Pentagon Says Decision on Full-Rate F-35 Jet Production Possibly Delayed Until 2021 (excerpt)
(Source: Reuters; published October 18, 2019)
By Mike Stone
The Pentagon says problems with the F-35’s simulators have delayed into 2021 a decision on full-rate production, but it is doubtful that the test fleet’s fully mission-capable rate of 11% instead of the required 80% played no role. (USAF photo)
WASHINGTON --- The Pentagon’s decision to move into a full-rate production contract for the F-35 jet, made by Lockheed Martin, could be delayed until 2021 because of issues integrating the jet with its testing and training simulators, an official said on Friday.

Full-rate production contracts are more lucrative for defense companies than low rate production contracts, suggesting larger payments for F-35 deliveries to Lockheed from the U.S. government and its allies could be delayed by as much as a year.

Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord told reporters she had signed off on a report that indicated the final decision on full-rate production could be delayed up to 13 months.

A decision on full-rate production had been expected this December.

“We are not making as quick progress on the joint simulation environment, integrating the F-35 into it,” Lord said.

The Joint Simulation Environment is a government-owned modeling and simulation facility that can be used for testing aircraft and flight systems as a supplement to open-air testing.

Click on the image to enlarge

This 2003 graphic shows the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program milestones before the program was re-baselined in 2010; the end of OT&E has now been delayed by a total of nine years compared to the original schedule. (DoD graphic)

A Lockheed Martin representative said the company was “confident the full F-35 enterprise is prepared for full-rate production and ready to meet growing customer demand.” (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Reuters website.

Click here for the full transcript of Lord’s press conference, on the DoD website.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Until it announced this latest delay on October 18, the Pentagon had been very close-mouthed on the F-35’s Independent Operational Test and Evaluation phase, which kicked off two months late on December 6 and was due to be completed by September.

The reason given for this latest, very substantial delay of at least 13 months is immature simulation – the first time that this issue has come up.

However, it has been clear since the summer that the IOT&E would be substantially delayed. In early August, POGO revealed that the IOT&E fleet of F-35s had an average full mission-capable rate of 11%, instead of the 80% required to keep to the schedule.

In other words, out of 23 test aircraft, just two were fully mission-capable instead of the 18 required to keep IOT&E on schedule – clearly enough of a shortfall to turn the schedule on its head.

But now, however, availability has disappeared as if by magic, and simulation problem that had not been previously mentioned appears, also as if by magic, to take the blame.

Given the Pentagon’s long history of dissembling about the F-35 program, and given the raft of official reports revealing its dismal availability rates, it is impossible not to wonder whether this simulation issue is not being conveniently used to hide the fact that the 13-month delay announced Oct. 18 is, in fact, due to insufficient aircraft availability.

Incidentally, the delay means the F-35’s nine-month IOT&E phase has suddenly turned into two years – possibly the longest ever for a US weapon system.)


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