F-35 Lightning: The Joint Strike Fighter Program
November 13/17: Testing BAE Systems announced the successful conclusion of durability testing of its F-35A airframe. The completion is the culmination of the F-35A’s third life testing at BAE Systems’ testing facility in East Yorkshire in England, which is equivalent to 24,000 hours of “flying,” and easily exceeds the F-35 programme requirement of a service life of 8,000 flight hours. The F-35B and F-35C durability test airframes already have completed 16,000 hour second life testing, with additional tests being conducted to maximize the life of the aircraft. Known officially as AJ-1, the F-35A airframe is designed to operate from conventional runways and is the only F-35 variant to carry an internal cannon.
November 13/17: Contracts The US Navy released Thursday a $34.6 million award to Lockheed Martin for integration work with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and small-diameter bomb (SDB) II. Under the terms of the deal, Lockheed will carry out weapons capabilities technology maturation and risk reduction pre-engineering, manufacturing and development activities for dual-capability F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft and small-diameter bomb 2 (SDB-II) in support of the Marine Corps and Air Force. Work will take place at Fort Worth, Texas, with a scheduled completion time of July 2018.
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The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE) Lightning jet. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.
The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.
The F-35 Lightning II Fighter Family
F-35 Family Variants: Door A, B, or C?
The above table illustrates the key differences between the baseline F-35A, the Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) capable F-35B, and the catapult-launched F-35C naval variant. Additional explanations follow.
The F-35A CTOL
The F-35A is sometimes called the CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) version. It’s the USAF’s version, and is expected to make up most of the plane’s export orders. It’s also expected to be the least expensive F-35, in part because it will have the largest production run. The USAF currently estimates its average flyaway cost after 2017 at $108.3 million, but early production models ordered in FY 2012 will cost over $150 million.
Its main difference from other versions is its wider 9g maneuverability limits, though its air-air combat flight benchmarks are only on par with the F-16. Canard equipped “4+ generation” adversaries like the Eurofighter, and thrust-vectored fighters like the F-22A, MiG-35, SU-35, etc., will still enjoy certain kinetic advantages. The F-35 hopes to mitigate them using its improved stealth to shrink detection ranges, the lack of drag from weapons in its internal bays, and its current electronic superiority.
The second major physical difference between the F-35A and the rest of the Lightning family is its internal 25mm cannon, instead of using a weapons station for a semi-stealthy gun pod option. The USAF removed guns from some of its planes back in the 1960s, and didn’t enjoy the resulting experiences in Vietnam. It has kept guns on all of its fighters ever since, including the stealthy F-22 and F-35. Many allies wanted the 27mm Mauser cannon installed instead, as it’s widely believed to offer the world’s best combination of firing rate and hitting power. In the end, however, ammunition standardization benefits involving 25mm land and sea platforms trumped pure performance.
The 3rd difference is that the F-35A uses a dorsal refueling receptacle that is refueled using an aerial tanker boom, instead of the probe-and-drogue method favored by the US Navy and many American allies.
The F-35A was the first variant to fly, in 2009. Unfortunately, it looks like it won’t reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) until 2017 or 2018.
The F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing)
The F-35B is expected to be the most expensive Lightning II fighter variant. According to US Navy documents, even planes bought after 2017 are expected to have an average flyaway cost of $135 million each. It will serve the US Marines, Royal Navy, other navies with ski-ramp equipped LHDs or small carriers, and militaries looking for an “expeditionary airplane” that can take off in short distances and land vertically. To accomplish this, the F-35B has a large fan behind the cockpit, and nozzles that go out to the wing undersides. Unlike the F-35A, it will use a retractable mid-air refueling probe, which is standard for the US Navy and for many American allies.
Those capabilities gives the plane a unique niche, but a unique niche also means unique challenges, and the responses to those challenges have changed the aircraft. In 2005, the JSF program took a 1-year delay because the design was deemed overweight by about 3,000 pounds. The program decided to reduce weight rather than run the engine hotter, because the latter choice would have sharply reduced the durability of engine components and driven life cycle costs higher. Weight cutting became a focus of various engineering teams, with especial focus on the F-35B because the weight was most critical to that design. Those efforts pushed the F-35B’s design, and changed its airframe. The F-35B gives up some range, some bomb load (it cannot carry 2,000 pound weapons internally, and the shape of its bay may make some weapons a challenge to carry), some structural strength (7g maneuvers design maximum), and the 25mm internal gun.
The F-35B completed its Critical Design Review in October 2006, and the 2nd production F-35 was a STOVL variant. Per the revised Sept 16/10 program plan, the USMC’s VMA-332 in Yuma, AZ must have 10 F-35Bs equipped with Block IIB software, with 6 aircraft capable of austere and/or ship-based operations, and all aircraft meeting the 7g and 50-degree angle of attack specifications, in order to declare Initial Operational Capability.
Flight testing began in 2009, and IOC was expected by December 2012, but flight testing fell way behind thanks to a series of technical delays. By 2013, the first operational planes were fielded to the USMC at Yuma, AZ. The USMC is currently aiming for a 2015 IOC, but it would involve just Block 2B software loads that will limit the F-35B’s combat capability. Even then, the Pentagon’s 2012 DOT&E report isn’t grounds for software schedule optimism. Planes with full Block 3 initial combat capability are unlikely to be fielded before 2018.
The F-35C carrier-based fighter
The F-35C is instantly recognizable. It features 30% more wing area than other designs, with larger tails and control surfaces, plus wingtip ailerons. These changes provide the precise slow-speed handling required for carrier approaches, and extend range a bit. The F-35C’s internal structure is strengthened to withstand the punishment dished out by the catapult launches and controlled crashes of carrier launch and recovery, an arrester hook is added to the airframe, and the fighter gets a retractable refueling probe. According to US Navy documents, average flyaway costs for F-35Cs bought after 2017 will be $125.9 million each.
The US Navy gave up the internal gun, and the aircraft will be restricted to 7.5g maneuvers. That’s only slightly lower than the existing F/A-18E Super Hornet’s 7.6g, but significantly lower than the 9g limit for Dassault’s carrier-capable Rafale-M.
The F-35C is expected to be the US Navy’s high-end fighter, as well as its high-end strike aircraft. This means that any performance or survivability issues will have a disproportionate effect on the US Navy’s future ability to project power around the world.
The F-35C will be the last variant designed; it passed its Critical Design Review in June 2007, and the first production version was scheduled to fly in January 2009. The F-35C’s rollout did not take place until July 2009, however, and first flight didn’t take place until June 2010. Initial Operational Capability was scheduled for 2014, but looks set to slip to 2019.
F-35s: Key Features
Stealth. The F-35 is designed as an ‘affordable stealth’ counterpart to the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter, one that can share “first day of the war” duties against defended targets but can’t perform air-air or air-ground missions to the same standard. The F-35 has a larger single engine instead of the Raptor’s twin thrust-vectoring F119s, removing both supercruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability options. The F-22A is also a much stealthier aircraft from all angles, and independent analysis & modeling has concluded that the F-35’s stealth will be weaker from the sides and the rear. Even so, the F-35 is an improvement over existing ‘teen series’ fighters and even beats Generation 4+ options like the Eurofighter, Rafale, and JAS-39 Gripen.
Engine. The F-35 was set to offer interchangeable engine options. That has been an important feature for global F-16 and F-15 customers, improving both costs and performance, and providing added readiness insurance for dual-engine fleets. Pratt & Whitney’s lobbying eventually forced GE & Rolls-Royce’s F136 out of the F-35 program, and made their F135-PW-100 engine the only choice for global F-35 fleets. A special F-135-PW-600 version with Rolls Royce’s LiftFan add-on, and a nozzle that can rotate to point down, will power the vertical-landing F-35B.
The US military had better hope that an engine design problem never grounds all of their fighters. While they’re at it, they should hope that maintenance contracts somehow remain reasonable in the absence of any competitive alternative.
Sensors. The Lightning II will equipped to levels that would once have defined a high-end reconnaissance aircraft. Its advanced APG-81 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar is smaller and less powerful than the F-22A’s APG-77v1; but still offers the strong AESA advantages of simultaneous air-air and air-ground capabilities, major maintenance & availability improvements, and secure, high-bandwidth communications benefits. The F-35 also shares a “sensor fusion” design advance with the F-22, based on sensors of various types embedded all around the airframe. This sensor set is even more extensive than the F-22’s. Both planes will be able to perform as reconnaissance aircraft, though the F-35 will have superior infrared and ground-looking sensors. Both aircraft will also have the potential to act as electronic warfare aircraft.
These sensors are connected to a lot of computing power, in order to create single-picture view that lets the pilot see everything on one big 20″ LCD screen and just fly the plane, rather than pushing buttons to switch from one view to another and trying to figure it all out. As part of that sensor fusion, the F-35 will be the first plane is several decades to fly without a heads-up display. Instead, pilots will wear Elbit/Rockwell’s JHMDS helmet or BAE’s HMSS, and have all of that information projected wherever they look.
Maintenance. The F-35 has a large number of design features that aim to simplify maintenance and keep life cycle costs down. Since operations and maintenance are usually about 65% or more of a fighter’s lifetime cost, this is one the most important and overlooked aspects of fighter selection.
Stealth aircraft have always had much higher maintenance costs, but the F-35’s designers hope that new measures can reverse that trend. Some of the plane’s stealth coatings are being baked into composite airplane parts, for instance, in the hope that customers will need fewer “Martians” (Materials Application and Repair Specialists) around to apply stealth tapes and putties before each mission. Technical innovations like self-diagnosing aircraft wiring aim to eliminate one of the toughest problems for any mechanic, and the fleet-wide ALIS information and diagnostic system is designed to shift the fleet from scheduled maintenance to maintenance only as needed.
Despite these measure, March 2012 operations and maintenance projections have the F-35 at 142% O&M cost, relative to any F-16s they’ll replace. It remains to be seen if the advantages of F-35 innovations manage to fulfill their promise, or if projections that they’ll be outweighed in the end by increased internal complexity, and by the proliferation of fault-prone electronics, come true. That has certainly been the general trend over the last 50 years of fighter development, with a very few notable exceptions like the F-16, A-10, and JAS-39.
Pimp My Ride: Weapons & Accessories
The F-35’s internal weapon bay gives it the ability to carry larger bombs and missiles, but the price is that F-35s can carry just 2 internal air-to-air weapons, instead of a maximum of 8 on the F-22A. As the F-35 variant table (Fig. 1) shows, development, testing, and software issues have also combined to give initial F-35 fleets a very narrow set of weapons. The initial operational set that comes with Block III software has about the same weapon options as the single-role F-22A.
That’s expected to change, eventually. A large order base, and a wide international client base, will provide considerable incentive for manufacturers to qualify their weapons for the F-35. MBDA has already pledged a compatible version of its long-range Meteor air-air missile, for instance, and Britain wants to add MBDA’s SPEAR medium-range strike missile as soon as possible. Other manufacturers can be expected to follow. Norway is already developing its stealthy Joint Strike Missile with the F-35 as its explicit target, including the ability to fit the missile into the plane’s internal bays. Denmark’s Terma has turned their 25mm gun pod into a multi-mission pod that can accept a variety of sensors and equipment. Lockheed Martin’s Israeli customer is already incorporating its own electronic counter-measures systems in their F-35i, and they are certain to push for a range of Israeli weapons, including the Python-5 SRAAM(Short Range Air-to-Air Missile) and various other smart bombs and missiles.
The bottlenecks will be two-fold.
The 1st bottleneck is American insistence on retaining all source codes, and having Lockheed Martin perform all modifications at their reprogramming facility. Unless Lockheed produces a full development environment workaround, dealing with the growing queue of requests can easily become a problem. The firm’s new Universal Armament Interface could offer the foundation for a way forward, if they decide to take it. The other question involves conflict-of-interest issues, in which Lockheed Martin or the US government decides to use the bottleneck as a way of shutting competitors out of a potential export market. These kinds of concerns have already led to pushback in Australia, Britain, and Israel.
The 2nd bottleneck involves testing resources. The F-35 testing program has fallen significantly behind schedule, and IOCs for some versions have already slipped by 5-6 years. Test time required to qualify new equipment is going to be a very secondary priority until 2018-2019, and even the few customers buying their own Initial Operational Testing & Evaluation (IOT&E) fighters are going to need them for their assigned training roles.
The F-35 Family: Controversies and Competitions
The program’s biggest controversies revolve around 3 issues: effectiveness, affordability, and control. A 4th issue, noise, isn’t significant yet, but could become so.
Effectiveness: When the F-35 Lightning II is compared with the larger and more expensive F-22A, the Raptor is a much stealthier aircraft, and its stealth is more uniform. The F-35’s design is optimized for “low-observable” stealth when viewed from the front, with less stealth to radars looking at it from the sides, and less still when targeted from the rear. It also lacks the Raptor’s supercruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability thrust-vectoring options, which work with stealth to help the F-22 engage and disengage from combat at will. Lockheed Martin claims that the F-35 design is optimized for trans-sonic acceleration, but testing results question those claims, and the Raptor can cruise without afterburners at the F-35’s theoretical maximum speed. That’s important, because fuel usage skyrockets with afterburners on, limiting total supersonic time for fighters like the F-35.
These relative drawbacks have led to questions about the F-35’s continued suitability against the most modern current air defense threats, and against the evolved threats it can expect to face over a service lifetime that’s expected to stretch until 2050 at least.
Where the F-35 does come out ahead is internal carriage space. F-35A/C variants will offer larger capacity internal bays for weapons, allowing a wider selection of stealth-preserving internal ordnance. The price is that slight bulges were added to the production F-35’s underside profile in order to accommodate that space, making them less stealthy from the side than the original X-35 designs.
Sensors are another F-35 advantage. All F-35s also boast more embedded sensors than the F-22, with an especial advantage in infrared and ground-looking sensors. Though this feature has yet to be tested in combat, the F-35’s all-aspect Distributed Aperture Sensors (DAS) reportedly allow 360-degree targeting of aircraft around the F-35. If that works, the inertial guidance and datalink features of modern infrared missiles like the AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-132 ASRAAM can already take full advantage of it.
Which customers can live with these relative disadvantages as an acceptable trade-off, and which will be badly hurt by them? Will the F-35 be a fighter that’s unable to handle high-end scenarios, while also being far too expensive to field and operate in low-end scenarios? Even if that’s true, could countries who want one type of multi-role fighter still be best served by the F-35, as opposed to other options? That will depend, in part, on…
Affordability: The F-35 family was designed to be much more affordable than the F-22, but a number of factors are narrowing that gap.
One is cost growth in the program. This has been documented by the GAO, and statements and reports from the US DoD are beginning to follow the same kind of “rising spiral of admissions” pattern seen in past programs.
The 2nd is loss of parts commonality between the 3 models, which the GAO has cited as falling below the level required to produce significant savings. In March 2013, the JSF PEO placed the figure at just 25-30%.
A 3rd is production policy. The US GAO in particular believes that the program’s policy of beginning production several years before testing is complete, only adds to the risks of future price hikes and operating cost shocks. It also forces a lot of expensive rewaork to jets that are bought before problems are found. Part of the rationale for accepting concurrency risks and costs involves…
The 4th factor: lateness. The program as a whole is about 5-7 years behind its ideal point, relative to the replacement cycle for fighters around the globe. F-35 program customers thus find themselves in the unenviable position of having to commit to a fighter that hasn’t completed testing, and doesn’t have reliable future purchase or operating costs, while buying the expensive way from early production batches. The program office hopes to drop the flyaway price of an F-35A to $90 million by 2020, but current Pentagon budget documents list an average production cost of $105-120 million per F-35A-C, from 2017 to the end of the program.
Control: This has been a big issue in the past for customers like Britain and Australia, and has now become an issue for Israel as well. Without control over software source codes, integration of new weapons and algorithms can be controlled by the whims and interests of American politicians and defense contractors. On the other hand, America sees wider access to those fundamental building blocks as a security risk. Arrangements with Britain and Australia appear to have finessed this debate, without removing it.
Noise: The F135 engine’s size and power are unprecedented in a fighter, but that has a corollary. Environmental impact studies in Florida showed that the F-35A is approximately twice as noisy as the larger, twin-engine F-15 fighter, and over 3.5 times as noisy as the F-16s they’re scheduled to replace. That has led to noise complaints from local communities in the USA and abroad, and seems likely to create a broad swathe of local political issues as customers deploy them. In some countries, it may add costs, as governments are forced to compensate or even to buy out nearby homeowners affected by the noise.
Each customer must weigh the issues above against its own defense and industrial needs, and come to a decision. In-depth, updated DID articles that address some of these issues in more detail include:
- The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy. A comprehensive look at the issue, and its consequences.
- F-35: I am Fighter, Hear Me Roar. Noise could become a serious political issue for the F-35.
- The Great Engine War II The Pentagon finally canceled GE/RR’s F136 alternative engine project to rely entirely on Pratt & Whitney’s F135, over the objections of its GAO auditors.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: The Program
Is the F-35 an industrial program for a fighter, or a fighter with an industrial program? Beyond the initial competition between Lockheed Martin’s X-35 and Boeing’s X-32, the Joint Strike Fighter was envisioned from the outset as a program that would make sense using either interpretation. A wide set of consortium partners and national government investments would form an interlocking set of commitments, drawing on a wide range of global industrial expertise and making the program very difficult for any one party to back out of or cancel.
The JSF program is ‘tiered,’ with 4 possible levels of participation based on admission levels and funding commitments for the System Design & Development (SDD) phase. All Tier 1-3 nations have also signed MoUs for the Production Phase. This is not a commitment to buy, just the phase in which production arrangements are hammered out – subject to revision, of course, if that country decides not to buy F-35s. Consortium partners and customers to date include:
- Tier 1 Partners: The USA (majority commitment), Britain
- Tier 2 Partners: Italy; The Netherlands
- Tier 3 Partners: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Turkey
- Security Cooperative Participants status: Israel (20-75), Singapore.
- Exports: Japan (42).
Italy has expressed an interest in a Lockheed-Martin Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) plant for European orders, and Fellow Tier 1 partner Britain is examining a FACO of its own for BAE. The Netherlands, meanwhile, wants to be a center for engine sustainment and heavy maintenance. The Dutch have signed an agreement with Italy to help each country get what it wants; Norway was added to that agreement in June 2007.
