WASHINGTON --- Fatigue testing and analysis are turning up so many potential cracks and "hot spots" in the Joint Strike Fighter's airframe that the production rate of the F-35 should be slowed further over the next few years, the program's head declared in an interview.
"The analyzed hot spots that have arisen in the last 12 months or so in the program have surprised us at the amount of change and at the cost," Vice Adm. David Venlet said in an interview at his office near the Pentagon. "Most of them are little ones, but when you bundle them all up and package them and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs.
“I believe it's wise to sort of temper production for a while here until we get some of these heavy years of learning under our belt and get that managed right. And then when we've got most of that known and we've got the management of the change activity better in hand, then we will be in a better position to ramp up production."
Venlet also took aim at a fundamental assumption of the JSF business model: concurrency. The JSF program was originally structured with a high rate of concurrency -- building production model aircraft while finishing ground and flight testing -- that assumed less change than is proving necessary.
"Fundamentally, that was a miscalculation," Venlet said. "You'd like to take the keys to your shiny new jet and give it to the fleet with all the capability and all the service life they want.
“What we're doing is, we're taking the keys to the shiny new jet, giving it to the fleet and saying, 'Give me that jet back in the first year. I've got to go take it up to this depot for a couple of months and tear into it and put in some structural mods, because if I don't, we're not going to be able to fly it more than a couple, three, four, five years.' That's what concurrency is doing to us."
But he added: "I have the duty to navigate this program through concurrency. I don't have the luxury to stand on the pulpit and criticize and say how much I dislike it and wish we didn't have it. My duty is to help us navigate through it."
Lockheed Martin, prime contractor on the Pentagon's biggest program, has been pushing hard to increase the production rate, arguing its production line is ready and it has reduced problems on the line to speed things up. Speeding up production, of course, would boost economies of scale and help lower the politically sensitive price per plane.
But slowing production would help reduce the cost of replacing parts in jets that are being built before testing is complete, Venlet said. Although fatigue testing has barely begun -- along with "refined analysis" -- it's already turned up enough parts that need to be redesigned and replaced in jets already built that the changes may add $3 million to $5 million to each plane's cost. (end of excerpt)
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