Joint Strike Fighter Program Executive Officer (PEO), LtGen Christopher Bogdan says the JSF program continues to make “good, slow and steady progress” towards a number of key milestones.
Talking to media at the Avalon Airshow on Tuesday, LtGen Bogdan said the program continues to hold to its 2010/11 re-baselined schedule, and that since that time, no milestones have shifted to the right, and no extra money has been injected into the program. He said all the plans made after the re-baseline remain in the program and that, despite recent reporting, no capabilities have been shifted to later capability blocks.
The US Marine Corps is planning to declare an initial operating capability (IOC) with the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the JSF on July 1 this year, and LtGen Bogdan says the program office has 10 key capabilities left to deliver before this occurs. Of these 10, he said four are currently tracking behind schedule, including the revolutionary autonomic logistics information system (ALIS); concurrency modifications to early build jets; the delivery of full-motion simulators for pilot training; and software development.
But LtGen Bogdan stressed that, whereas the program’s delays used to be measured in months and years prior to the re-baselining, he now measures them is days and months. Of the above listed elements, none is currently tracking more than 40 days beyond schedule.
The biggest overall challenge for the program continues to be the development of the fully operational Block 3F software, with LtGen Bogdan says is currently tracking about four months behind schedule. He also said concurrency modifications to about 200 F-35s at the conclusion of development testing remains a risk to the program. He said “concurrency is very hard to do” when all the current aircraft are fully committed to development testing or pilot training.
He stressed that the JPO and the industry suppliers were very committed to getting the software development back on track, and said that, at a cost of US$185 million per month, any opportunity to reduce the cost of development testing will be eagerly pursued.
Other technical issues such as the aircraft’s revolutionary helmet mounted display, the F-35C carrier variant’s tailhook design, and modifications to the aircraft’s F135 engine following an engine fire last June are “behind us”, and that fixes for all three have now been developed and tested.
The US Air Force remains committed to declaring its IOC with the F-35A conventional variant in August 2016, while the RAAF is expected to follow with 3SQN and 2OCU in late 2020.
In the meantime, F-35 production is expected to ramp up from 35 aircraft in 2014, to 45 in 2015, 61 in 2016, 72 in 2017, 93 in 2018, 102 in 2019, and at least 120 per year from 2020. These numbers preclude any additional foreign military sales (FMS) over and above those orders already placed by FMS and partner nations.
Australian JSF Project Office head AVM Chris Deeble said the RAAF’s $15.4 billion project achieved several key milestones in recent months, with the government approval of an additional 58 aircraft last year to take the RAAF’s total to 72; the rollout and first flights of the RAAF’s first two aircraft in July and September; a successful airworthiness board and clearance for flight for the first two aircraft their delivery to Luke AFB in December; and the commencement of the first RAAF pilot’s F-35 training at Eglin AFB in January.
Government’s Public Works Committee also approved the A$1.5 billion infrastructure works element of the project required to support the F-35 at RAAF bases Williamtown, Tindal and the northern bare bases, and this will be Australia’s largest defence infrastructure project since the end of WW2. AVM Deeble also expected the aircraft’s environmental impact statement (EIS) to be approved in March.
AVM Deeble said Australia continues to assess the project independently of the JPO, and concurs with the JPO’s assessment of the remaining risks in the project. He said his main concerns are not technical, but rather centre on the establishment of sustainment and training facilities and infrastructure for the F-35 in Australia.
He also expressed some concern about the abilities of some companies to ramp up their industrial capacity as production increases, and both the Australian and international project offices continue to conduct production readiness reviews to assess industry’s capacity.