The first test aircraft, an F-35A model AA-1, had its formal rollout on July 7/06. The F-35’s forced redesign for weight reasons has led to F-35 AA-1 being a unique airframe used to validate design, manufacturing, assembly and test processes. A total of 23 test aircraft will be built for various purposes (15 flight, 7 non-flight, 1 radar signature), but the exact order of build for the variants involved has shifted several times.
The testing phase was originally supposed to end in 2013, but is now officially scheduled to continue until 2018. Funding for the first sets of production-model aircraft is approved, parts fabrication began in June 2007, and component assembly began later in 2007. F-35As have already been delivered to the USAF – a sore point with the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office, which believes this dual-track approach overlapping testing with production increases project risks. Production will continue to ramp up year-to-year, and by the time the F-35 is expected to reach Full-Rate Production, the program intends to build 240 F-35s per year.
To do that, they’ll need orders. So far, only the USA, Israel, and Japan have placed orders for production F-35s that go beyond training & test aircraft.
Delays in fielding the initial set of test aircraft, fewer than expected flights, and questions about that ambitious ramp up schedule have reportedly led the Pentagon to re-examine these schedules. Development is now expected to last into FY 2019 or later.
At present, F-35 production is led by Lockheed Martin, with BAE and Northrop-Grumman playing major supporting roles, and many subcontractors below that.
BAE Systems is deriving substantial benefits from Britain’s Tier 1 partner status, and Northrop Grumman is responsible for the F-35’s important ‘center barrel’ section, where the wings attach to the fuselage, and also provides many of the aircraft’s key sensors.
F-35 main production and final assembly is currently slated to take place in Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, TX plant. To cut F-35 production cycle time, the team produces major sections of the aircraft at different feeder plants, and “mates” the assemblies at Fort Worth. This is normal in the auto industry, but it’s a departure from the usual fighter-building process.
The precise tolerances required for a stealthy fighter, however, are much more exacting than even high-end autos. In order to avoid subtly mismatched seams, which become radar reflection points, parts need to fit together so precisely that some machines are compensating for the phases of the moon!
Even the best machines won’t do any good if the various components aren’t already an excellent fit. To cope, Manufacturing Business Technology reports that the JSF manufacturing team has turned to an integrated back-end IT system. It begins with 3D engineering models (Dassault Systemes CATIA CAD), and extends into production management, where the company has rolled out a manufacturing execution system to handle electronic work instructions, workflow and process modeling, serialized parts data, quality records tracking, etc. (Visiprise).
This combination has enabled greater use of techniques like automated drilling, even as other software (Siemens PLM, TeamCenter) enables product record management and electronic collaboration around designs. On the back-end, the team uses a custom system it calls Production & Inventory Optimization System (PIOS) for manufacturing resources planning and supply chain management; it began using ERP software (SAP) in January 2008 for financials, and may eventually use it to handle supply-chain functions too.
This ‘digital thread’ has been very successful for the team, with part fits showing incredible precision, and successful coordination of plants around the end schedule for key events like the Dec 18/07 F-35B rollout. The system’s ultimate goal is to cut a plane’s production cycle time from the usual 27-30 months to about 12 months, and shrink a 15-20 day cycle to just 6-8 days from order creation to printed & matched manufacturing orders.
The F-35’s development and testing program was originally supposed to end in 2013. Current estimates involve a 2018 finish for all 3 models, with Block 3F software installed and a smaller set of integrated weapons than initially planned.
The F-35’s development schedule has steadily slipped, and a combination of development and production difficulties left Lockheed Martin significantly behind their planned testing schedule. The company has made a point of highlighting testing progress in 2012, as they finally got ahead of the annual curve:
Staying ahead of planned testing points and flights is laudable, but it doesn’t guarantee that the fighter itself is ahead of where it should be on the development curve. Bringing test points forward from future years can keep the numbers even. It won’t solve issues like late software delivery, which is preventing F-35s from fulfilling a number of planned testing points, and makes any combat related testing useless. The F-35s will also need changes in a number of areas, from their horizontal stabilizers to the F-35B’s complex system of lift fans and doors. Those changes will require further testing afterward, adding more test points to the program each time an issue is found. The table below outlines key issues as of 2012, and both of these testing-related datasets are available for download by subscribers:
F-35 JSF: Programs by Country
The F-35 is a multinational program, and one of its challenges involves keeping all of the program’s partners moving forward. Each partner has its own issues, and increasingly, its own timeline.
Since early-production fighters can add 50-100% to the cost of full-rate production planes, most of these timelines are determined by how cost-sensitive each customer is.
Home Base: The American Program
In many ways, the American F-35 program sets the tone for all others. Countries that want the F-35, like Japan, are already seeing price hikes because of American decisions to slow initial F-35 production. Current per-plane costs are over $120 million, with initial spares and training infrastructure added on top of that. That price is expected to come down, but it requires volume orders. That means someone has to spend the money, and right now, that someone is the USA.
This leaves the United States on the horns of a dilemma.
One nightmare scenario is a fate similar to the high-end F-22A Raptor, which was initially supposed to field 1,000 fighters, but ended up producing just 183 thanks to spiraling development costs, unexpected upgrade costs, and production costs that never benefited from full economies of scale. Cuts led to continued high prices, which led to more cuts. That scenario would spell disaster for other F-35 customers, who would end up paying far more per plane than they had expected. Some would then defect, driving up prices again for the countries who remained.
The other nightmare scenario for the USA involves significant problems discovered in testing, which then require costly and extensive retrofits to the 400+ F-35 fighters that will be produced before the test program ends. This parallel test/production model has been the subject of heavy criticism from the US government’s GAO auditors. It’s a form of “political engineering” designed to make cancellation too expensive for politicians, even if it leads to sharply higher final costs, or hurts the future fleet.
American purchase decisions can be described as a balancing act between these nightmares. If they spend too much money ramping up production, other countries are more likely to buy as prices drop, but the USAF could be on the hook for a huge retrofit bill that it can’t afford. If they throttle their efforts back too far in order to avoid retrofit risk, it makes defections by existing JSF partners more likely, and hurts the fighter’s chances of landing export sales.
Lockheed Martin has tried to thread this needle by getting multiple JSF consortium members to commit to a joint buy, in order to create a big enough pool of secure orders to drive down purchase costs for everyone. So far, they’ve been unable to get the signatures they need.
Meanwhile, past and planned American F-35 budgets for all variants are graphed below, with an Excel download as a bonus. Note that R&D forecasts aren’t yet published as a single figure beyond FY 2013:
Australia (Tier 3)
Australia was originally going to replace its long-range F-111 fighter-bomber and F/A-18 AM/BM Hornet fighter fleets with a single fleet of 100 F-35A aircraft. Current plans for the F-35 are less clear. A change of governing parties hasn’t shifted Australia’s long-term commitment to the F-35A yet, but rising costs could do so.
In November 2009, the Government approved funding for Phase 2A/B (Stage 1) to acquire 14 F-35As, at a cost of about A$ 2.75 billion. In October 2010, they formally submitted a Partner Procurement Request (PPR) to the US Government, and expect a FY 2012 order for 2 initial F-35As, for delivery in 2014-15. Those 2 planes will remain in the United States for testing and pilot training. The next 12 planes would have been based in Australia, and their Year of Decision will now be 2014-15, which may also cover the Stage 2 buy of 58 planes (TL: 72). Deliveries of operational fighters aren’t expected until 2017-2019 now, which means that RAAF F-35As won’t be flying in Australia until around 2020. The AIR 6000 Phase 2C decision to add another 24 F-35s or so, and raise Australia’s total buy to 96+, won’t happen until 2018-19 at the earliest.
As of 2014, The Royal Australian Navy will begin receiving Canberra Class LHD ships that could deploy F-35Bs, but at present there are no plans to host fighters on board. If those plans change, the AIR 6000 Phase 2C decision is the likely inflection point.
The inflection point for a single fighter fleet has already passed. In May 2007, delays to the F-35 program pushed the RAAF to buy 24 F/A-18F Block II Super Hornets as an interim capability. Those aircraft have all been delivered now, and 12 of them are set to convert to EA-18G Growler tactical jamming fighters. F-35 delays may push Australia to order more Super Hornets, and the hard reality is that each new Super Hornet bought probably subtracts an F-35A from future orders.
Britain (Tier 1)
Britain is the only Tier 1 partner outside the USA, and they have invested about $2 billion equivalent in the F-35’s development. They took delivery of their 1st IOT&E training and test aircraft in July 2012.
Britain’s original plan involved buying 138 F-35B STOVL planes for deployment on land and on their new aircraft carriers, but that will now shrink to an undetermined number.
The UK MoD has also switched back and forth between the F-35B and the catapult-launched F-35C. The F-35C’s range and weapon capacity give it significant time-over-target advantages in a Falkland Islands kind of scenario. On the flip side, the F-35B can fly from forward operating bases in situations like Afghanistan, allowing fewer planes to generate more sorties in the same time frame. The determining factor that switched Britain back to the F-35B was the cost of modifying its aircraft carriers.
Canada (Tier 3)
In July 2010, Canada committed to buy 65 F-35As as its future fighter force, with an envisioned budget up to C$ 9 billion for the fighters, plus C$ 7 billion for 20 years of support. All without a competition. That decision has been beset by controversy ever since, and the Conservative Party government claims that they aren’t committed to buy the F-35A yet. On the other hand, they haven’t made any substantive concessions, or meaningful changes to their plans, aside from promising that if F-35 costs continue to rise, Canada will just buy fewer planes within its budget.
Canada will probably sign a contract by 2015, which would make it too expensive for any successor governments to cancel the program. If the Conservative Party government doesn’t sign a contract before the next election, they had better win again. Otherwise, the conduct of this acquisition program has so antagonized the opposition Liberal and NDP parties that the F-35 buy will be a priority target for cancellation.
In November 2012, the first cracks appeared in the government’s stone wall. The Public Works ministry took over the lead role from DND, and said that the military’s original statement of requirements would be suspended while the government reviewed fighter options. Read full coverage, including industrial participants, over at “Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets.”
Denmark (Tier 3)
Denmark is a consortium member, but they threw their F-16 fighter replacement order open to competition in 2007. The F-35A was competing against Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Sweden’s JAS-39E/F Gripen, but an April 2010 decision delayed the competition. The Danes reportedly have about 30 operational F-16s in 2013, with another 15 stored in reserve.
The F-16 replacement process has started again as promised, with EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon added to the mix of invitees. A decision to buy 24-32 fighters is now expected by June 2015.
Italy (Tier 2)
Italy has made significant investments in JSF development, and the country intends to host a European Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) production line in Cameri, near Milan.
The navy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier will need at least 22 F-35Bs to replace its AV-8 Harrier fighters, but Europe and Italy’s slow-motion fiscal calamity makes the rest of its buy far less certain. The original plan involved 131 F-35s for the Army and Navy, but a February 2012 decision has scaled plans back to 90 fighters. The Italians are still discussing whether to buy a mix of F-35As and F-35Bs for the air force, but cost pressures are likely to push the Aeronautica Militare toward F-35As.
Given Italy’s rising borrowing costs, and the air force’s modern fleet of 96 Eurofighter Typhoons, further cuts in Aeronautica Militare F-35 purchases would be a reasonable expectation.
The Netherlands (Tier 2)
The F-35 is the Ministerie van Defensie’s choice, but instability in successive Dutch governments has prevented a clear decision. The Netherlands plans to buy up to 85 fighters, and as one of the two JSF Tier 2 partners, they want to place a European maintenance hub in the Netherlands. Industry benefits figure heavily in their decision, and participation in the JSF program was structured as a payback scheme. That has sometimes created a strained relationship between the government and participating firms.
Cost is a serious issue. A September 2009 media report revealed that Saab submitted a bid for 85 ready-to-fly JAS-39NL Gripen fighters, at a reported cost of EUR 4.8 billion. In contrast, a December 2010 report to the Dutch Parliament placed the expected purchase cost of 85 F-35As at EUR 7.6 billion, and the government has said that if costs continue to rise, the only change will be fewer fighters bought.
Costs have risen, even as budgets shrank. A 2012 Rekenkamer report revealed that the MvD was admitting a ceiling of just 56 F-35As, given their EUR 4.05 billion budget. That isn’t enough for their current responsibilities, and their notional EUR 68.6 million/ $89 million per plane figure is significantly less than the Pentagon’s post-2017 average cost projection of $108 million – which allows just 48 Dutch F-35As. Throw in the 21% Dutch Value Added Tax, and the real number could be as low as 33-38 F-35As.
Keeping its F-16s flying until the required 2027 date is expected to cost another EUR 335 million, and must be figured into the total cost, even if it comes from a separate budget item. A slip to 2029, or another fighter option that took that much more time, brings that total added cost to EUR 515 million.
Finally, F-35 maintenance and operating costs are expected to be higher than either the current F-16s (+42% American projection), or the Gripen. That affects the number that can be kept flying under future budgets. The 2012 Rekenkamer report says that estimates for 30 years of F-35A operations & maintenance, exclusive of fuel, have risen from EUR 2.9 billion for 85 planes in 2001, to EUR 14.2 billion. Buying 68 aircraft only drops this estimate to EUR 13.2 billion, and that non-linear drop makes it likely that O&M costs for a fleet of 42-48 F-35As, over 30 years, would be well over EUR 200 million per-plane.
A final decision is scheduled for 2015, but successive coalition governments have been pushing through contracts for initial F-35 test aircraft, as a way of entrenching their country’s commitment. A July 2012 vote left only the center-right VVD and Christian Democrats supporting an F-35 buy, and after the elections, a coalition with the opposition PvdA Labour party changed the process for reaching that 2015 decision. Whether it will change anything else remains to be seen.
Norway (Tier 3)
Norway picked the F-35A in November 2008, after a competition that Wikileaks documents suggest was a sham. Parliamentary opposition finally caved in July 2011, and purchases began in 2012. They will buy 46-52 F-35s, with an initial 4 training aircraft slated to begin delivery in 2015. Another 42-48 planned fighters are slated to begin turning into contracts as of 2017, and the program’s official overall cost currently lists as NOK 60 billion/ $FY12 10 billion. Basing will be at Orland AB, with a satellite forward operating base up north at Evenes.
As part of their program, Norway’s Kongsberg is developing a stealthy, sub-sonic Joint Strike Missile (JSM/NSM) that will be able to hit ships or land targets, and can be carried inside the F-35A/C weapons bay. Its positioning as an internally-carried cruise missile will be unique, and Australia has already indicated interest. At present, however, there’s no firm date for integration.
Read “F-35 Lightning II Wins Norway’s (Fake) Competition” for full coverage.
Turkey (Tier 3)
Turkey had talked about ordering up to 100 F-35A fighters, as the long-term replacement for its 240-plane F-16 fleet. beyond the program’s industrial benefits, they also have a geopolitical rationale. Turkey’s main rival, Greece, has been crippled by its fiscal situation, and is not an F-35 program participant. They’re unlikely to field any fighters with technology beyond their existing F-16s for quite some time, and Turkey wants an edge. The Turks are also beginning to project influence into Central Asia, have neighbors in Syria, Iraq and Iran that bear watching, and are stoking a growing level of friction with Israel, an F-35 customer.
In the near term, a combination of new buys and upgrades will ensure a long life for Turkey’s F-16s. Current plans still involve 100 F-35s, and 2012 saw the first contract – but by January 2013, Turkey was postponing its purchase of 2 training and test aircraft. The overall program is expected to cost around $16 billion.
Israel (Security Cooperation Partner)
With 326 F-16s in the IAF (224 F-16A-D, 102 F-16i), Israel is the largest F-16 operator outside of the United States. Their commitment to regional superiority made them the first country outside the USA to commit to a production F-35 buy in October 2010, with a contract for 20 “F-35is” and options to raise that number to 75 planes. The F-22 Raptor had been their preferred choice, but America refused to export it.
The Israelis got some concessions from Lockheed Martin and the US government, including the ability to insert their own ECM(Electronic Counter Measures) defensive equipment. Their F-35i will also carry compatible communications equipment and some avionics, and the Israelis are expected to push for early integration of their own weapons, like RAFAEL’s Python 5 short-range air-to-air missile and Spice GPS/IIR guided smart bomb. F-35i system development contracts began in August 2012.
Read “Israeli Plans to Buy F-35s Moving Forward” for full coverage.
Singapore (Security Cooperation Partner)
Singapore expects to replace its 74-plane F-16 fleet with F-35s, but they have a lot of timing flexibility. A program of significant fleet upgrades to F-16V status is expected to begin within the next year, giving them a plane that’s more advanced than USAF F-16s. Their new fleet of 20 high-end F-15SGs are already more advanced than the USAF’s Strike Eagles, and their combined fleet size and quality is expected to keep them comfortably ahead of their neighbors for a while.
In the nearer term, their fleet of about 34 upgraded F-5S/T fighters will need replacement. Singapore is reported to be about to announce an order for 12 F-35Bs, as part of a larger export approval request that could go as high as 75 planes. Their alternative would be to order more F-15SGs as F-5 replacements, and wait until it was time to begin replacing their F-16s. An order of 12 Strike Eagles would cost less, and would offer a much wider array of capabilities until about 2025 or later. F-35Bs would offer more risk, and would enter service much later, in exchange for stealth and the ability to take off and land from damaged runways.
Exports: Beyond the Program Team
The F-22 Raptor had been Japan’s preferred choice, but America refused to export it. In December 2011, therefore, Japan picked the F-35A over Boeing’s F/A-18E Super Hornet International, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35A was said to have the best capabilities, based only on mathematical analysis of the paper submissions Japan received. It eked out a narrow “Gilligan win” on overall cost by offering dorsal aerial refueling and finishing 2nd in both sub-categories, and was even with the others in terms of maintenance contracts offered. The only major category it lost was domestic industrial participation, but the winning Eurofighter bid had cost issues with that aspect of its submission.
The JASDF has an approved Foreign Military Sale request for 42 F-35As, and has committed to 4 so far. This set of 42 F-35As will replace its fleet of 91 upgraded F-4 “Phantom Kai” fighters. Eventually, Japan will also need to replace about 213 F-15J Eagle air superiority fighters with at least 100 new planes, but the F-35 will have to compete for that.
Past fighter orders from Japan have involved extensive license production. So far, reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on F-35 aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on F135 engines.
