F-35 Mission Software Needs Some Debugging, Cost-Cutting Process Working Around the Edges
The F-35 needs some code rewrites before it can be released as initially combat ready, according to the head of Lockheed’s aeronautics division. The radar tracking parts of the mission systems software had problems, but the Lockheed executive said the problem was manageable before the July due date. That said, when asked by Reuters if it could mean another delay, he said a decision could be expected in weeks whether a separate update would be required. On the good news side of the ledger, Lockheed indicated it was on track to save about one quarter of one percent of the cost per F-35 via improved manufacturing techniques. They hope to bring costs down a total of one percent of the cost with the next low rate initial production contract (LRIP 9). Lockheed expressed the ambition of lowering the incremental cost per fighter with engines to $80 million by 2019. Those figures do not count weapons and other systems that can cost more than the fighter, nor do they include the overhead costs of program development.
- The U.K. released photos via Twitter showing Pantsir-1/SA-22 anti-aircraft systems rolling through rebel-controlled Ukraine. The SA-22 was never fielded by Ukraine and almost certainly came compliments of the Russian government. The Foreign Office calling out Russia via Twitter may indicate that the alternative to diplomacy isn’t force after all. To do harm to Zhou Enlai’s famous quotation: “All social media is a continuation of diplomacy by other means.”
- North Korea reportedly made its first flight test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The country reputedly has as many as 70 submarines, although most are merely mini-subs, capable of providing guerrilla ingress.
- Iran, too, is announcing its new submarine – a 1,300-ton 60-meter boat made in-country – will have cruise missile launching capacity. Iran currently runs three Russian Kilo-class subs, none of which could be adapted to launch missiles. They had previously built the capacity into surface ships.
- The new strategic bomber program, an RFP for which is expected in the spring, is expected to cost about half a billion dollars per copy. Key industry players already have broad requirements documents, which have not yet been made public. It is expected they should be stealthy, although there is debate on that requirement with the future F/A-XX fighter. Some in the Air Force worry that stealth is enormously expensive and a transient benefit with advancing detection technologies. But the chief of Lockheed’s Skunk Works, the primary purveyor of stealth technology today, thinks that is hogwash. There may also be a requirement for the bomber to be flown by wire. The Air Force has an abiding ambivalence on having its main airframes go unmanned, and that can be seen with Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson last month indicating it isn’t a requirement now, but may become one later.
- The Government Accountability Office chastened the Defense Health Agency for not having mechanisms in place to find or prevent improper medical payments for the DHA’s TRICARE system. The Medicare system, famous for having been loose with payment controls, has better systems.
- Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewsonnoted that they saw a fifth of their revenue come from non-U.S. sources in 2014 and hope and expect that to reach a quarter of revenues in the next few years. The backlog of orders is already more than 25 percent international.
- DARPA, at it again, is hiring designers and comic book illustrators among others to address novel cyber defense issues. Currently, defenders do not have good visual interfaces allowing them to see attacks, nor do they often have a vocabulary of pre-tested methods for addressing many types of attacks. This CS Monitor report shows their journey, slated to cost $125 million over four years.
- Lockheed felt need to announce publicly that it too has a “clean sheet” option in the competition to provide 350 replacements for the T-50 trainer. With Northrop bragging about it throwing out old designs in the past weeks, Lockheed noted that while it is offering a T-50 variant along with Korea’s KAI, it also started a clean sheet process in 2010 at the Skunk Works, but that this is not its preference. Lockheed’s Rob Weiss said that a clean sheet project would not be “in alignment with what the Air Force has said they’d like to do,” indicating that it would likely be more expensive and carry much higher risk. Mr. Weiss may not have had much opportunity to meet Air Force personnel. Northrop Grumman will eschew the BAE Hawk training system for a completely new design. That puts them up against a Boeing/Saab effort, also with a new design; the Lockheed/KAI push for a T-50 and T-100- based model; General Dynamic’s use of the M-346 of Alenia Aermacchi and a Textron Airland effort using their Scorpion. In Mid-January the Air Force did brag a bit about their lowering the T-X requirements for cost reasons in an effort to show their flinty bonafides.
- Iran’s domestic submarine ambitions grow. Their 1,300-ton sub (above) is in part possible due to their scrappy development of domestic capacity, as is shown in the Iran state TV item from a couple years ago, upon the launching of a domestically-refit Kilo-class boat…