 2019.
The F-35 -- the world’s most expensive weapons program -- had 966 “open deficiencies” as of January, the Government Accountability Office said in an annual report released Tuesday. (See next story below—Ed.)
Of those, at least 180 “will not be resolved before full-rate production” under the Pentagon office’s current plans, according to the report.
The production decision would commit the U.S. to building 77 or more of the Lockheed Martin Corp. aircraft per year over the next 12 years, up from 70 this year. Output would peak at 105 aircraft in 2023 at an annual cost of $13.4 billion and stay at that rate for six years. That makes it imperative for the Pentagon to fix the deficiencies before a decision about production -- the most profitable phase for Lockheed -- is made, the report said.
The troubled $406.5 billion F-35 is a next-generation fighter scheduled to end its 17-year-old development phase this year. Starting in September, the program is supposed to proceed to intense combat testing that’s likely to take a year, an exercise that is already at least 12 months late. Combat testing is necessary before the plane can be approved for full-rate production.
‘Rush’ to Finish Line
Over the past year, the Pentagon “has made progress in completing the F-35 development program,” GAO said. “However, in its rush to cross the finish line, the program has made some decisions that are likely to affect aircraft performance and reliability and maintainability for years to come.”
The GAO report broke down the shortfalls into two categories: Category 1 deficiencies are defined as “those that could jeopardize safety, security, or another critical requirement,” while Category 2 deficiencies “are those that could impede or constrain successful mission accomplishment.”
The report cited 111 Category 1 and 855 Category 2 deficiencies.
“If reliability targets are not met, the military services and the taxpayer will have to settle for aircraft that are less reliable, more costly, and take longer to maintain,” according to the GAO report. “Given that the program’s long-term affordability is already in question, ensuring the aircraft is reliable by each variant’s planned maturity is paramount.” (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Bloomberg News website.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Development Is Nearly Complete, but Deficiencies Found in Testing Need to Be Resolved
(Source: Government Accountability Office; issued Jun 5, 2018)
DOD is getting closer to completing the F-35 program, but DOD's plan to move into full-rate production without fixing key deficiencies brings into question the reliability and affordability of the aircraft.
DOD has already requested $9.8 billion for 2019 and will ask for about $10.4 billion more per year over the next two decades.
Congress should consider withholding funding from the next increment of F-35 development until DOD provides an independent cost estimate, a technology assessment, and takes other actions. In addition, we recommended that DOD resolve critical aircraft deficiencies before moving to full-rate production.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in completing the F-35 baseline development program, but plans to finish testing later than expected.
DOD plans to defer resolving some critical deficiencies found in testing until after its full-rate production decision in October 2019, even though DOD's policy states that critical deficiencies generally will be resolved before then. Program officials stated it is reasonable to resolve some deficiencies while in production. Any associated rework could result in additional costs to the government.
DOD plans to spend billions of dollars to modernize the F-35 with new capabilities and is requesting $278 million to begin that process before establishing a sound business case—a baseline cost and schedule estimate.
This timing could prompt Congress to make a funding decision before DOD can provide its business case. With these funds, DOD can award a contract, making a long-term commitment to Block 4, the costs of which are not fully understood.
Why GAO Did This Study
In 2019, DOD will decide whether to enter full-rate production for the F-35 aircraft, the most expensive and ambitious weapon acquisition program in U.S. military history. DOD has already requested the $9.8 billion it will need for 2019, and it will continue to request more over the next two decades—about $10.4 billion annually. However, the F-35 is just one program in DOD's vast acquisition portfolio, raising questions about its long-term affordability.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision for GAO to review the F-35 acquisition program until it reaches full-rate production. This is GAO's third report under this provision. It assesses progress of development and testing, including remaining deficiencies, and plans for spending on new capabilities.
To conduct this work, GAO reviewed and analyzed management reports and historical test data; discussed key aspects of F-35 development with program management and contractor officials; and compared acquisition plans to DOD policies and GAO acquisition best practices.
What GAO Recommends
Congress should consider providing in future appropriations that no funds shall be available for obligation for F-35 Block 4 until DOD provides a sound business case for the effort. GAO is making two recommendations to DOD, including that it resolve all critical deficiencies before full-rate production. DOD concurred with both recommendations and cited that it would resolve all critical deficiencies before its full-rate production decision.
Click here for the full report (55 PDF pages) on the GAO website.