Read “Japan’s Next Fighters: F-35 Wins The F-X Competition” for full coverage.
Future Sales Opportunities
Lockheed Martin continues to promote the F-35 in the international market, but its priority is securing production orders from the countries that are already part of the JSF consortium.
South Korea’s F-X-III fighter competition is probably the F-35’s biggest near-term export opportunity. The F-35 is competing against Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon for that 60-plane order.
A number of Middle Eastern countries are shopping for fighter jets, including the UAE, Oman, and Qatar. Kuwait is expected to join them soon. So far, the F-35 hasn’t featured prominently in reporting about these competitions. It isn’t a contender in Oman, and the UAE’s focus appears to be fixed on either France’s Rafale or the Eurofighter Typhoon.
In Europe, Belgium and Portugal will need to replace their F-16s pretty soon, but political and fiscal woes make such buys unlikely. Eastern European countries either have medium-to-long term commitments in place, or are too small and poor to be likely F-35 customers. Lockheed Martin’s brightest hope beyond its existing consortium partners is probably Spain. Like Italy, Spain will eventually need to either buy the F-35B as its only real option to replace the AV-8 Matadors (Harriers) on the Juan Carlos I, or downgrade the ship to a helicopter and UAV carrier. Europe’s slow-motion collapse has pushed its fiscal difficulties close to their limit, however, and there are no Spanish plans at present for an F-35 buy.
The F-35 has been promoted to India, especially as a naval fighter option for its new carriers. It was not a contender for India’s M-MRCA buy, however, and prospects for a future sale seem dim due to competition from a range of existing naval (MiG-29K, Tejas naval) and air force (SU-30MKI, SU-50i FGFA) program commitments.
F-35 Contracts & Decisions
LRIP = Low Rate Initial Production. Unless otherwise noted, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, MD manages these contracts.
FY 2013 – 2017
November 13/17: Testing BAE Systems announced the successful conclusion of durability testing of its F-35A airframe. The completion is the culmination of the F-35A’s third life testing at BAE Systems’ testing facility in East Yorkshire in England, which is equivalent to 24,000 hours of “flying,” and easily exceeds the F-35 programme requirement of a service life of 8,000 flight hours. The F-35B and F-35C durability test airframes already have completed 16,000 hour second life testing, with additional tests being conducted to maximize the life of the aircraft. Known officially as AJ-1, the F-35A airframe is designed to operate from conventional runways and is the only F-35 variant to carry an internal cannon.
November 13/17: Contracts The US Navy released Thursday a $34.6 million award to Lockheed Martin for integration work with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and small-diameter bomb (SDB) II. Under the terms of the deal, Lockheed will carry out weapons capabilities technology maturation and risk reduction pre-engineering, manufacturing and development activities for dual-capability F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft and small-diameter bomb 2 (SDB-II) in support of the Marine Corps and Air Force. Work will take place at Fort Worth, Texas, with a scheduled completion time of July 2018.
November 10/17: Potential Sale Lockheed Martin is confident that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be selected as Germany’s Tornado fighter replacement, after Berlin confirmed that the next-generation fighter is the Air Force’s “preferred” choice. Germany is looking to replace its 85 Tornado jets between 2025 and 2030, and requests have been sent for information about the F-35, as well as three other jets: Boeing’s F-15 and F/A-18E/F fighters, as well as the Eurofighter consortium’s Typhoon. The F-35 has already been selected by several of Germany’s regional allies, including Norway, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Turkey and Denmark, and some have already started to receive deliveries. Belgium is expected to make a decision next year.
November 06/17: US Naval Air Systems Command has awarded United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, a $19 million contract in support of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter parts production. The award is a modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee and fixed-price-incentive-firm-target contract signed in April 2015 for an estimated $2.24 billion for a over a four year period, and calls for the procurement of extra-long-lead items in support of the low-rate initial production Lot XII F-35 JSF aircraft. Items to be produced include hardware and aids for both the conventional takeoff and landing systems for USAF, Navy, as well as non-DoD partners and foreign military customers. It also covers short takeoff and vertical landing propulsion systems for the US Marine Corps version of the aircraft. Work will take place mainly at East Hartford, Ct., where United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines is located, as well as other locations across the country and overseas. Contract completion is scheduled for November 2019.
October 31/17: A spare parts shortage has stricken the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and is severely limiting operational capabilities. A US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday found that “from January through August 7, 2017, F-35 aircraft were unable to fly about 22 percent of the time due to parts shortages,” and the shortage is likely to plague the program for several years to come. Reasons for the delay include “incomplete plans and funding that did not account for the long lead time parts,” while other instances blamed delays in the establishment of repair capabilities. Lead contractor Lockheed Martin said that it is now looking into finding disciplined ways it can reduce the overall operations and sustainment costs of the F-35 and is working with program partners to build a more cost effective supply chain. The Pentagon currently sustains 250 F-35s, and plans to triple its fleet by the end of 2021 and field 3,200 aircraft globally over the programme’s lifecycle.
June 30/17: The US Navy has awarded Lockheed Martin a $257.8 million contract modification in support of low-rate production and acquisition of equipment for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Procurement includes 129 alternate mission equipment sets, 468 sets of pilot flight equipment, and 94 sets of red gear engine inlet plugs for the Air Force, Navy, USMC, and allied foreign participants in support of F-35 production. Work will be conducted in Inglewood, Calif., White Plains, NY, and other locations across the United States and has an estimated completion date of June 2020.
June 27/17: An investigation into the why F-35A flights from Luke AFB were suspended last month now believes that pilots were suffering due to a metering problem in the aircraft’s oxygen system that occurs above 25,000 feet. Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein disclosed that the five individuals were flying above 25,000 feet during when the incidents occurred, resulting in flights being suspended from the base for 11 days. USMC-operated F-35B aircraft based at Air Station Yuma in Arizona, were also suspended for a day last week because of “anomalies” in the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) software upgrade.
June 22/17: The USAF awarded Lockheed Martin a $104 million contract to develop, produce and field a threat simulator to train combat aircrews to recognize and deal with rapidly evolving threats, such as surface-to-air missiles. The deal will see the firm undertake the development and test of a single Advanced Radar Threat System Variant 2 (ARTS-V2) production representative system, with follow on options for a further 20 systems. Lockheed added that future sales could come from countries that plan to operate the stealthy F-35 fighter jet in coming years.
June 21/17: F-35A flights out of Luke AFB will commence on Wednesday, 11 days after they had been originally canceled due to five incidents in which pilots experienced symptoms similar to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. While the root cause of the incidents has yet to be identified, several possible causes of concern have been ruled out. Pilots will also adhere to a temporary application of five criteria during their flights while data is gathered on the ground. They are: Avoid the altitudes in which all five physiological events occurred; Modify ground procedures to mitigate physiological risks to pilots; Expand physiological training to increase understanding between pilot and medical communities; Increase minimum levels for backup oxygen systems for each flight; and offer pilots the option of wearing sensors during flight to collect airborne human performance data.
June 19/17: Ahead of its debut at this week’s Paris air show, Lockheed Martin are close to finishing the latest round of negotiations for the manufacture of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. As many as 440 jets are being negotiated under the deal and are being spread out over three tranches in a multi-year deal estimated to reach at least $37 billion. As many as 11 customer nations will receive fighters as part of the deal, including Australia, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, South Korea, Britain and the United States. The price of the F-35’s A variant is then expected to drop to $80 million by the end of 2020.
June 12/17: Flights of F-35As out of Luke AFB have been suspended after pilots reported a series of physiological incidents while flying. Five such incidents have been reported at the Arizona base since May 1 and are currently being investigated by USAF authorities. Each time the aircraft’s backup oxygen system operated as designed and the pilots were able to land safely. While operations at five other US bases with F-35 jets will continue as normal, the 56th Fighter Wing will spend time educating local and foreign pilots on hypoxia symptoms. Each incident and its remedial actions taken will be shared with the air crews.
June 8/17: Elbit Systems of America has been sub-contracted by Lockheed Martin to develop a cockpit display replacement unit for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter under a program, called Technology Refresh 3, Panoramic Cockpit Display Unit. While the cost of the contract was not given, a company statement said that the value of the award was not in a material amount. Details on contract length were also omitted. Elbit already provides power amplifiers, structures and sustainment work for the F-35 and, together with Rockwell Collins, it also provides the F-35 Helmet Mounted Display System, through their joint venture Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems.
May 24/17: Lockheed Martin has won a $137.8 million contract modification for cost-reduction programs for the initial low-rate production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Fiscal 2016 aircraft procurement funds from the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps of $137.8 million will be allocated to the program, none of which will expire at the end of the fiscal year. Eighty percent of the modification will go to the Air Force, with the rest split between the Navy and Marine Corps. Scheduled to be completed by December 2020, work will take place at Waco, Texas, El Segundo, Calif. and Warton, England, with other work being completed across the United States.
May 19/17: The F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has successfully completed airborne gunfire testing by the US Marine Corps Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons ‘Integrated Test Force’. The GAU-22/A is a four-barrel gun designed for the F-35 and has a rate of fire of 3,300 rounds per minute and an improved accuracy of 1.4 milliradians as compared to the GAU-12. On CTOL version of the aircraft, the gun is carried internally, while on STOVL and CV variants, it comes as an external podded gun.
May 18/17: The USAF has lifted its two-year ban on lightweight pilots flying the F-35, after concerns that an ejection could cause a severe neck injury. The approval means the Martin-Baker Mk16 ejection seat meets the original service specification for the F-35A, which requires the manufacturer to accommodate all pilots weighing over 46.7kg. To solve the problem, changes were made to the helmet, the ejection seat and the ejection sequence. The Vision Systems International helmet saw a weight reduction, while the ejector seat had a head support installed onto the rear risers of the seat as a cushion as well as a switch that modifies the ejection sequence in the event the pilot needs to exit the cockpit in flight. The modifications will now be retrofitted on 100 F-35As already delivered to the USAF and enter Lockheed’s production system.
May 10/17: USAF F-35As, sent to Europe to participate in a series of training exercises, have completed their deployment . While based at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, UK, eight aircraft from the 34th Fighter Squadron flew 76 sorties and tallied more than 154 flying hours alongside F-15s from the 48th Fighter Wing. The fighters also experienced forward deployment to Estonia and Bulgaria in order to maximize training opportunities, build partnerships with allied air forces and familiarize Airmen with Europe’s broad and diverse operating conditions. It has also been reported that the F-35A will take part in the Paris Air Show after it was earlier said to have not been invited.
May 8/17: The first F-35 to be produced outside of the US has rolled off the assembly line at a Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. Owned by the Italian Defense Ministry and operated by the Italian defense giant Leonardo in conjunction with the fighter’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, the FACO will churn out 30 F-25B and 90 F-35A type fighters for the Italian armed forces, as well as 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The facility will also produce 835 full wing sets that will be distributed across all participants in the program, along with other parts and maintenance equipment.
May 2/17: The US DoD has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.377 billion contract for the low-rate initial production of 130 Lot 12 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, including the provision of parts, maintenance, and other services for the program. In addition the Lot 12 F-35 production for the USAF, Navy, USMC and other non-Department of Defense and foreign customers, the contract provides for initial production of 110 Lot 13 and Lot 14 F-35 Lighting II fighter planes for non-U.S. Department of Defense participants and foreign sales customers. The proportion of funding to the various branches is: $315.5 million for the USAF; $128 million for the USMC; and $43.5 million for the Navy. The final quarter of the contract, approximately $364.6 million, will be directed toward military sales customers. Contracted work is expected to be completed by December 2018.
April 26/17: Two US F-35As have landed in Estonia for the first time, in what is being described as a show of NATO solidarity and reinforcement of US commitments to protecting NATO members along Russia’s borders. The visit of the Joint Strike Fighters, which flew from UK and spent several hours in Estonia, is part of broader US jet pilot training program across Europe as the NATO alliance seeks to deter Moscow from any possible incursion in the Baltics. Training with the fifth-generation fighters is expected to last several weeks and the F-35 pilots will undergo exercises with other NATO aircraft as well as showcase the fighter’s capabilities to allies that are also acquiring F-35 fleets.
April 19/17: Norway has begun testing the brake parachute it will deploy on their fleet of F-35As. The testing will assess how the fighter handles with the parachute fitted, as well as braking on both dry and wet runways. Follow up testing will continue in Alaska in 2018, where testing will look to evaluate the parachute’s performance on icy runways. Sharing the cost with fellow F-35 program partner the Netherlands, modifications to the Norwegian F-35 fleet include strengthening the fuselage and adapting the aircraft to house the parachute between the two tailfins. The modifications have been included to make the fighter more prepared for the more adverse weather conditions found in Scandinavia such as low temperatures, strong winds, poor visibility and slippery runways. Oslo is scheduled to receive its first F-35s this November.
April 16/17: This weekend has seen a number of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters make their way to Europe to participate in a training deployment that will last several weeks. The jets and airmen will conduct training with other US and NATO aircraft based in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative—started in 2014 by the Pentagon to increase US presence in Europe for security purposes. Officials say the deployment marks an important milestone for the F-35 program as it allows both the USAF to further demonstrate the capabilities of the fighter, as well as assisting in refining the requirements for basing the F-35A in Europe, scheduled to commence in the early 2020s.
April 12/17: Lockheed Martin has won a $372 million contract modification in order to address several issues with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The US Navy contract did not specify any particular work that needed to be undertaken under the agreement, however it facilitates deficiency corrections for US operators as well as the country’s foreign military customers. Work will be carried out in Texas, California, New Hampshire, Japan and Britain, and is expected to be complete by March 2020.
April 11/17: Negotiations on the next batch of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters could see savings of at least 5% as the unit cost per fighter looks to dip below $80 million. Current talks between the Pentagon and lead contractor Lockheed Martin are said to be for a batch of about 130 planes, 100 of which are likely to be the A-model configuration. It is on these 100 aircraft that between 5-7 percent, or $660 million, could be shaved off the total price in potential savings. This follows comments made by the program’s head Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan last month who said that the government hoped that by 2020 the F-35 would cost less than $80 million, a 16 percent drop from its current price.
April 5/17: Testing of the F-35’s Martin-Baker US16E (MKk16) ejection seat has been completed. The last test involved electromagnetic environmental effects (EEE) testing which saw the seat’s electronic controls were hit with electricity to test their functionality. The data from the EEE, helmet and dummy testing on the ejection seat will help the USAF decide whether to remove restrictions on pilots weighing less than 62kg (136lb). Lt Gen Chris Bogdan, head of the F-35 program, said that the “weight restriction could be removed anywhere from April and beyond,” and that the USAF will “start modifying airplanes in April to the new seat configurations with the new helmets, so as soon as the USAF gives it the OK, that’s up to them.”
March 29/17: Navy Rear. Adm. Mat Winter is to take charge of the F-35 program office upon the retirement of program head Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan this summer. Winter, who is currently the F-35 deputy program executive officer, will assume the rank of vice admiral prior to assuming the role. Prior to joining the F-35 program in 2016, Winter acted as chief of Naval Research, working as program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, and oversaw the development of the X-47, a stealthy unmanned aircraft that could autonomously launch from a carrier. He was also responsible for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program before it was cancelled and transferred into a requirement for an unmanned tanking capability.
March 13/17: Lockheed Martin has won a $64 million contract to perform work on the integrated core processor used by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The DoD order includes services for the USAF, US Navy, USMC and international partners and the work aims to alleviate diminishing manufacturing source constraints projected under F-35 production Lot 15 by March 2019. Developed during the early stages of the F-35’s development, the integrated core processor is referred to as the “brain” of the next-gen fighter.
March 7/17: Rheinmetall has been contracted by the USAF to supply several ten thousand round lots of their new 25mm x 137 Frangible Armour Piercing (FAP) round for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Valued at $6.5 million, the contract will see the company manufacture the rounds in four lots at Rheinmetall Switzerland and delivery will commence in December, 2017. Rheinmetall is marketing the ammunition as only not just for air-to-air superiority fights, but capable of destroying Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) at extreme slant ranges as well.
March 2/17: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1 billion contract from the Pentagon to provide various support services for the F-35 aircraft. The deal covers ground maintenance, action request resolution, depot activation, supply chain management and other activities for F-35s operated by the USAF, Navy, USMC, and other foreign military sales (FMS) customers. Work will be carried out at the company’s plants in Forth Worth, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and other various locations, with a completion date set for December 2017. Lockheed also won a $427 million contract to continue production of the Hellfire II missile for the US Army. Work on the contract will continue until September 2020.
February 20/17: The US Navy is to test a potential fix for an issue regarding the F-35C’s nose wheel in order to see if the jet still suffers from excessive vertical oscillations during a catapult launch. Testing will begin tomorrow, Tuesday February 21, at the service’s land-base test facility at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. However, if the early fixes don’t work, the Navy will be required to do more extensive fixes to the nose gear and the helmet display, or even redesign the entire nose gear for the F-35C (which could take years and further delay the program).
February 15/17: An Israeli Defense Ministry report has revealed that Israeli manufacturers have earned about $1.03 billion since 2010 from projects related to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Last year saw a total of $258 million in contracts, mostly for fighter helmets, representing a 33% increase in procurement over previous years. Big winners in 2016 were Elbit Systems and its US partner Rockwell Collins, which are jointly manufacturing the state-of-the-art helmet for the F-35.
February 14/17: South Korean military officials have said the latest missile tested by North Korea was a new type of solid-fuel intermediate-range missile, the Pukguksong-2, using submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, not the older Musudan-class earlier reported. Pyongyang utilized a “cold eject” launch system, where the missile is initially propelled by compressed gas before its rocket engine ignites. In response, The US, Japan and South Korea requested urgent UN Security Council consultations on the test, with potential for further sanctions to be discussed. China said that they opposed North Korean missile tests that run contrary to UN resolutions, however they rejected suggestions from Washington and others that they could be doing more to rein in its neighbor.
February 6/17: The US Navy has successfully tested the Spike missile launcher, destroying a UAV target. Not to be confused with the Rafael version, the project aims at providing the sailing branch with an increased capability to defeat the growing threat of UAVs. The Spike launcher is first queued to the target via radar so that the operator can acquire the UAV and engage it. Another modification to the system involves the addition of a proximity fuze to the body, provided by the Army.
