Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carter: Healthy JSF Worth Slip In Production

By Amy Butler (AW&ST)

The Pentagon remains willing to slow F-35 Joint Strike Fighter production to shore up problems in the development and testing portion of the single-engine stealthy fighter program, says Ashton Carter, who oversees procurement for the U.S. Defense Department.
“Ultimately, a successful [system design and development] program will reduce program costs because we won’t have to go back and retrofit aircraft and we will design in lower cost,” Carter told Aviation Week during a Dec. 21 interview. “If that means waiting a little while— as we have waited—for production aircraft, that is worth the wait.”
Despite a 13-month development delay to the Lockheed Martin project initiated last February, senior Pentagon officials are considering yet another slip to the F-35 development project that, if approved, is likely to be announced in February at the latest, with the forthcoming Fiscal 2012 budget submission to Congress.
The potential of a further slip to F-35 production is not likely to affect international customers, Carter says. “I think that we will be able to ramp up production in such a way that we will be able to satisfy all of the international customers in the timetables that they can absorb and pay for the aircraft, and I think that the schedules can be made to match up pretty well.” The first international release of the aircraft is now expected in 2014; that could slip if the Pentagon restructures the project once more to accommodate additional development work. Already, eight countries have signed on as partners in the program. Singapore and Japan also are interested in following Israel in procuring the aircraft directly from Lockheed Martin.
In contrast to the Pentagon, an aggressive early production schedule is viewed as critical to Lockheed Martin, which is still competing against the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter in several international markets for sales. Company officials stress that proceeding with production concurrently with development will help to reach a critical mass in the number of near-term orders and drive the per-unit price of the aircraft down as soon as possible. The Pentagon’s position, however, has in the past year been to reduce concurrency to avoid the potential of rework on aircraft produced early in the production line.
The last F-35 restructuring occurred as the Pentagon recertified the triservice, multinational program to move forward despite the projected unit cost nearly doubling from $50 million to $95 million. That overrun breached the limits in the Nunn-McCurdy statute, prompting a major review of the project and recertification prior to continuing work.
The recertification came last summer, after Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz was dismissed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the program manager position was elevated by one rank. Vice Adm. David Venlet, the new program manger, has since conducted what Carter says is the first comprehensive review of the $382 billion program.
This technical baseline review is complete and has not been released to the public. It will provide the basis for Gates’ forthcoming decision on how to proceed with the F-35. “That was the whole reason for restructuring the program office and getting Dave Venlet in,” Carter says, acknowledging that the restructuring in 2010 is likely only a start for the new direction of the program.
“The first thing I asked him to do was to get to the bottom of the management of the Joint Strike Fighter program because last year we had to rely on a few cost analysts for the most accurate picture we could get of the status of a large and important program,” he continues. “I feel [as if] I and the sectary of defense have for the first time in years through the technical baseline review an accurate high-fidelity management information picture of the Joint Strike Fighter.”
Carter says that the recent signing of a fixed-price, incentive-fee low-rate-initial-production Lot IV (LRIP IV) contract with Lockheed Martin “was a step forward, but there is no question there are many steps ahead” in reining in cost for the program. Based on the LRIP IV contract, the target prices of the three F-35 variants without engines are as follows: conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL)—$111.6 million; Short takeoff and vertical landing (Stovl)—$109.4 million and carrier variant (CVs)—$142.9 million. Though Stovl appears to cost the least, the per-unit engine price is the highest. Also, this number is lower because the purchase includes 17 Stovls versus 11 CTOLs and only four CVs.
Photo: Lockheed Martin

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