February 3/17: Negotiations between the Japanese government, Pentagon, and Lockheed Martin have secured a $100 million reduction in Tokyo’s bill for its participation in the F-35 JSF program. While the news comes shortly after Lockheed Martin slashed $600 million from the next round of F-35 production, defense analysts have downplayed the news of those cuts, saying the discount hailed by Trump was in line with what had been flagged by Lockheed for months and would apply to other countries committed to the program. According to Reuters, four sources confirmed that Japan had further trimmed the price for its latest order, largely on ground support costs such as parts, logistics and technical assistance.
February 1/17: While no contract details have been announced, US President Donald Trump has claimed that the Lot 10 production for 90 F-35s will be $600 million cheaper, thanks to his pressure. The comments come after weeks of hand wrangling with lead contractor Lockheed Martin over pricing. Trump had criticized the fifth-gen fighter during his election campaign, but during his recent comments called the F-35 a “great plane” that’s “now in good shape.” Despite the detente, Trump added that Boeing will still be asked to compete for orders against the F-35 saying “they [Boeing] will be competing during the process for the rest of the planes because there are thousands of more airplanes coming.”
January 26/17: Lockheed Martin has announced that it is close to signing a deal with the F-35 Joint Program Office on the next batch of the Joint Strike Fighter. The announcement was made by CEO Marilyn Hewson to investors on Tuesday, where the company also disclosed that it beat revenue estimates for fourth-quarter 2016/17. Hewson added that the defense giant plans to “drive affordability” in 2017, a reference to ongoing discussions between President Trump and the defense industry to get a “better deal” on government contracts.
January 20/17: Speaking of costs, the price of the F-35 looks set to take a tumble, as the US DoD and Lockheed Martin come close to an agreement on a new contract for the Joint Strike Fighter. While talks on the warplane’s tenth batch are still ongoing, sources close to discussions say the fighter will drop below its current $100 million per-plane price tag for the first time. Believed to be in the range of $9 billion, an official announcement on the 90-plane deal is expected to come at the end of the month.
January 19/17: A 62-page report by the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester has released sort of good news in relation to the F-35: that there has been progress toward fixing a safety issue with the aircraft’s ejection seat. The Martin-Baker manufactured US16E seat and escape system was found to pose a significant risk of neck damage or death during ejection of pilots in the lowest weight range, resulting in pilots weighing under 136 lb being barred from flying the aircraft. But a three-part solution posed by the company to protect a lightweight pilot’s head and neck during ejection is currently being tested with light-weight pilots. This includes a lighter helmet to ease strain on the neck during the first phase of an ejection, a lightweight switch on the seat to delay deployment of the main parachute, and a fabric panel sewn between the parachute risers that will protect the pilot’s head from moving backward during the parachute opening, called a “head support panel” or HSP.
January 17/17: Costs associated with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could drop, according to Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewson. Hewson met with US President-elect Donald Trump for a second meeting last week, later telling reporters that her company is “close to a deal” to bring down the cost of the F-35 program. In addition to the fighter’s costs, Hewson committed the firm to increasing jobs at their Fort Worth, Texas, facility by 1,800.
January 9/17: Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has dismissed an idea posed by the upcoming Trump administration to supplant the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with greater procurements of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. President-elect Donald Trump called the two fighters “comparable” in a tweet following a pow wow with Lockheed Martin and Boeing in December as part of an early effort to get a better deal for government defense spending. However James called the jets not interchangeable and that both fighters had been developed to fulfil different requirements. She added that any attempt by the Trump team to implement such a plan would be met with resistance from the Air Force.
January 3/17: Lockheed Martin has been contracted $450 million to perform additional Lot 10 F-35 Lightning II Air System integration work for South Korea. The deal will include non-recurring engineering work. Seoul plans to procure 40 of the next-generation aircraft, and expects deliveries to begin in 2018 and conclude in 2021.
December 21/16: The Pentagon’s man in charge of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has responded to recent criticisms from Donald Trump. Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan stated on Monday that if he had an opportunity to speak with the Trump transition team, he would tell them that the program is now under control after years of delays. Bogdan also added that he understood the incoming administration’s desire to get better value for money saying “I applaud the new administration for that, because that is what we should all be striving for.”
December 15/16: Communication data links on all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have been tested by the USAF. The pilots focused on the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), a direct communications link that allows operators to transmit secure tactical information, and is beneficial for interoperability between the F-35 and the 4th generation planes it is meant to replace, such as F-16s and F/A-18s. MADL also allows for F-35s to share information on air and ground threats in order to more effectively target and engage them.
December 14/16: Israel has received their first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, making them the only Middle Eastern country to own a fifth-generation fighter. Greeting the arrival were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the President of Israel Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, currently on his last world tour as part of the Obama Administration. The USAF provided a KC-135 tanker to refuel the new planes.
December 13/16: Lockheed Martin is the latest defense firm to receive criticism from Donald Trump, after the US President-elect lashed out at the costs of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Taking to his usual medium to the masses, Twitter, Trump stated “the F-35 program and cost is out of control,” and “Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” Shares at Lockheed dropped 4 percent after Trump’s tweet, while shares of several other defense contractors also weakened. Trump also suggested that he was considering imposing a lifetime ban on US military procurement officials going to work for defense contractors, a move that could dramatically reshape the defense industry.
December 7/16: The Pentagon’s chief arms buyer, Frank Kendell, is hopeful that a three-year block buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will go ahead. Covering some 400 F-35 units for both the US military branches and partner nations, the agreement is expected to generate large savings through bigger economies of scale between the fiscal years 2018 through 2020. Negotiations with lead contractor Lockheed Martin, however, have been slow as seen in the year-long negotiations of the fighter’s ninth batch, while the government’s chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, has long argued about the need to test the planes before buying and building larger quantities.
November 29/16: 17 more F-35As will be making their way to Israel, bringing the total ordered by the government to 50. Speaking on the new order, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the decision by the cabinet on November 27 was unanimous. The additional fighter order comes just two weeks before the first two F-35As destined for Israel fly from the US.
November 23/16: The F-35B has reached another program milestone following the completion of weapons load testing during trials on board the USS America assault ship. During the trials, pilots intentionally conducted flight tests under unfavorable conditions to gauge the fighter’s limitations; international partners also participated. The tests were part of F-35 program lead contractor Lockheed Martin’s third developmental test phase for the fighter, which aimed to assess the aircraft’s combat capabilities in a maritime environment. In comparison to its A counterpart, the F-35B is designed to include a short takeoff and vertical landing capability to allow for operation on naval vessels.
Repairs on the last of 13 F-35A fighters affected by faulty insulation issues have been completed. In September, 57 aircraft suffered the coolant line glitch, 15 of which were already fielded, while the others were still in production. Both the company and the USAF maintain that the faulty parts were the result of a supply chain issue rather than a design flaw.
November 18/16: The Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik stated that the first two of a batch of 24 more Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft will be delivered in 2018. 24 of the Joint Strike Fighter will be ordered over the next three years, of which six, including the two expected in 2018, had already been ordered. Ankara has committed to procuring a total of 115 F-35s.
November 17/16: F/A-18 Hornet fighters operated by the Spanish Air Force will be replaced by a “system of systems” by 2030 external link. Known as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the prgram will see about 50 legacy Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 Eurofighter Typhoons upgraded to network with a fifth-generation aircraft; a new fifth-generation aircraft (type and numbers to be decided); and an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (type and numbers to be decided). While the fifth-generation aircraft will likely be the F-35, Spanish Navy plans to retire their AV-8B Harrier II will result in a joint procurement between the two branches.
November 14/16: Talks are being carried out between Lockheed Martin and President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team over a number of programs including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Trump had made disparaging comments about the F-35 last year on a conservative talk show, calling into question the fighter’s cost-benefit when compared to the capabilities of existing aircraft. Speaking on the talks, LM’s executive vice president for aeronautics Orlando Carvalho said, “We believe that in working with his transition team all the right information will get communicated and they’ll make the right decisions.”
November 10/16: A fire that erupted in the weapons bay of a USMC F-35B in late October is being investigated. The Naval Safety Center revealed that two systems were at fault, the Honeywell-made integrated power package (IPP) and a hydraulics system. Sensors onboard the aircraft detected the fire and failures of the IPP and a hydraulics system while the aircraft was flying in the airport’s landing pattern. While the fire is being classed as a Class A mishap, an IPP fire in 2011 on board an F-35A grounded the F-35 test fleet.
November 9/16: Britain has been selected as a global repair hub providing maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 fighter avionic and aircraft components. The move is expected to generate hundreds of millions of pounds for the UK defense industry with the potential to unlock more than 2 billion pounds of future F-35 support revenue over the lifetime of the program. Centered in Wales, the work will be conducted by a partnership enterprise between Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA), BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, supported by key F-35 Original Equipment Manufacturers.
November 4/16: After much wrangling, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have concluded negotiations on the ninth lot of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program with a unilateral agreement that will see 57 jets produced for $6.1 billion. At $107 million per plane, this is the lowest price per plane thus far. The deal will give profit margin certainty to Lockheed and its partners who have been producing the jet under a placeholder agreement known as an “undefinitized contract action,” something the company would have preferred to not have to deal with. Lockheed said that the latest lot is “not a mutually agreed upon contract, it was a unilateral contract action, which obligates us to perform under standard terms and conditions, and previously agreed-to items.” Lot ten negotiations, for 94 aircraft, are still underway.
November 3/16: A number of F-35Bs will conduct developmental and operational testing aboard the USS America amphibious assault ship. Two of the Short Takeoff & Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant will be used in third phase development testing, evaluating the jet’s short take-off vertical landing operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations. Another five will undergo operational testing which involves the simulation of extensive maintenance on a ship. The USS America is the first ship of its class that incorporates design elements specifically to accommodate the new Joint Strike Fighter.
November 2/16: After rumors they would do so, Turkey has officially requested a second batch of F-35s under the Joint Strike Fighter program. A meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSIK), Turkey’s procurement authority, brought top political and military officials together on Friday to make the decision. Officials are also hoping to build a new-generation, dual-fighter jet fleet by their country’s centennial, 2023, comprised of the F-35 and an indigenous aircraft, known as TFX, that Ankara has been designing.
October 31/16: US officials close to Turkey’s F-35 fighter procurement claim Ankara is considering a second batch of fighters, possibly as many as 24 aircraft. Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industries said they expected the new orders to be delivered in 2021 and 2022 and aims to eventually purchase a total of 100. A Lockheed representative said the company is “honored” by Turkey’s continued commitment to the F-35 program which was further demonstrated by the decision by the DIEC on Friday.
October 28/16: Negotiations over low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots 9 and 10 of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter look close to conclusion following the completion of supplier discussions between Northrop Grumman and lead contractor Lockheed Martin. The talks indicate that Lockheed may soon wrap-up its 15-month talks with the Joint Program Office (JPO). But both the JPO and Lockheed have said that negotiations were still ongoing and gave no comment as to when they would come to an end.
October 27/16: Issues with insulation found inside F-35 fuel tanks has resulted in slower 3rd quarter deliveries of the next-generation fighter, according to manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The comments were made during the release of the company’s third quarter profits, where the shortfall in deliveries was described as “light” this quarter. Fifteen F-35As belonging to the USAF and Norwegian Air Force were grounded in September due to the issue which also affected 42 models still on the production line. Grounded jets are due to return to the skies next month.
October 21/16: Norwegian F-35s grounded last month for repairs will be back in the air by November, sooner than expected. 15 F-35A Lightning II aircraft had been grounded in September due to peeling and crumbling insulation in avionics cooling lines inside the fuel tanks. The Norwegian Defense Ministry said the insulation is now being removed and extra filters installed to intercept any potential remains, although it has not yet been decided whether this fix should be regarded as temporary or permanent.
October 19/16: Contracts have been awarded to Lockheed Martin for the provision of the ninth batch F-35 Joint Strike Fighter totalling $743 million. The DoD allocation comes as negotiations for Lots 9 & 10 continue. One contract sets not-to-exceed prices for up to $385 million on a range of services for the US military’s F-35 customers, including redesign and development of components with diminishing manufacturing and material services while another $333 million is being allotted to set not-to-exceed prices for one F-35A and one F-35B on behalf of a non-US participant in the program. Another $25.4 million of the award comes from the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme to pay for “country unique requirements.”
October 17/16: A recommendation has been made by Australia’s Senate committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade that its defense department implement a “hedging strategy” against any delay with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by 2019. While the committee stated that it had received evidence criticizing the F-35 and calls for participation to be scrapped, its members judged the F-35 as “the only aircraft able to meet Australia’s strategic needs for the foreseeable future.” The Australian Strategic Policy Institute told the committee the most sensible hedge would be procuring additional F/A-18F Super Hornets.
October 13/16: Twelve additional F-35A fighters have been requested by the Norwegian government. The proposal, if approved, would raise the total number of authorized F-35A purchases to 40 aircraft allowing Norway to participate in a proposed “block buy” for the F-35’s US and international partners. Unlike a multi-year procurement, a block buy does not lock the US or international partners into firm orders, but it gives Lockheed’s supply chain a long-term view of likely demand.
October 5/16: Singapore remains interested in purchasing the F-35, however it won’t be until a 2030s timeframe. While the country has long been linked to the F-35 program, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said his country’s crop of F-15s and F-16s will “last us well into the next one or two decades.” This is backed up by last December’s $914 million award to Lockheed Martin to upgrade Singapore’s 60 plane F-16 fleet, with work occurring through 2023.
September 28/16: The F-35 could be getting new engines by the mid-2020s, with the potential for either an upgraded version of the Pratt & Whitney F135 design currently in use or a new engine from a competitor. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, head of the Joint Program Office, made the announcement at last week’s Air Force Association conference. The USAF is currently in the early stages of funding their Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) competition, with both P&W and General Electric Aviation securing contracts worth $1.01 billion to research if its possible to “demonstrate 25 percent improved fuel efficiency, 10 percent increased thrust, and significantly improved thermal management.”
September 23/16: A fix has been found for a recently discovered issue on a number of F-35 fighters involving tubing insulation crumbling between the wing tank and fuselage tank. The USAF revealed last week that an unnamed supplier used the wrong coating for the insulation which deteriorated when it met fuel. A total of 15 USAF and Norwegian warplanes along with 42 models on the production line were affected by the issue with manufacturer Lockheed Martin fixed to cover engineering and modifications for all affected aircraft.
September 19/16: 13 USAF and 2 Norwegian F-35As have been grounded due to “peeling and crumbling” insulation on cooling lines inside their fuel tanks. The discoveries were made during routine maintenance checks on the aircraft in order to have the fighter’s status upgraded to initial operational capability. While Lockheed Martin works with several suppliers that are responsible for manufacturing the coolant lines, the issue has been traced back to the insulated coolant tubes manufactured by one particular unnamed provider that have only been installed in the wing fuel tanks of the 15 aircraft in question.
September 16/16: A legal challenge has been launched by Boeing against the Danish Ministry of Defense for selecting the Lockheed Martin F-35A over the F/A-18E/F as the air force’s next generation fighter. Citing a “flawed” evaluation process, Boeing submitted a request for insight to the Ministry of Defence to obtain all materials related to the selection. Denmark’s parliament approved a recommendation by the MoD to buy 27 F-35As in June after the fighter beat out the F/A-18 in the military, strategic, economic and industrial judging categories.
September 14/16: Lockheed Martin has announced that the Aegis weapon system has been successfully live-fire tested on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. During the test, an unmodified Marine Corps F-35B acted as an elevated sensor and detected an over-the-horizon threat. The jet sent data through the aircraft’s Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to Aegis on the USS Desert Ship, a land-based ship.
August 30/16: The words “weapons tester,” “memo,” and “F-35A” have seldom come with good news; and the latest memo on the F-35A from director of Operational Test and Evaluation is no different. Despite the USAF declaring initial operational capability on the fighter earlier this month, the memo highlights many significant limitations that remain on the aircraft, in particular with the aircraft’s new Block 3i software. However, the Joint Program Office remains confident that the capability gaps will be fixed on the aircraft in time and under the current budget parameters.
August 26/16: Issues with weapons integration on the F-35 have been found and could hinder an operational capabilities declaration, according to the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) . Challenges include the possibility, when the jet fires its 25mm cannon, that the aircraft could yaw as the gun door opens, reducing accuracy. Testing last December also threw up issues with AIM-9X missiles on the F-35C. Here testers found excess stress on the carrier-variant’s wing structure during landings and certain maneuvers. This could have an impact on the wing structure and might warrant a redesign on that part of the wing.
$313 million is the price that Canada would have to pay if it is to exit from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The calculations were made by the Liberal government, and accounts for the difference of what Ottawa had contributed so far since 2006 and the $551 million it pledged to commit when it enrolled into the program. A Canxit from the program could occur with just 90 days written notice given to other partner nations.
August 25/16: After much waiting, trial and error, the F-35’s Block 3F software upgrade has speeded up testing of the new fighter’s weapons systems. Since it’s completion, Lockheed Martin has completed 30 weapons delivery accuracy tests in one month, compared to just three accomplished with the Block 2 software. These include Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and GPS-guided Small Diameter Bomb, and Raytheon’s AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder.
August 22/16: Chemical and biological contamination testing is one of the few remaining tasks left to be ticked off on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter before certification for full-rate production. In order to do this, a decontamination system and facility has been constructed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and an F-35A attached to the 461st Flight Test Squadron will be the lucky volunteer. The late August tests will see the fighter (modified to be able to collect test data) contaminated several times and towed into the decontamination facility to see if it can be cleaned of chemical or biological weapons exposure.
August 17/16: The Pentagon has turned on the F-35 tap again, with the DoD approving another $1 billion in funding to go toward reimbursing Lockheed Martin for costs incurred on the ninth batch of aircraft. Last week’s decision offers some relief to the aircraft’s chief contractor who has been paying out of pocket for the fighter’s low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots 9 and 10. Meanwhile, contract negotiations over batch nine of aircraft with the Joint Program Office (JPO) rattles on after initial predictions had it wrapped up earlier this year.
British F-35Bs will be equipped with advanced short range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAM) from MBDA after London orders $238 million worth of the munition. Already in use on RAF’s Panavia Tornado GR4s and Eurofighter Typhoons, integration onto the F-35B is to be awarded in a separate MoD deal. MBDA, a European missile system conglomerate, has also been commissioned to support a Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) for the development of the new variant of the weapon for the RAF Typhoons in a deal worth $388 million. A Block 4 software upgrade will integrate the CSP ASRAAM on the F-35B.
August 8/16: A survey of 31 F-35A pilots has given their full confidence in the upcoming fifth generation fighter. According to the report, all asked would choose the F-35A over their former fighters if they were to engage in a beyond-visual-range fight. Furthermore, despite its cost, the F-35 was deemed notably more effective and in many cases cheaper than any other four-plus-generation multirole fighter in the world.
August 4/16: It’s been a long time coming, but the F-35A has been cleared for service by the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC). As a result, the 34th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing has the honor of being the first unit declared operational. This follows the F-35B squadron which was passed for combat back in July 2015.
August 3/16: An F-35A has shot down its first aerial target with AIM-9X missiles off the coast of California. The kill test saw the fighter take down a drone, and test data confirmed the F-35 identified and targeted the drone with its mission systems sensors, passed the target “track” information to the missile, enabled the pilot to verify targeting information using the high off-boresight capability of the helmet mounted display (HMD), and launched the AIM-9X from the aircraft to engage the target. F-35s carry two AIM-9X missiles on their wings.
August 2/16: While it doesn’t seem so at first, an emerging problem for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is that it is almost too stealthy. Pilots flying the aircraft have discovered that they are unable to participate in certain training exercises such as evading surface-to-air threats. The inability on the ground to track the fighters had to be rectified by crews flipping on their transponders in order to be followed.
July 28/16: Plans are in motion for Israel to examine the contracting out of its F-35 fleet maintenance to domestic firms. Despite Lockheed Martin establishing a European regional maintenance facility at Cameri airbase in Italy, Tel Aviv maintains its desire to conduct as much maintenance as possible in house. Likely beneficiaries to such a move is Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) due to its experience in maintaining and upgrading existing IAF fleets.
July 25/16: Never mind the coup, it’s the F-35! Despite the recent attempt at political overthrow by certain cadres of Turkey’s military, Lockheed Martin is forging ahead with its planned production of the first two F-35As for Turkey. Assembly of the aircraft is expected to commence within the next six to twelve months and delivery scheduled for 2018. But could further political instability in an already volatile region put the deal into doubt, only time will tell.
July 22/16: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $241 million US Navy contract modification for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Under the deal, Lockheed will provide replacement electronic components for the aircraft with work to be completed by December 2018. The contract combines purchases for the USAF, USMC, Navy, foreign military sales customers and international partners.
July 11/16: Following the USAF’s desire to seek an alternative ejector seat for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin has said it has not been approached for discussion over alternatives. Company officials said that they would be willing to assess any alternatives such as the favored ACES 5 seat if the government deemed necessary, although potential costs or integration issues were not mentioned. Last year, the Air Force found that pilots weighing less than 136 pounds were at risk of severe neck injury when ejected from the chosen F-35 using the selected Martin-Baker seat.
July 7/16: Martin-Baker, the supplier of the ejector seat to be used in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has refuted the suggestion that their design will not be sufficient to ensure pilot safety. On June 24, it was reported that the USAF was looking to certify rival United Technologies’ ACES 5 design as an alternative. The F-35 Joint Program Office has stood behind Martin-Baker in sticking with its selection, however this is in part due to the potential cost overruns it could cause to an already notoriously expensive program.
June 30/16: BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) are to team up to bid for a significant long-term deal to become the avionics sustainment hub for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Europe. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed the involvement of BAE and Northrop Grumman, but declined to say anything about whether DECA, the British state-owned components repair operation, would have a role; however, due to US government insistence, some avionics repairs on the jet here are only undertaken by UK government employees.
June 29/16: The USAF has released an infographic revealing that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter scored an 8:0 kill ratio against the F-15E during mock air combat. Using combat-coded F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, the simulations were part of the evaluation process needed in order to declare the jet to be initially operationally capable. The seven fighters used also demonstrated their ability to carry out basic close air support and limited SEAD/DEAD missions with crews attaining a 100% sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94% hit rate with 15 of 16 GBU-12 bombs on target.
June 28/16: The USAF has sent a letter to the F-35 Joint Program Office inquiring on the cost and challenges of switching the default Martin-Baker ejection seat to the ACES 5. If such a move were to go ahead, the program could experience massive repercussions for the F-35 supply chain, impacting the workshare strategy that forms the backbone for the international fleet of the Lockheed Martin-designed fighter. Reasoning for inquiring about such a switch comes as the service looks to the ACES 5 as a potential risk mitigation step if additional things happen as we go through the testing of the Martin-Baker seat.
The US Navy is to conduct live-fire testing this September utlizing an F-35 to provide sensor data in order for an SM-6 anti-air missile to destroy its target. The demonstration comes as the service attempts to expand its Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture with more sensors and weapons in order to tweak the system from a primarily anti-air sole to a secondary anti-surface capability.
June 21/16: Four Israeli pilots are to travel to the US next month to undergo F-35 training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The training will be ground-based and the men will only fly the real aircraft back in Israel. It is expected that 12 pilots will have completed their training by the middle of 2017.
June 13/16: The ongoing debacle over Canada’s exit from the F-35 program may see Lockheed Martin shift contracts associated with the fighter away from Canadian contractors. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to not order the next generation fighter, and government plans to purchase F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim solution, has resulted in Ottawa not placing any orders for the fighter despite being an original partner nation in the project. With the F-35 supply chain contracts tied to the number of aircraft purchased by partner nations, Canadian companies may see work shifted to other partner nations who have seemingly been pestering Lockheed to do so. To date, Canadian firms account for about $1 billion of the project’s development and production work.
June 10/16: Canada’s new fighter jet selection has started to cause a bit of a ruckus in parliament with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slamming the F-35 as a fighter “that doesn’t work.” In response to the Liberal government’s plan to purchase F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim fighter, Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose accused Trudeau of selecting a fighter jet without the proper knowledge of what the Royal Canadian Air Force needs. By purchasing Super Hornets on an interim basis, Trudeau would keep his election promise of renewing the CF-18 replacement competition but also perhaps kicking the can on any new fighter competition well into the late 2020s.
Denmark has officially selected the F-35 as its replacement for its F-16 fleet. The official announcement follows early indications that Copenhagen would purchase the fighter following a government recommendation in May for 27 F-35A models at a cost of $3 billion. Earlier, competitors such as Boeing had hoped that they could offer their F/A-18 Super Hornets by calling into question the F-35’s questionable cost estimates, but these efforts did nothing to curry favor with the Danes.
May 26/16: It may have been coming for some time, but the Pentagon has finally admitted that the F-35 will not be cleared for full rate production until 2018. Frank Kendell, the program’s chief weapons tester, had been warning of delays for some time; however, it had been maintained by some that the jet’s initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) would occur as planned in August or September 2017. Now that reality has hit home, the extra six months will be spent retrofitting the 23 aircraft required for IOT&E with the full 3F software and hardware patches.
May 25/16: The first two Dutch F-35As have successfully landed in the Netherlands, marking the Joint Strike Fighter’s first eastbound transatlantic journey. Dubbed AN-01 and AN-02, the fighters were welcomed by a crowd of 2,000 including Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. The aircraft will now spend the next few weeks conducting noise and environmental tests over the country, designed to determine the levels of noise disturbance the residents experience. The jets will perform flights over the North Sea range and then appear and fly at the Netherlands’ Open Days in June.
May 16/16: Testing of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter‘s tailhook has commenced at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The JSF Integrated Test Force has been undertaking the tests, with stress tests being conducted on aircraft AF-04 at speeds up to 180 knots. On Air Force planes, tailhooks are only used to help the jet stop when landing distance is insufficient or if the jet has a brake malfunction or directional control issue. They are designed as a one-time use device, whereas Navy tailhooks like on the F-35C can deploy, retract and stow.
May 13/16: Denmark looks set to sign up for F-35 procurement with an order expected for at least 27 aircraft. The selection by the country’s minority Liberal government follows intense public debate about the cost of modernizing the country’s air force, but it can still be blocked by parliament, where opposition politicians are urging budget restraint. Alternatives offered to the government came from Boeing with their older F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
May 9/16: The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has announced that it has solved the next generation fighter’s glitch-prone combination of software and hardware called Block 3i. The patch may now clear the way for the USAF’s first Lightning II combat squadron to declare initial operational capability (IOC) between August and December of this year. Glitches in the Block 3i software have been causing problems since flight testing commenced in May 2014, with the most recent issue affecting the radar on F-35s with pilots having to turn the radar off and on again mid-flight.
May 4/16: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.2 billion contract for the production of 13 F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Delivery of the fighters will see six F-35Bs sent to the USMC, three F-35As for the USAF and four F-35Cs for the US Navy. Work on the fighters is expected to be completed by December 2019.
April 28/16: Israel’s eagerness to customize its orders of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has already seen its first app created for the next generation jet. Utilizing the open-architecture software design found in the Lockheed Martin designed fighter, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed its own command, control, communications, and computing (C4) system which will be equipped on the aircraft in December. The software is an upgrade of an existing C4 system the Israeli air force flies on its F-15 and F-16 fighters.
April 27/16: Recent software glitches found in the APG-81 radar for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have not caused any problems for F-35Bs operated by the USMC. The comments were made by Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis as he appeared in front of the US Senate Armed Services seapower committee. Davis said that the glitches, which caused the fighter’s radars to reset mid-flight, only occurred on code found in the 3I software update which the Marine Corps never uploaded onto their jets, instead keeping with the older 2B version.
April 22/16: It doesn’t look likely that the F-35 will be sold to any Gulf nation within the next decade, allowing Israel regional exclusivity to the fifth-generation jet fighter. The widely held, but not often articulated belief by many Israeli officials, is that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members will not have access to the fighter until Israel has fully integrated the F-35 into its arsenal. This belief has been given further weight after US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work indicated such a move was unlikely, saying that “right now, we do not have any expectation for selling the F-35 in the near term, beyond the countries that have already bought into the program.”
April 14/16: A deal has been reached between the Pentagon and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney to provide the ninth low rate production of F135 engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The $1.4 billion deal covers 66 engines, as well as spares, extra parts, and support. Part of the order will include engines for five of the F-35 partners, including Italy, Norway, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
March 31/16: The Pentagon’s joint program office (JPO) is expecting a slimmed down Gen-3 helmet by November for rollout in 2017. The announcement makes the Rockwell Collins design’s introduction sooner than initially expected. Earlier versions of the helmet were revised due to a potential for causing neck injury. Problems with the F-35’s ejector system had resulted in potential injuries for lightweight pilots, however fixes have been made including a switch on the Martin Baker US16E (MK16) ejection seat that delays the parachute’s opening “by milliseconds” when occupied by a lightweight pilot, plus a head support panel sewn between the parachute risers. However, a weight reduction for the third-generation helmet from 2.3kg (5.1lb) to 2.1kg (4.6lb) has also been required.
March 29/16: Despite the delays, spiraling costs, and cynics, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has gone on a global publicity tour to win over hearts and minds for the fifth-generation stealth aircraft. Two planes due for the Netherlands are expected in June, so that they “can tell their story.” This is followed by American and UK planes performing at UK’s Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough Airshow in July. The program has been questioned by several nations, including Australia where their Senate is leading an inquiry into the planned acquisition of up to 72 conventional A-models. The inquiry will report its findings on 29 June.
March 28/16: F-35s are going to be in the sky longer than expected with their service life now extended to 2070. After military branches made tweaks to the number of flight hours their fleets should log before retirement, it was announced that the program may be extended for an additional six years. Between all military branches operating the aircraft, a total of 1.6 million flight hours have been added, which will boost the operating and support (O&S) costs by $45 billion over the 2015 estimate (hiding the 2-4% drop in real 0&S costs over the life of the program).
March 25/16: Software troubles on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program may cause a key milestone for initial operational capability (IOC) to be delayed by up to four months, although that is an improvement over the Joint Program Offices’s projection a year ago. The schedule delay is primarily due to software “stability” issues, seen in both Blocks 3i and 3F, with Block 3F capabilities estimated not be ready for IOT&E until 2018 at the earliest.
March 25/16: Despite potential delays to the F-35 IOC, the Pentagon has dropped the estimated price of its acquisition of 2,457 fighters by $12.1 billion. The drop marks a 3% decrease on the expected costs declared a year ago. This could potentially dissuade the program’s nay-sayers who have often derided the program’s soaring costs, potentially persuading Denmark and Canada who are currently on the fence, to perhaps continue with their participation in the Joint Strike Fighter Program.
March 22/16: Delaying investment into a 6th generation fighter has been recommended by Lockheed Martin, who is instead favoring a “robust” modernization program to keep fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s capable against new counter-air threats. The comments were made by the company’s Skunk Works chief Rob Weiss, who claims such a modernization will achieve the air dominance that America desires for the next 30 to 40 years. Lockheed currently holds dominance in the fifth generation market, and looks to push block upgrades of existing aircraft as the USAF and Navy assess their fighter requirements over the oncoming decades. Meanwhile, competitors Boeing and Northrop Grumman would like to break back into the high-end combat jet market after losing the winner takes all Joint Strike Fighter competition.
March 16/16: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will test the new Generation III Helmet-Mounted Display System this month, as it aims to counter problems with the jet’s ongoing ejection seat issues. Since August, a ban has been placed on lightweight pilots from flying the aircraft, as the current helmet may cause neck injury during low-speed ejections. The later version of the helmet is 8 ounces lighter than its predecessor, and is one of several options being worked on to counter potential injuries. The other options involve modifications to the ejector seat, and are scheduled to enter the production line this November.
March 9/16: Bugs in the F-35A 3i software are forcing pilots to restart the AESA radars while in flight. The glitch represents one of the greatest threats to the USAF’s initial operational capability (IOC), expected sometime between 1 August and 31 December. The root cause of the problem has been identified by lead contractor Lockheed Martin, now in the process of running the software solution through lab tests. The patch is expected to be delivered to the USAF by the end of March.
March 8/16: Canada’s participation in the F-35 program continues to be shrouded in confusion. The government plans to pay an installment of $32.9 million in May to continue its involvement in procuring the Joint Strike Fighter. This runs contrary to promises made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon the project during the run-up to the federal election in October. Trudeau had pledged that a cheaper alternative could be found as a replacement to the country’s aging CF-18 fighters, however, the F-35 has been allowed to participate in the latest replacement competition. The payment will ensure Canada’s place in the program until September 30, 2016, when a more concrete decision on the CF-18 competition may have been made.
March 2/16: Combat-coded F-35sdropped their first live munitons in testing last week. Laser-guided bombs were used by the USAF’s 388th and 419th fighter wings at the Utah Test & Training Range. While Air Force F-35s have dropped weapons in test environments, this is the first time it’s been done on jets designed to deploy once the Air Force declares initial operational capability planned for between August and December.
Lockheed Martin received a $769.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee, fixed-price-incentive-firm contract to provide recurring logistics sustainment services support for all delivered F-35 jets for the USAF, USMC, Navy, non-Department of Defense participants, and foreign military sales customers. Support provided includes ground maintenance activities, action request resolution, depot activation activities, Automatic Logistics Information System operations and maintenance, reliability, maintainability and health management implementation support, supply chain management and activities to provide and support pilot and maintain initial training.
February 17/16: Israel’s tanker procurement plan, and whether it will acquire more F-35s, will depend on how much assistance it will get from the US Foreign Military Funding package over the next ten years. Sources commenting on ongoing negotiations say that the Pentagon is likely to increase funding by up to $1 billion, which will set funds at $4.1 billion annually. The increase would see Israel commit to selecting the Boeing KC-45A tanker which is currently undergoing advanced testing under its Milestone C demonstration. The increase in funding could also see further purchases of the F-35I, adding to the current order of 33, the first of which are due this year.
The executive vice-president of the aeronautics business at Lockheed Martin, Orlando Carvalho, has indicated the Asia Pacific market may see another 100 orders of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the coming years. With three regional allies; Japan, South Korea, and Australia so far ordering 154 of the aircraft across its three models, further additions could be added to these fleets, although no mention has been made about potential new customers. With Australia indicating that it may bring up its fleet from 74 to 100 and Japan potentially seeking to build more of their own under license, that number may be possible. Another potential purchase may be from Singapore, who is considering the F-35, although there has been no indication of the size of the order under consideration.
February 12/16: The head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has played down reductions to the F-35A annual procurement quota to 48. Lt. Gen Christopher Bogden said that this would be upped to 60 units annually from fiscal 2018-2020. When adjusted for increased orders for the F-35B & F-35C procurement, the program will see 36 less F-35 aircraft procured overall between 2017-2021. Bogden has claimed however that the overall price per unit to the program will only increase fractionally by 1%. While warnings have been given that the forces aren’t modernizing quickly enough to counter Russia and China, the deferrals in production may come as a financial positive in the long run. With 20% of development testing yet to go in the program, reducing procurement at this stage will save on costly modernization of models produced in the next two years.
February 10/16: MBDA has started deliveries of a number of Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air missiles (ASRAAM) to the US for integration on the UK’s F-35B fighters. The ASRAAMs will be the first British built missiles to be used on the jet, and will be used during test flights and air launches later this year. The missile can be seen in use on the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornados. The British contribution to the manufacture of the F-35 program stands at about 15% of every fighter, with BAE Systems responsible for the production of the aircraft’s horizontal and vertical tails, aft fuselage, and wing tips. 138 F-35Bs will be bought for use by the RAF and Royal Navy.
February 9/16: The first Italian-made, flown and supported F-35A has become the first in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to complete a transatlantic crossing. The AL-1 took off from Portugal’s Azores islands and reached Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland seven hours later after flying 2,000nm. The fighter was flown by former Panavia Tornado pilot, Maj Gianmarco who has accumulated over 80 hours of flight time in the aircraft since graduating to fly the F-35A type in November. Refueling of the jet also took place supported by an Italian crew manning a KC-767 tanker with Gianmarco noting a 100% success rate on all occasions.
February 8/16: The US Department of Defense will acquire 404 F-35 fighters over the next five years. That number is a decrease of 5-7% on last year’s plan. The order will see $40 billion in revenue going to manufacturer Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt & Whitney. The deviation from last year’s plan comes as the Pentagon is shifting orders away from models ordered for the Air Force instead giving preference to the Navy & Marine Corps models. The coming years will see a total of 2,457 F-35s spread around all three military branches.
February 5/16: USAF orders of the F-35A jet will drop from forty-eight to forty-three in Fiscal Year 2017. However, the budget will include increased money to purchase ten additional F-35C models for the Navy and three F-35B models for the Marines over what had been planned. It’s unclear whether the total number of total aircraft to be procured under the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program will decrease overall. The move has not been too surprising as analysts and government officials have hinted that changes to JSF procurement could change. The cutting of the F-35As in 2017 is expected to free up millions in savings over the next several years.
February 3/16: A recent report from the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has raised serious questions over the F-35 program’s “unrealistic test schedule”. Michael Gilmore’s annual F-35 report released on Monday follows a recently leaked memo from December 2015 that highlighted issues over the jet’s software development. The report flags these testing issues as potentially delaying the operational evaluation by up to a year, with flight testing not likely to be completed until at least January 2018. It had been initially hoped that testing would be completed by August 2017, after program re-baselining in 2012. As a result of these delays, Gilmore also warned against current block buying of the fighter with 250 planned to be locked-in before the (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation) IOT&E. At present, 150 fully operational jets have been delivered by Lockheed and will all require extensive modification to the Block 3F standard once development concludes.
Ahead of the Pentagon’s February 9 official budget release, Defense Secretary Ash Carter mapped out his spending priorities on Tuesday. Among the plans include a $13 billion plan in funding for a new submarine to carry nuclear ballistic missiles over the next five years. This would be broken down into $4 billion towards research and development of new submarines, with $9 billion spent on procurement funding. The Navy may also see twelve more Super Hornet’s procured to make up for shortages caused by delays to Lockheed’s F-35 program, and longer-than-expected repair times for current Boeing F/A-18 jets. The budget also outlines a total 322 F-35s across its A, B and C models but following the recommendations in Michael Gilmore’s most recent report, this could be more wishful thinking than the eventual reality.
January 27/16: Despite recent successful testing of missiles on the F-35, a DoD weapons expert has expressed concerns over the fighter’s software development. A recently reported December memo from Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, expresses worry that plans to finish work on the F-35’s Block 3F software by July 2017 are unrealistic. Rushing the testing schedule for the software could result in a failure for the crucial IOC testing before the decison is made to put the jet into full production. The Joint Program Office, however, has dismissed the concerns, maintaining that the program is on track and that IOC dates for the Navy and Army will be met.
January 25/16: Falling oil prices and a weakening currency may effect Norway’s participation in the F-35 program. The increase in economic worries has seen Norway look to re-evaluate its defense spending commitments as the Krone falls against the US dollar, making the already expensive F-35 acquisition seem even more pricey. Alternatives to covering the costs of the fifty-two plane commitment may see the order reduced, or spending cut from elsewhere. The slash in other areas would force Norway to rethink its military strategy, and perhaps rely much more heavily on NATO.
January 20/16: The F-35 program will face one of its first live test challenges when a combat-coded F-35A will release an inert, laser-guided bomb at the Utah Test and Training Range between February and March. The releasing of the GBU-12 Paveway II will be the first one conducted outside of development or operational testing, and will mark a milestone in the development of a program plagued by delays, redesigns and spiraling costs. The full compliment of weapons will not arrive until late 2017. Until then, the Air Force will first operate with basic laser and GPS-guided weapons, as well as beyond-visual-range AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. It will also have advanced targeting, surveillance and radar-jamming equipment.
January 19/16: Engine makers Pratt & Whitney will make engines for the F-35 program. Details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, but two contracts will be issued to produce 167 engines to power Lockheed Martin’s latest jet within the next month. Further details of the deals have yet to be realized, but sources close to the deal revealed that the production of the engines alongside engineering support, spare parts and program management, would be worth more than $3 billion to Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corporation. The USAF said that the latest contracts will help drive down costs of the program which makes it affordable for customers.
January 18/16: All variants of the F-35 fighter jet are to get design overhauls since the discovery that the fuel tanks could over-pressurize in certain flight profiles; 154 F-35s have been delivered to date. Lockheed Martin has already received contracts to implement fixes on F-35A and F-35B, and are currently putting together a proposal for engineering works on the F-35C. Fuel tank ruptures have potentially devastating consequences, especially for fast moving aircraft such as the F-35s, with the potential to cost millions of dollars worth of damage.
January 14/16: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $28 million concurrency modification contract to correct a fuel tank overpressure issue for the F-35A fighter. The award will see them provide services for air vehicle retrofit modifications associated with the F-35A fuel tank overpressure engineering change. Work will be carried out for the Air Force, and the governments of Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway. The modification in design is not expected to effect the IOC of the aircraft.
January 12/16: The USAF will not be lifting weight restrictions on F-35 pilots until at least 2018. The push back comes as ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker needs more time to conduct additional testing on the ejector seat safety features in the fighters. The program has been experiencing problems with this specific aspect of the plane’s development since the summer of 2015, but this has just been one of many issues to have dogged the program amid increased delays and spiraling costs. The Pentagon hopes to make the aircraft’s European debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK this summer after engine issues forced it to be omitted from last year’s show. No doubt foreign partners in the program will be following with interest.
A delegation from Israel’s defense ministry has visited a Lockheed Martin production facility in Forth Worth, Texas as the frames of their first F-35I’s enter their advanced production phase. Israeli procurement of the F-35 fighter, dubbed the AS-1, differs slightly from the standard model of F-35A to be exported to other nations involved in the program. Unique features include the integration of Israel’s own electronic warfare systems into the aircraft’s built-in electronic suite, as well as the ability to use indigenously produced guided and air-to-air missiles. Israel has ordered thirty-three F-35I fighters at a cost of $3.6 billion.
December 23/15: Canada’s recent exit of the F-35 fighter program may not be as cut and dried as promised on the campaign trail by the Liberal Party government. During a recent interview, defense minister Harjit Sajjan sidestepped answering questions on whether the Lockheed Martin F-35 jet would be excluded from a competition to replace the CF-18 fleet. The government hopes to replace the aging CF-18 flight before they become obsolete. Recent promises by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back out of the F-35 development program and find a replacement that was more cost effective has resulted in a new selection process. However, it was unclear whether the F-35 could come under consideration again. Canada has yet to set the terms for the replacement competition, but Lockheed may just have a second chance in 2016.
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.17 billion advance acquisition contract for the F-35 fighter. The contract includes the advance procurement of long lead time materials, parts, components and effort to maintain the planned production schedule for F-35 low rate initial production lot 11 aircraft. It will see the production of 80 of the F-35A variant, seven of the F-35B variant and four F-35C aircraft that are destined for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as well as sales to foreign allies.
December 18/15: It looks like a very merry Christmas for Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as they came out as the major winners in the announced $1.15 trillion spending bill announced on Wednesday. Funding will see eleven more F-35 Lightning IIs than requested by President Obama in February. The F-35 program will see $1.33 billion additional procurement money as production of the fighters will be ramped up. The F/A-18 production line will also be extended, with seven more EA-18G Growlers and five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets planned.
December 15/15: Israel may potentially increase their orders of F-35 fighters as it holds the option to purchase 17 more, enough for two squadrons. They have already purchased 33 of the F-35A variant which allows for conventional take off capabilities, while the F-35B allows for operations in more austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near frontline combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The Defense Ministry hopes that the addition will increase Israel’s offensive capabilities and qualitative edge amid regional threats.
Singapore is apparently in no rush to order some F-35s after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen visited the Luke Air Force Base, Arizona on December 13. The minister was there for a demonstration of the fighters capabilities, and to see the Singapore Air Force’s (SAF) F-15s compete in training exercises. While speaking highly of the progress of the F-35’s development, he failed to commit to any future purchase of the aircraft for the SAF. Hen’s comments come at a time when several countries linked to the program are either renewing commitment to the F-35 program (Norway), or hesitating over costs and performance (Australia, Canada). Perhaps Minister Hen just wants to be wooed a little more.
December 14/15: The USS America has been the first west coast Navy vessel to receive upgrades to support F-35 operations. The modifications saw key areas of the flight deck have a thermal spray applied to key landing areas which will allow the ship to fully support the new fighter. The thermal coatings will allow the USS America to handle the new F-35’s thrust; reducing heat sent to decks below, allowing for longer time between deck maintenance. It is expected that other members of the America-class ships will undergo the application, to allow for facilitating the jets as part of the US Navy’s plans to increase air capabilities of fleets.
Norway is to order six more F-35 fighters after the government approved a new defense budget worth $5.6 billion. The approval sees an increase of 9% in defense spending. The move comes as a reiteration of Norway’s commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and will see the number of jets authorized for purchase increase to 28. Delivery of the jets is expected to take place in 2020.
December 7/15: Denmark has further postponed its selection of a new fighter to replace the F-16 until 2016. After it was initially reported that they would select the F-35 this month, funding issues around the acquisition have caused the new government to put further consideration into the commitment. After contributing an estimated $291 million into the project, issues surrounding technical problems and soaring costs may have the Danes looking elsewhere for their fighter needs. Denmark hasn’t been the only country having a wobble over the F-35. Canada announced last month that it was withdrawing from the Joint Strike Fighter development program, and last week, the Australian Senate voted in favor of an inquiry into their acquisition plans.
Italy has received its first F-35 fighter after it came off the assembly on Thursday. While six other countries have received the planes, Italy is the first to have the final assembly done outside of the US. The unveiling took place at the Cameri Air Base where the final assembly and check out (FACO) line is located. It is owned by the Italian government and operated by Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin. Italy will also have the honor of taking the F-35 on its first ever trans-Atlantic flight in February 2016, when three Italian pilots are set to receive training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Pakistan has announced plans to acquire 5th generation fighters internationally and still continue to develop its own line of JF-17 planes. The move comes as regional rivals have been upgrading military capabilities, with India recently purchasing 126 Rafale fighters from France. According to Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, the desired choice for the PAF is the Lockheed Martin F-35, but they are also looking at other options. Pakistan will continue to export the JF-17 to other countries with Egypt the latest country to express interest in the plane.
December 4/15: The Australian Senate will launch an inquiry into its planned acquisition of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters after a vote on Monday. The Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade committee will investigate how the fighter will integrate with the air force’s needs, its cost and benefits, performance testing and possible alternatives. The Royal Australian Air Force has planned to purchase 72 of the aircraft with the possibility of increasing to 100 fighters. At $11.7 billion, it is the most expensive defence acquisition program to date. Findings in the report will be presented to the Senate in May 2016.
November 30/15: The Australian senate is to vote on whether it to is examine the purchase of F-35 fighters in a deal worth $24 billion ($17.25 billion US). The vote comes in the aftermath of Canada announcing that it is to back out of its own orders last month. The investigation would look into the deal and what would be the best value for money for Australia and its defense requirements. Canada’s withdrawal from the F-35 program has brought about confusion over pricing as it was announced by US Air Force Lieutenant-General Chris Bogdan that costs of each aircraft were likely to increase by $1 million. This was contrary to previous assurances by the Australian Department of Defence that no extra costs would be incurred by Australia. Australia is one of eight nations working in conjunction with the US to develop and purchase the new fighter. The result of the vote will be watched with interest as the program could see a domino effect of cancellations as confidence in the program wanes.
November 23/15: US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has suggested that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter will take part in Canada’s latest jet selection competition. The announcement comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he would not be purchasing the jet as part of Canada’s replacement of older CF-18s. Work’s comments appear contrary to the Canadian administration but seems to be coming across as part of US efforts to rescue Canadian participation in the program.
While rumours continue over the fate of Canada and the F-35 program, Denmark is expected to confirm an order for the aircraft this December. It was reported last year that the order would be for 30 of the aircraft and would be replace the F-16s that are currently in service in the Royal Danish Air Force. Other European countries expected to make purchases include Norway and the Netherlands.
November 17/15: A crack has been found on the wing of the F-35C fighter during durability testing earlier this month. The crack was located on one of the 13 wing spars of the aircraft but the Pentagon has assured that the government and engineering teams are working on a solution and retrofits are being planned for existing aircraft. The US Navy does not see the setback impacting upon the planned Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the C model set for August 2018. One does wonder will this impact upon Canada’s order of the aircraft which has been put into question since the election of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month. Trudeau announced that he would put an end to their participation in the F-35 program for a more costly alternative during campaigning. This may increase the cost by US$1 million per aircraft.
November 9/15: Two Italian pilots have completed initial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training at Luke Air Force Base, allowing them to return to Italy and form a bedrock for the Italian Air Force’s F-35 training program. Italy is a Tier 2 partner in the program, with a planned procurement of 90 F-35s.
November 5/15: Lockheed Martin has been handed a $5.37 billion contract action for 55 Lot IX Joint Strike Fighters, including 41 F-35As, 12 F-35Bs and 2 F-35Cs. Six of the F-35As are to complete foreign sales to Norway, while seven are headed for Israel and two for Japan. Half of the 12 F-35B variants are for the Royal Navy, with the remaining B and C models for the Marine Corps and Navy respectively.
November 4/15: The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter has fired its GAU-22/A internal cannon while airborne for the first time, following ground testing in July. The 25mm cannon was fired in three bursts above Edwards AFB, with further tests involving a production F-35A planned for next year. The Air Force will pass the F-35A’s Initial Operating Clearance (IOC) without the aircraft’s internal gun system, with the weapon scheduled to enter service in 2017 as part of the aircraft’s Block 3F upgrade.
October 23/15: The Pentagon says that the work to fix the F-35’s ejection seat could take another year, with the program office stating that the manufacturer of the seat – UK firm Martin Baker – will have to cover the redesign costs. Issues with the US16E ejection seat grounded lightweight pilots at the end of September, with the risk of serious neck injury in low-speed ejections deemed too high; however, the restrictions only affected one out of the 215 pilots trained to fly the Joint Strike Fighter. The program office intends to install a head support panel in addition to a switch designed to slightly slow deployment of the ejection seat’s parachute.
If Canada’s new Liberal government decides to pull out from the F-35 program, the per-unit cost across the international program could rise by $1 million, according to the head of the Joint Strike Fighter’s program office. While there would be no impact on the F-35’s development program – scheduled to end in 2017 – the loss of Canada’s previous 65-aircraft order could drive up the cost by as much as 1% for the remaining international partners, owing to the requirement to cover future maintenance and modernization costs.
October 21/15: With Canada’s Liberal party securing victory in the country’s national elections, the potential procurement of Canadian F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are likely to be dropped, with leader Justin Trudeau announcing in September that he would scrap the controversy-ridden program. He has promised an “open and transparent competition” to find a replacement for the Canadian fleet of CF-18 Hornets, with work guarantees for Canadian industry built into any future contract. The savings from buying a less expensive fighter are to be funnelled to the Royal Canadian Navy to shore up expensive shipbuilding plans, with Lockheed Martin standing to lose $6 billion from the decision. However, the decision to back out from the F-35 program – which Canada signed up to in 2002 – could see work for Canadian firms in the F-35 supply base disappear completely.
October 15/15: The problems grounding lightweight pilots from flying the F-35 are now thought to be centered on the Joint Strike Fighter’s sophisticated Gen III helmet. The helmet – designed and built by Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems – is now thought to be too heavy to ensure a safe ejection at low speeds. The precise issue of whether the Martin Baker ejection seat or the helmet requires modification – or both – is currently under review by the Joint Project Office.
October 12/15: The Navy has completed testing of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The two aircraft used in the trials carried out ‘high risk’, heavy launches, involving simulated weapons loads and low airspeeds. These trials build on previous testing (in November 2014) of the F-35C’s ability to land and take off from carriers. When the F-35Cs landed aboard the carrier in early October the trials were also slated to test the JPALS landing assistance system, with no word yet as to whether this was achieved. A third round of at-sea testing is scheduled for summer 2016, with the F-35C developmental testing now approximately 80% complete.
October 5/15: An F-35 released a weapon from its external rack for the first time in late September, according to a Lockheed Martin press release Friday. A test aircraft released four 500lb GBU-12 JDAM bombs over the Atlantic Test Range, building on testing conducted by the Marines in June when GBU-12 and GBU-32 JDAMs were dropped, presumably from the Joint Strike Fighter’s internal weapons bay.
Meanwhile an F-35C landed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on Friday as part of the second round of at-sea testing for the F-35C known as DT-II. Following the first round of tests in November – which included a catapult launch – this set of trials will also test the fighter’s fancy helmet, the Joint Precision Approach Landing System (JPALS) and operations with a full internal weapons bay. The tests are slated to last two weeks.
October 2/15: An issue with the F-35‘s ejection seat has grounded lightweight pilots from flying the aircraft, according to a report by Defense News. The issue was uncovered during testing in August and the restriction (of pilots weighing less than 136lb) is reportedly only an interim measure until the manufacturer – Martin-Baker – can develop a solution to the problem in cooperation with the F-35’s Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin. Fighter ejection seats are supposed to be capable of accommodating pilots weighing between 103 and 246lbs.
September 25/15: The next set of testing on the F-35C will include new pilot helmets, integration with the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) and operations involving a full internal weapons bay, with these scheduled to take place during the first half of October. The Navy will build on tests conducted at sea in November, which saw the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter achieve 100% of its threshold requirements.
September 23/15: The Dutch Defense Ministry has penned an agreement with engine-manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for a Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul & Upgrade workshop in the south of the country to support future F-35 operations. The company’s F-135 engine powers the F-35, with the new workshop at the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s Woensdrecht Logistics Centre set to become a dedicated engine support facility from 2019. The country was selected by the DoD in December to support F-35 heavy engine maintenance, along with Norway and Turkey, and placed its first order for eight F-35A fighters in March.
September 18/15: The Dutch F-35 program could rise in cost by an additional half-million euros, bringing the program up to EUR5.2 billion ($5.9 billion). The rising cost has been attributed to the dollar’s exchange rate, something likely to continue altering the program’s costs as the Dutch place incremental orders to eventually fulfill their requirement for 37 F-35s, replacing their fleet of F-16s. The first tranche of eight F-35s was ordered in March, with these scheduled for delivery in 2019.
September 17/15: A leaked memo has uncovered serious concerns over the Marine Corps’ operational testing of F-35B aircraft aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1) in May, undermining the aircraft’s Initial Operating Capability in July. The memo, penned by the director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, cites a poor availability rate, a lack of realistic operational challenges and an absence of key mission systems. The first has been noted before, with this new memo as critical of how the tests were designed and supported as the aircraft themselves, including the discovery that the Wasp required software upgrades to communicate effectively with the F-35Bs.
September 16/15: The Air Force could deploy F-35As as soon as they reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC), according to the head of the aircraft’s Integration Program Office. With the Air Force scheduled to operate a squadron of operational F-35s by the beginning of August 2016, the three missions likely to be tasked to these 12 to 14 aircraft are close air support, interception of enemy aircraft and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). The first of these is becoming increasingly controversial, given the Joint Strike Fighter’s fist fight with the combat-proven A-10, while SEAD is closer to the original mission set intended for the F-35.
However, the Air Force first needs to rectify its current poor availability rate before IOC and deployment of its F-35s can take place. The Automated Logistics Information System (ALIS) is proving to be a problem for the Air Force and will likely be the most significant obstacle ahead of achieving IOC next year. Despite recent software upgrades, the ALIS system is proving to be a sticking point, with an accelerated production schedule likely to place increasing logistical demands on both the supply base and Air Force.
September 14/15: Lockheed Martin has unveiled a new Advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System for the F-35‘s Block 4 configuration. Designed to replace the current EOTS in operation with existing F-35s, the new version has been a priority for the program, while the Pentagon announced in May that it was to decide which weapon systems it would bake into the Block 4 configuration. A prototype of the Advanced EOTS is expected to make an appearance next year, while the Block 4 configuration is scheduled to be rolled out between 2019 and 2025.
September 11/15: An accelerated F-35 production schedule could stress suppliers, with the program office planning a three-fold increase in the number of Joint Strike Fighters produced each year over the next three years. The pressure on the production line’s supply base is also likely to be compounded by the requirement for incremental upgrades to in-service F-35s, along with a continued issues with the Automated Logistics Informations System (ALIS). Recently updated, the ALIS system saw problems earlier this year which built on persistent schedule delays in 2014. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $430.9 million contract at the end of August to further develop the system.
Aug 14/15: The Navy is reportedly considering reducing the number of F-35C fighters it plans to procure, alluding to budgetary concerns. The Navy is also less enthused by the Joint Strike Fighter compared to the Marines and Air Force because of the Service operating more modern aircraft, including new and upgraded Super Hornets.
Aug 3/15: The Marines announced on Friday that ten F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 have achieved Initial Operating Capability, the first IOC milestone for the F-35 program. The announcement comes after both an Operational Readiness Inspection, which concluded mid-July, and shipborne testing aboard USS Wasp in May. The IOC was announced despite reports that the latter tests uncovered significant reliability issues with the aircraft.
July 30/15: The six Marine Corps’ F-35Bs which underwent testing on USS Wasp in May reportedly showed poor reliability performance, with the aircraft reportedly only achieving availability of around 50%. This is undoubtedly a factor Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford has considered as he finalizes the jet’s paperwork for achieving Initial Operating Capability. A decision on whether the F-35B is ready for limited combat operations is expected imminently, with the USMC deciding in March to push on to a timetabled IOC target of fourth quarter 2015, despite issues with the fighter’s 2B software.
July 28/15: The F-35B’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) – the system designed to monitor and relay critical aircraft system data – has received its final software upgrade ahead of the fighter achieving Initial Operating Capability. The system has also received critical hardware modifications. IOC for the Marine Corps’ first F-35Bs is expected later this year, with the Corps deciding in March to push on according to schedule, despite issues with the jet’s 2B software.
July 24/15: The F-35’s GAU-22/A 25mm cannon has been tested on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, with the General Dynamics-designed weapon having been developed for both internal and external gun systems of the Joint Strike Fighter. The cannon is mounted on an external pod for the F-35B and C variants, with the Air Force’s F-35A variant positioning the weapon internally. The four-barrel system allows the fighter to let loose just 180 rounds per reload, allowing for three short passes at best. That last problem featured heavily in criticism of the Air Force for floating the idea – since backtracked – that the F-35A could serve as the main ground forces protection platform. The program has been busy testing other weapons in recent weeks, including the Marines testing live JDAM bombs in early July. The Pentagon has been mulling what to include in future F-35 weapon tranches, with options including the Small Diameter Bomb II and Joint Strike Missile, as well as several others.
July 15/15: On Tuesday, Lockheed Martin was awarded a further $718.3 million contract modification for parts, support services and simulators in support of the F-35’s Lot 8 low rate initial production. The LRIP Lot 8 contract was agreed last year, with 43 of the fighters scheduled for production under Lot 8. Also on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $101.3 million advance acquisition contract for 383 Helmet Mounted Displays for use with the F-35 by the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, international partners and the governments of Japan and Israel through Foreign Military Sales.
July 6/15: The Marine Corps conducted its first successful live ordnance drops from a F-35B in late June, the USMC announced on Friday. The Joint Strike Fighters dropped both inert and live ordnance, which consisted of JDAM GPS-guided munitions in both GBU-12 and GBU-32 configurations. The Marine Corps decided in May to push on towards the F-35B’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) objective timetabled for 1 July, despite the unearthing of software problems. While it appears that the 1 July objective IOC date has now been missed, the jet has until December to achieve this milestone, with the dropping of live ordnance reportedly one of the last remaining items on a checklist of required capability tests required for IOC.
July 1/15: In a damning report obtained by War is Boring, the F-35A was out-performed by a F-16D in a mock dogfight in January. The newer jet failed to manoeuvre fast or agile enough to defeat the older fighter, despite the F-16 flying with two external fuel tanks. The unnamed pilot listed off numerous serious problems with the fighter, including a low nose climb rate and a cramped cockpit space, as well as other manoeuvrability issues reducing the ability of the pilot to see and kill the older jet, an issue that has come up before. On Monday Lockheed Martin was handed a $19.6 million contract modification to provide requirements development and maturation efforts for the Joint Strike Fighter.
June 29/15: With Naval Air Station Lemoore set to become the backbone of the Navy’s future strike capability, the Navy awarded a contract Friday for the construction of infrastructure to support the base’s fleet of F-35Cs. The $20.2 million task order covers the construction of new buildings to house JSF simulators, as well as classrooms and briefing rooms. NAS Lemoore beat out NAS El Centro last fall to become the Pacific Fleet’s F-35 base, with Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA 101), the F-35C replacement squadron, set to relocate to the base in early 2017.
June 25/15: A US-UK team have successfully tested the F-35B’s short take-off capabilities from a replica carrier ski-jump, the British Ministry of Defence announced Wednesday. The testing is currently in its first iteration, with these tests designed to reduce risk before the JSF is launched from the deck of an actual carrier. The new Elizabeth-class carriers under construction for the Royal Navy will feature a ski-jump, in contract to the new Gerald Ford-class carriers which will feature electromagnetic catapults.
June 19/15: Not a single F-35A was downed by “hostile” fire during the Air Force’s recent Green Flag West exercise, the first exercise in which the Joint Strike Fighter has participated. None of the F-35s were shot down, whilst F-16s and A-10s were. The inclusion of the JSF in the exercises has been criticized as a public relations stunt; additionally, the level of operational pressure the F-35s were put under during the exercises compared with other aircraft has not been released. Whether the F-35 genuinely outperformed the other aircraft and as a result received no simulated destruction – or was just exposed to less severe operational testing – is hard to say.
June 4/15: Lockheed Martin saw a $920.4 million advanced acquisition contract on Thursday for the F-35 program. This award covers the production of 94 low rate initial production Joint Strike Fighters, with these spread across the three F-35 variants.. 78 F-35A models will be manufactured and delivered, with 44 of these destined for the Air Force and the remainder earmarked for international partners. The other 16 aircraft are split between the -B and -C models, with fourteen of the former going to the Marine Corps, as well as Italy and the UK, while two -C models will go to the Navy and Marines.
June 2/15: F-35As will take part in USMC exercises for the first time this week, with the fighter also set to drop live ordnance. The Green Flag West exercises will run to June 12, with the Marine Corps’ B model Joint Strike Fighter recently concluding trials aboard USS Wasp.
May 28/15: The Pentagon is currently determining what should be included in the F-35‘s Block 4 configuration, ahead of a review later this year. Weapons that could feature in Block 4 include the Small Diameter Bomb II and the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile, as well as potentially the B61-12 standoff nuclear bomb.
May 20/15: As part of the Marine Corps’ F-35B trials currently taking place aboard USS Wasp, a F135 engine has been flown onto the ship to assess the aircraft’s ability to be repaired at sea. The engine uses a modular design to facilitate the swapping out of components, with this also making the entire engine transportable by a single MV-22 Osprey.
May 20/15: The Marine Corps has begun testing its F-35Bs aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1), with these tests set to last two weeks. Six of the aircraft are being tested for specific abilities as part of Operational Testing (OT-1); these include digital interoperability between aircraft and ship systems, something particularly sensitive given the aircraft’s recent software problems. The USMC decided to push ahead regardless of 2B software issues, with the intention of hitting IOC in July.
March 26/13: Singapore. AOL Defense is reporting that Singapore will order 12 F-35Bs within 10 days, while others take a more measured tone. Agence France-Presse cite Singaporean sources as saying they’re in the final stages of evaluating the F-35, which tracks with statements by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen. Even so, the plane’s very incomplete capabilities mean that part of Singapore’s evaluation is just paper and promises at this point. Singapore’s RSIS points out that the country has traditionally been cautious in its defense buys, restricting themselves to proven platforms.
Singapore’s fleet of about 34 upgraded F-5S/T fighters were bought in the 1970s, and they do need replacement. The RSAF’s alternative would be to order more F-15SG Strike Eagles as F-5 replacements, and wait several years before ordering F-35s. The Strike Eagles would cost less at present, and would offer a much wider array of weapons until about 2025 or later. F-35Bs would offer more risk, and would enter service much later than F-15SGs, in exchange for better stealth, and the ability to take off and land from damaged runways. Either way, a DSCA-approved export request would be required before any order can be placed. The most we can expect within 10 days is a State Department announcement. AOL Defence | AFP | Reuters | Eurasia Review.
March 26/13: UK. The Ministry of Defence announces that RAF Marham, which had hosted Tornados until the fighters were retired to save on support costs, will become Britain’s main base for F-35s. It will also act as a support center, performing depth maintenance. RAF | BBC.
March 25/13: Engine. Bloomberg reports that Rolls-Royce was an average of 160 days late with its F135-PW-600 LiftFan engine parts deliveries in 2012. Subcontractor errors were part of the problem:
“There have been issues such as corrosion on some of the gears and some undersized holes,” Jacqueline Noble, a spokeswoman for the defense agency, said in the [emailed] statement [to Bloomberg]. While London-based Rolls-Royce and its subcontractors have made progress, the need to fix fan parts that don’t meet specifications “is still a concern,” she said.”
March 25/13: Japan LRIP-8. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $40.2 million fixed-price-incentive (firm-target), contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of 4 Japanese F-35As, as part of Low Rate Initial Production Lot 8. See also June 29/12 entry.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. All funds are committed immediately, and this contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, who is acting as Japan’s agent through the FMS process (N00019-13-C-0014).
March 21/13: Netherlands. The 2 Dutch IOT&E F-35As are already slated to go into storage until 2015, because the jets aren’t fit for purpose yet (q.v. Feb 11/13). Now Reuters reports that the Dutch are looking to cut their planned order of 85 F-35As by 17-33 planes. On the surface, this isn’t exactly news, as the MvD was known to be looking at a 56 plane order (-29 aircraft) when the Oct 24/12 Rekenkamer report came out. Reuters gives a figure of 52-68 planes and a budget of EUR 4.5 billion, but full replacement of the RNLAF’s reduced fleet of 68 F-16s with F-35As doesn’t square with that budget. A “defense source close to the talks” is quoted as saying that an F-35A order could drop as low as 33-35 planes (-50 or more aircraft), based on Rekenkamer estimates.
That can’t be welcome news to the F-35 program, which expects to have foreign orders making up half of production after LRIP Lot 8 in 2014 (q.v. March 12/13). For the RNLAF, Defense Aerospace cites Dutch Parliamentary documents which size their operational F-16 fleet at just 24 / 68 planes, due to maintenance issues and lack of spare parts. That’s a bit of a crisis; meanwhile, the larger question is whether 24-35 fighters is even close to adequate for future needs.
The new coalition, sworn into office in November 2012, expects to finalize a new defense policy and fighter purchase plans later in 2013. Defense Aerospace reports that the Dutch Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has already scheduled presentations from Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet family) and Saab (JAS-39E/F Gripen), and the Eurofighter consortium has told the publication that they’re keeping an eye on developments. Reuters | Defense Aerospace.
March 20/13: Australia. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives an unfinalized, not-to-exceed $9.8 million modification for Australian-specific non-recurring support activities. It includes ALIS equipment and sustainment and logistics support, and will be bought under the LRIP Lot 6 contract. $4.9 million is committed immediately.
Australia was set to buy 2 F-35As for IOT&E preparation under LRIP Lot 6. The timing of their follow-on buy of 12 F-35As may be uncertain, but this contract seems to indicate that they’ll buy the 2 IOT&E jets (see also March 5/13). Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in January 2019. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-C-0083).
March 13/13: Denmark. The Danes pick up their fighter competition as promised, following their announced hiatus in April 2010. Invited bidders include the same set of Lockheed Martin (F-35A), Boeing (Super Hornet), and Saab (JAS-39E/F) – plus EADS (Eurofighter), who had withdrawn from the Danish competition in 2007. The goal of a 2014 F-16 replacement decision has been moved a bit farther back, and now involves a recommendation by the end of 2014, and a selection by June 2015.
The Flyvevabnet are reported to have 30 operational F-16s, with 15 more in reserve, out of an original order of 58. Past statements indicate that they’re looking to buy around 25 fighters as replacements, but there are reports of a range from 24-32, depending on price. Danish Forsvarsministeriet [in Danish] | Eurofighter GmbH | Saab | JSF Nieuws.
March 12/13: Issues & allies. JSF PEO Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, USAF, offers a number of important pieces of information at the Credit Suisse/McAleese defense programs conference in Washington, DC. One is that he hopes to have unit cost, including the engine, down to $90 million by 2020 – about 10% lower than current Pentagon estimates beyond 2017. Allies “need to know where their money is going”, especially since orders after LRIP-8 (2014) are expected to be about 50% allied buys. Unfortunately there’s an issue with IOT&E processes, which has been left unaddressed until the issue became a source of buying uncertainty:
“Adding insult to injury, the JSF program office classified all documents as “U.S. only,” which upset partner nations. Even if they are all buying the same aircraft, each country has its own air-worthiness qualification processes and other administrative procedures that require they have access to the aircraft’s technical data. JSF officials are working to re-classify the documentation, Bogdan said.”
Regarding Operations & Support costs, which are over 2/3 of a weapon system’s lifetime cost: “If we don’t start doing things today to bring down O&S now, there will be a point when the services will see this aircraft as unaffordable.”
Most of those costs trace back to design, so changes at this point are possible, but difficult. One design and support issue is that the 80% commonality between variants envisaged at the program’s outset is now closer to 25-30%. That means more expensive non-common parts due to lower production runs, larger inventories for support of multiple types in places like the USA and Italy, more custom work for future changes, etc. Information Dissemination | National Defense.
March 11/13: GAO Report. The GAO releases its annual F-35 program report: “Current Outlook Is Improved, but Long-Term Affordability Is a Major Concern“. Some manufacturing indices like labor hours per jet delivery rate are getting better, but operations and maintenance costs are a serious problem, and F-35 acquisition funding requirements average $12.6 billion annually through 2037.
There’s much, much more. It’s difficult to summarize this report, and worth reading it in full.
March 9/13: Cost sensitivity. Reuters gets their hands on an advance draft of a GAO report, which looks at the F-35’s sustainment and purchase costs. The GAO’s estimate to refurbish produced F-35s to incorporate fixes required by discoveries during testing? $1.7 billion. That’s a lot, but it’s a decision that touches on the next area they examine: what happens if some countries don’t buy, or the USA buys fewer?
Current American plans will average $10.6 billion per year until 2037 [DID: it turns out to be $12.6 billion]. Average costs have already climbed from $69 million to $137 million, and would rise by another 9% if the USA dropped its orders from 2,443 – 1,500 (to $150 million). They would rise by 6% (to $145 million) if all 8 foreign partners cut their planned 697 orders, but the USA kept its own. The combination? More than additive, at 19% (to $163 million).
Here’s the thing. The GAO is calculating averages, but all F-35 partners including the USA, have a limited window of safe remaining life for their fighter fleets. That forces them to place earlier orders, which can cost a lot more than “average over all production” estimates. They’re also more price sensitive to production cuts, since fewer planes per year are being built at this stage. A design that isn’t done testing adds another disincentive, and the combination of unready planes and spiraling costs for near-term buys can force quite a few cancellations and reductions. Each cancellation may be minor in the long term, but it’s a larger cost hike in the short term, which ensures that the long term production figure never arrives.
One response just starts production earlier, and lets the main partner eat most of the concurrency costs. So, was the $1.7 billion concurrency cost worth it, in order to speed up the purchase schedule and production ramp-up by 5-6 years? That’s an individual judgement. Reuters | IBT.
March 6/13: DOT&E OUE. The POGO NGO gets its hands on a copy of the Pentagon’s Operational Utility Evaluation for initial F-35A training, dated Feb 15/13. While DOT&E cautions that you can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from a system this immature, some of their observations and trends are relevant and concerning.
Not training ready. To begin at the beginning, current F-35s aren’t even close to suitable for new-pilot training, and are very marginal even for experienced pilot training. This situation, and the long list of accompanying flight restrictions, is normal for an aircraft mid-way through its testing phase. What’s different is that continued program delays would leave the US military unable to stream new pilots to its production aircraft.
Touch screens. A notable but less urgent design deficiency involves the touch screen display, which may need to be used less. Using it to control radios, for instance, is a bad idea, especially at high Gs and under stress. To duplicate this feeling, have a jumpy 3-year old grab and flail at your arm while you’re trying to operate a computer mouse. MIL-STD-1472G already prohibits this sort of thing as a sole option, and voice recognition is intended to fix the problem. Until it’s ready, of course, we won’t know if it has its own issues.
Visibility. The most serious deficiency remains technical problems with the pilot’s ambitious Helmet-Mounted Display, coupled with a designed-in lack of rear visibility that HMDS needs to overcome using the plane’s embedded sensors. The visibility is poor in order to improve stealth vs. a full bubble canopy; and also to keep design commonality with the STOVL F-35B, which mounts its lift fan and doors behind the pilot. The OUE’s experienced F-16 and A-10 pilots were universal in their criticism, saying that poor to no rear visibility made basic tasks like keeping formation more challenging, and was a deficiency in combat situations.
It’s also a maintenance risk, of course, since all associated systems must be working or the planes will be at a large combat disadvantage. The likely result? Either lower readiness rates, higher maintenance costs, or both. Those are both areas where the F-35 remains behind the curve, with potentially dire fiscal consequences. POGO summary | Full Report [PDF]
March 5/13: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $72.2 million unfinalized LRIP Lot 6 contract modification. It buys F-35A support equipment for Luke AFB’s Pilot Training Center 1. It also covers associated Data Quality Integration Management supplier support tasks, and all other sustainment data products for the USAF and the governments of Italy and Australia. The contract is split-funded by the USAF ($55.0M/ 76.2%); Italy ($10.3M/ 14.3%); and Australia ($6.9/ 9.5%).
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in August 2014. $36.1 million is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083). This brings total LRIP-6 contracts to $5.674 billion.
March 1/13: Return to flight. The Pentagon lifts the grounding order on its F-35 fleets, after inspecting fleet engines. The engine in question belonged to a plane used for flight envelope expansion testing, and had been operated for an extended time at high temperatures.
“Prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors on this specific engine were determined to be the cause of the crack [as opposed to high-cycle fatigue, which would force a redesign].”
Feb 28/13: Block 8 long-lead. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $333.8 million fixed-price-incentive (firm-target), advance acquisition contract, covering early equipment buys for 35 LRIP Lot 8 planes: 19 USAF F-35As ($155.2M/ 46%), 6 USMC F-35Bs ($85.4M/ 26%), and 4 USN F-35Cs ($27.5M/ 8%); plus 4 F-35B STOVLs for Britain ($45M/ 14%), and 2 F-35As for Norway ($20.7M/ 6%). All contract funds are committed immediately.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-13-C-0008).
Feb 27/13: Unhappy relationship. F-35 PEO Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan criticizes some important decisions, such as concurrent testing and production, and he’s also unhappy with the vendors. There’s some back-and-forth in the news reports regarding production cost, which he pegs at about $120 million for a Lot 5 F-35A with engine, and whether cost reductions per lot have been adequate. His AuBC interview also includes this remark, which got less attention but is more important:
“The real big elephant is how much it costs over the life of this plane to maintain it, and sustain it…. I think today, looking at what we have, the cost to maintain and sustain this plane is too high…. What I’ve told Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney is “you have yet to earn the right to become the product support integrator for the life of this program.” So what I’ve done is, I’ve tried to take pieces of the life cycle, and I’ve tried to introduce some competition [from domestic and foreign companies]….”
The decision to use only 1 engine also comes into play, as he describes the 6 month negotiations to finalize the F135 engine LRIP Lot 5 contract (vid. Feb 6/13 entry), which began shortly after their F136 competitor had been eliminated:
“Now, you would think a company like Pratt & Whitney that was just given the greatest Christmas gift you could ever, ever get for a company would act a little differently…”
In truth, the full tone of Gen. Bogdan’s remarks isn’t fully captured in written reports. He’s adopting classic crisis management recommendations, acknowledging known problems rather than being dishonest, placing them in context when he can, then promising to fix what’s left and deliver a successful jet. The comments in Australia were made shortly after the DOT&E report (vid. Jan 13/13). They’re aired a month or so later in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Reach for the Sky” documentary on the program, just before Australia submits a formal request to buy another 24 Boeing Super Hornet family fighters. Center for Public Integrity | Fox News | TIME | AuBC’s Reach for the Sky.
Feb 22/13: Engine. A crack in an F135-PW-100 engine blade grounds the entire F-35 fleet. The fault was found in an F-35A, but this part of the engine is common to all 3 variants. No one wants to have a blade break off inside and destroy the engine or the plane on its way out the back, hence the grounding.
These kinds of problems aren’t unheard of during testing, but the incident raises 2 big questions. One is the Pentagon’s flawed policy of ordering operational planes during the testing phase, which multiplies the cost of fixes during a fiscal crunch. The other involves the DoD’s decision to have just 1 engine manufacturer for the F-35, unlike its existing fighter fleets. Imagine exactly this sort of fleet-wide grounding, when the F-35 is the main fighter of all 3 armed services. DoD | Reuters.
Engine problems ground the whole fleet
Feb 13/13: Australia. Australian MP Dennis Jensen [Lib-Tangney, near Perth] chronicles the key assertions, decisions, and official reassurances made in Australia concerning the F-35, most of which have turned out to be somewhere between inaccurate and untrue. It’s a sobering account of how far program timelines and costs have gone awry, and effectively eviscerates the credibility of official ADF and DoD analysis.
The former defense research scientist also has the brass to point out that while the military has been busy missing the mark, independent analysts like Air Power Australia laid down key cost and performance markers that are now being vindicated by official reports.
Jensen is a long-time critic of the F-35. His 2009 guest article for DID focused on the F-22 as a better solution for Australia, and one wonders if he still has that view in light of recent events. His skepticism concerning the F-35 has remained, as evidenced by his March 2012 release, “Joint Strike Fighter lemon“. That release goes a step beyond most political releases, whose authors aren’t likely to confront a senior air force officer with step by step analysis of hypothetical 8 vs. 8 air combat engagements. Australian parliamentary transcript | JSF Nieuws has added sub-headers for easier reading.
Feb 13/13: Lot 6 Engines. United Technologies’ Pratt and Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT receives a $65 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for ongoing sustainment, operations, and maintenance to LRIP Lot 6’s F135 engines. This contract combines purchases for the USMC ($43.8M / 69%); the USAF ($17.8M / 26%); and the US Navy ($3.3M / 5%). $55.3 million in FY 2012 and 2013 contract funds are committed immediately, and $11.8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13.
Efforts include labor and materials required to maintain and repair F135 propulsion systems; sustainment labor consisting of fleet and material management, sustaining engineering, and joint services technical data updates; and material required to support fielded propulsion systems and support equipment after unit and depot activations at production, training, and operational locations.
Work will be performed in East Hartford, CT (54%); Indianapolis, IN (31%); and Bristol, United Kingdom (15%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013 (N00019-12-C-0090).
Feb 12/13: F-35B flying. The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office clears the F-35B variant to resume flight operations. Within the fleet, all affected hoses have been inspected, and the ones that are out of tolerance will be replaced beginning in about a week. F-35Bs with properly crimped hoses can resume flying now. Yuma Sun.
F-35B cleared to fly
Feb 11/13: Dutch IOT&E. Minister of Defence Mrs. JA Hennis-Plasschaert sends a written brief to Parliament, covering recent developments with the F-35. It outlines the recent American DOT&E report, and also discusses developments in Canada, where the F-35 decision is under review. With respect to their own order, the first Dutch F-35 is ready, and the 2nd will arrive in summer 2013, but the project’s lateness has started to affect the RNLAF.
The original plan was to use their IOT&E jets with Block 3 software for testing and tactics development from April 2012 – August 2014, and pay EUR 27.1 million. Because the program is so far behind on Block 3 software delivery, per DOT&E, the Dutch will have to store their jets in the USA at their own expense until 2015, run their IOT&E from 2015-2018, and pay EUR 47 – 55 million. All on top of buying their jets several years earlier than they needed to, which raised their cost by many millions of euros.
Turkey was probably thinking of these kinds of issues when they postponed their planned IOT&E buy in January. JSF Nieuws has excerpts from the letter, which has not yet been published on the government’s web sites, and also showed us the full copy.
Feb 6/13: The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and Pratt & Whitney announce an agreement in principle regarding the final engine contract for LRIP Lot 5’s planes.
An unfinalized version of that contract was announced on Dec 28/11, and the new contract is reportedly about $20 million lower than the $1.122 billion quoted at that time. Even with that reduction, adding the engine contract to other fighter-related Lot 5 announcements would give an average Lot V flyaway cost across all types of around $170 million per plane. It’s important to note that the engine contract includes things besides fighter engines, but even with no engines at all, Lot V announcements sum to a cost per fighter of $137.5 million.
Final engine figures and divisions won’t be forthcoming until the official Pentagon announcement. Note that some media reports don’t match up with the 32 planes known to be in Lot V (vid. Dec 14/12 entry). American Machinist | Reuters.
Feb 5/13: Britain’s switch costs. The British House of Commons Defence Committee says that the government’s shift from the F-35B STOVL to the F-35C and back cost the country GBP 100 million (vid. section 2, #14 & 15). Most of that money was spent on budgets related to Britain’s new carriers, and the committee faults the government for rushed work on the October 2010 SDSR.
That is quite a lot of money to waste, and it’s true that after the Conservative/ Lib-Dem coalition took power, there was a strong push to get the SDSR out the door in a short period of time. These kinds of decisions are very complex, and the committee faults the Ministry for going along with this recommendation, without really understanding the changes involved.
The Ministry’s defense is that their CVF/ Queen Elizabeth Class carriers had been touted as “future proof”, able to include catapults if that became necessary during the ships’ lifetimes. That proposition was put to the test early with the F-35C switch. The Ministry’s retrospective conclusion is blunt, and discomfiting on its own terms: “It is not my belief that [the carriers] were genuinely designed for conversion, or that the contract allowed them to be designed for conversion.” One wonders, then, why they were touted that way. UK Commons Defence Committee Acquisitions Report | Flight International.
Feb 2/13: A USAF presentation to Congress says that if sequestration takes effect, F-35 order will be reduced (duh). They add that the program may need to be restructured, too, along with the KC-46A aerial tanker and MQ-9 Reaper Block 5. That would make a few allies grumpy. Flight International.
Jan 31/13: Personnel. AviationWeek reports that Tom Burbage, the executive vice president and general manager of program integration for the F-35, will retire in March 2013, after 32 years at the firm. He had been appointed in that position in 2000.
Jan 30/13: DOT&E – Pilot views. Flight International interviews both experienced pilots and Lockheed Martin personnel, in the wake of the turning & acceleration performance downgrades announced by DOT&E’s 2012 report. One experienced pilot flatly says that those performance figures put the F-35 Lightning in the same class as the 1960s-era F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber, rather than modern high-performance fighters. The Lightning does retain some kinetic strengths, but the overall picture isn’t encouraging when examined closely.
Then a Lockheed test pilot with broad experience takes up the gauntlet, to say that the F-35 is actually kinetically better than other 4+ generation fighters. Some of his fellow test pilots question those claims. Read “The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy” for in-depth coverage of this issue.
Jan 30/13: Japan problem. If Japan wants to make parts for all F-35s, they’re going to have to do something about one of their “3 principles” on arms exports. Those restrictions won’t allow exports to communist countries, countries subject to arms export embargoes under U.N. Security Council resolutions, or countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts. Unfortunately, many potential F-35 customers, especially in the Middle East, fall into the 3rd category.
We’re sure Israel would be perfectly happy to simply have all of the affected parts made in Israel instead, but this is going to be a wider issue. The program could always go to a “second supplier” arrangement for all Japanese parts, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said maintaining consistency with the ban is “under discussion within the government.” Asashi Shimbun.
Jan 30/13: Industrial. Lockheed Martin says that there are 88 F-35s of all versions in various stages of completion on the program’s production lines. When it’s delivered, AF-41 (a USAF F-35A) will become delivery #100.
Jan 28/13: Fueldraulic fault found. Flight International reports that the failure of an F-35B’s Stratoflex fueldraulic line has been traced to a failure to properly crimp it. The F-35 Program Office says that Stratoflex, Rolls-Royce and Pratt &Whitney, have “instituted corrective actions to improve their quality control processes and ensure part integrity.”
The same problem was found on 6 other aircraft, and all 7 will need to be fixed. Until a Return to Flight plan is approved, however, all 25 F-35Bs will remain grounded.
Jan 18/13: F-35B grounded. The F-35B fleet is grounded, after a fueldraulic line (q.v. DOT&E report) fails and forces the pilot to abort a takeoff. There was no danger, and the pilot simply moved his airplane off of the flight line after it happened.
Jan 13/13: DOT&E Report. The Pentagon’s Department of Operational Test & Evaluation submits its 2012 report, which includes 18 pages covering the F-35. The fleet continues to work through significant technical challenges, which isn’t unusual. What is unusual is the steady stream of deliveries that will have to be fixed later, in order to address mechanical and structural problems found during testing. A summary of the key statistics & challenges can be found above, in the Testing section, but 2 issues deserve special mention.
One issue is software, which may be more important to the F-35 than it is to any other fighter aircraft. Unfortunately, the software development program is late, and is straining to fix and test issues across several developmental versions. Block 1.0 software capability is only 80% delivered, and the Block 2A software for training is under 50%. Block 2B, which adds rudimentary combat capabilities for serious training, was under 10% as of August 2012. Test resources and personnel are both limited, so this problem is likely to get worse.
The other issue is weight. The F-35 was designed with little margin for weight growth, but new capabilities and fixes for testing issues often add weight. One frequent consequence is higher costs, as very expensive but lightweight materials are used to save an extra pound here and there. Another consequence reduced performance, as seen in the F-35B’s drop to 7.0 maximum Gs after its aggressive weight reduction effort. A third consequence involves ruggedness and survivability. The F-35B faced a suspension of structural fatigue life stress testing in 2012, after cracking was discovered in several places. Even this pales in comparison, however, to the fleet-wide problem created by saving just 11 pounds in all variants. Without fuelstatic flow fuses and Polyalphaolefin (PAO) coolant shutoff valves, DOT&E estimates that these flammable substances make the F-35 25% less likely to survive enemy fire. DOT&E report [PDF] | Lockheed Martin re: 2012 testing | Reuters | TIME magazine. | Washington Post.
Jan 5/13: Turkey. The Turkish SSM procurement agency decides to postpone its initial buy of 2 training and test aircraft, which were supposed to be part of the Lot 7 order (q.v. Sept 27/12 entry). The SSM cites capabilities that are behind scheduled expectations and not ready for full training, and cost concerns, while reaffirming Turkey’s long-term commitment to 100 F-35As.
The Pentagon DOT&E report is quite specific about the plane’s delivered software being unsuitable for any combat-related training or test. Block 2B software would be required for that at least, but the program has yet to deliver parts of Block 1, and the Block 2A software on current planes is also just a partial implementation. In light of that information alone, Turkey’s decision to wait seems prudent. Why incur higher costs from an earlier production lot, if the plane isn’t going to be fully useful in its intended test and training role? Turkish SSM [in Turkish, PDF] | AFP | Washington’s The Hill magazine | Turkish Weekly.
Turkey postpones planned IOT&E buy
Dec 28/12: LRIP-6. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $3.678 billion unfinalized modification to the low rate initial production lot 6 advance acquisition contract. It covers 29 American planes: 18 F-35As, 6 F-35Bs, and 7 USN F-35Cs, plus “all associated ancillary mission equipment.” LRIP-6 contracts total $5,729.6 million, and include:
- March 20/13: $9.8 (support for Australia)
- March 5/13: $72.2 (support infrastructure for USA, Australia, Italy)
- Feb 14/13: $65.0 (engine maintenance)
- Dec 28/12: $3,677.9 (USA 29: 18 F-35A, 6 F-35B, 7 F-35C)
- Dec 28/12: $735.4 (support, unfinalized)
- Dec 6/12: $386.7 (long-lead)
- March 12/12: $38.6 (F-35A long-lead)
- Feb 9/12: $14.6 (F-35B long-lead)
- Jan 6/12: $194.1 (engines)
- Aug 8/11: $535.3 (38 long-lead: USA 19 F-35A, 6 F-35B, 7 F-35C; Italy 4 F-35A, Australia 2 F-35A)
Long-lead items contracts can include JSF partner and foreign buys, since the material buys are basically the same. Main contracts for customers outside America are often announced separately, which explains why some are missing from the Dec 28/12 announcement. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in February 2015. $1.839 billion is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).
LRIP Lot 6 main
Dec 28/12: LRIP-6 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $753.4 million unfinalized modification to the LRIP-6 advance acquisition contract, for one-time sustainment and logistics support. This modification also includes site stand-up and depot activation activities, Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) hardware and software, training systems, support equipment, and spares.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. $375.2 million is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).
Dec 28/12: LRIP-6 & 7 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $374.5 million unfinalized modification to the LRIP-6 advance acquisition contract. It covers initial spares in support of 60 F-35s from LRIP Lot 6 and LRIP Lot 7: 37 F-35As, 12 F-35B STOVL, and 11 F-35Cs.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2015. Contract funds in the amount of $374,495,232 is committed immediately (N00019-11-C-0083).
Dec 28/12: Studies. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $48 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to perform engineering, programmatic, and logistics tasks supporting investigations or studies covering various systems in the F-35 Lightning II.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in December 2015. $7.2 million is committed at the time of award. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-13-D-0005).
Dec 28/12: LRIP-5 support. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a not-to-exceed $17.1 million unfinalized modification the LRIP Lot 5 contract. This modification buys initial air vehicle spares for LRIP-5 F-35As.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (35%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Warton, United Kingdom (20%); Orlando, FL (10%); Nashua, NH (5%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2015. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13 (N00019-10-C-0002).
Dec 14/12: LRIP-5. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $127.7 million fixed-price-incentive-fee and cost-plus-incentive-fee modification, finalizing the F-35’s LRIP Lot 5 contract for 32 planes. This contract also includes funds for manufacturing support equipment; 2 program array assemblies; ancillary mission equipment, including pilot flight equipment; preparation for ferrying the aircraft; and redesign to change parts with diminishing manufacturing sources.
Some news reports place the contract’s figures at $3.8 billion, but a review of past contracts, and conversation with Lockheed Martin, show that the entire LRIP-5 is actually $6.459 billion so far. The distribution also differs from Reuters’ report: it’s 21 F-35As, 4 F-35Bs, and 7 F-35Cs. Past awards, in millions, include:
- Dec 14/12: $127.7 (finalize)
- Aug 6/12: $209.8 (spares)
- Apr 13/12: $258.8 (add 1 F-35B, 1 F-35C for USA)
- March 12/12: $56.4 (support of delivery schedule)
- Dec 28/11: $1,122