Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Fighter Comes Under Fire: Will the F-35 survive?

A critical GAO report early in a program can be the first step towards cancellation.

Here's what the GAO Found:

--Based on early test data, Program officials and end-users are concerned about several potential aircraft problems: engine stalls, demonstration of an improved aerial restart capability, and excessive taxi speed.

-- Warfighters believe that the aircraft needs additional equipment, such as a new internal electronic countermeasures set, an information distribution system terminal, and a new air-to-air missile. The aircraft does not have sufficient space available for all desired new capabilities.

--A review team was critical of the combat vulnerability of the aircraft. Based on a subsequent assessment by the contractor, the program is considering adding two vulnerability reduction features. In the opinion of Program Office officials the problem of vulnerability is not significant.

-- Subsequent to the vulnerability review, the aircraft mission has been revised to include more air-to-surface operations. In this role it is more vulnerable than in the air-to-air role because it is subject to a greater variety and concentration of hostile fire.

--The aircraft program cost estimate in the latest Selected Acquisition Report shows an increase of $7.7 billion from the previous year’s Selected Acquisition Report. Of this, $6.3 billion is attributed to acquisition quantity change. The remainder is for new capability for the original aircraft buy and program estimate revisions. The Selected Acquisition Report was received too late for GAO to analyze the changes as to reasonableness and accuracy.

-- It is generally considered that the cost of participating country production will be higher then U.S. production cost. The program office does not yet know what impact partner coproduction will have on the cost of U.S. aircraft. They contend, however, that the increase in aircraft procurement quantities as a result of partner participation will lower the cost of domestic production enough to offset the increased cost of coproduction.

--The aircraft program is experiencing schedule delays that could, if not corrected, affect completion of testing required to demonstrate aircraft performance before the full production decision scheduled for September. Program officials believe the delays will not seriously threaten the test schedule.


Greater emphasis is now being placed on the aircraft air-to-surface mission and some of the significant survivability/vulnerability problems identified by the service review team have not yet been corrected.

The existing schedule for several critical test items seems optimistic and leaves little room for further delays or unanticipated test problems. Should either or both occur, the program will have to decide between delaying the production decision or revising test requirements.

The Secretary of Defense should:

--Reassess the aircraft survivability features to determine if they are adequate.
--Not allow participating partner pressure to hamper performance of testing necessary to justify a full production decision.
-- Invite the partner countries to participate in any assessment of the test schedule so that any changes can be mutually agreed upon.
Here are some of the details:
The schedule for completion of the tests required before the full production decision is optimistic.

Test aircraft, radar, and the stores management system are currently behind schedule. Program officials have placed a high priority to resolving these issues in order to maintain the schedule. Continued slippage could result in a failure to complete required testing prior to the scheduled full production decision.

Delay in aircraft assemblyThe aircraft and airframes required for testing are scheduled for delivery but these test aircraft will not contain all production components. Among those deleted are the gun, radar, operational displays, fire control computer, and stores management system.

Aircraft A-1 was delivered and the static test airframe began scheduled testing in the same month. Program officials stated that the schedule slippages are slight, and are being recovered.

Two aircraft are particularly critical to the test program. Aircraft A-3, for example, will be the first with full mission equipment and many test requirements can be done only with this aircraft. Aircraft B-1 must make its first flight prior to the DSARC. Any extensive delay in the delivery of either of these aircraft could delay accomplishment of test requirements.

Radar production behind schedulePrior to the full production decision the contractor must successfully demonstrate all radar functions and the integration of the radar with the other aircraft avionics subsystems. This will require that a properly configured radar unit begin ground testing at least 2 months before its installation in test aircraft A-3. A flight model of the radar has demonstrated most radar functions, but this set is 20 percent larger than the one to be used in the production aircraft. The first radar set configured for the airframe has not been completed. Radar production is currently 6 weeks to 2 months behind schedule. Delivery of the radar unit is scheduled for mid-March which barely meets the requirements for ground testing. There is little time available for further production slippages or if significant testing problems occur.

Schedule slippage in stores management system
The aircraft stores management system coordinates the weapons functions with other aircraft avionics systems such as radar and optical displays. The system consists of a number of electronic units throughout the aircraft. In August, Program officials reviewed the stores management system progress and considered it unsatisfactory. The redesign of the system and other problems have caused schedule slippages. Program officials stated that these slippages will not affect the test schedule because the stores management system is not needed until Aircraft A-3. If the current problems persist, however, and the system is not available as scheduled, it will interfere with completion of DSARC IIIB testing,

And there is concern over foreign partner's needs and influence adversely affecting the Cost for the US......
From its inception the program has been heavily influenced by the desire of the United States Government to have the aircraft adopted by allies and subsequently, by the requirements of the Partner Governments. The time frame for aircraft selection, and the coproduction requirements. have caused conflicts with normal acquisition procedures, and have resulted in these procedures being either ignored or circumvented. The US and partner production decisions are scheduled for September. The current schedule slippages and related test program problems,
however, may require that the program choose between delaying the production decision or revising test requirements. Because of the multinational commitments, which include a firm delivery schedule for participating partner aircraft, there is some question as to what options will be available at that time. For instance, in DCP 143, indicates that if unforeseen difficulties arise it will be prepared to accept the first few aircraft without the radar and retrofit them later so as not to delay the aircraft delivery schedule.

The multinational aspects of the program are more thoroughly discussed in a separate GAO report.

On August 31, the program office directed that $10 million of progress payment be withheld pending remedial action on a number of problem areas including the following:
-- Submission of Engineering Change Proposal 0006 which will reflect much of the impact of partner participation in the program.
-- Submission of change proposal for maintenance test equipment.
-- Submission of change proposal for nuclear capability.
--Other late reProgram officenses to requests for change proposals.
--Problems with stores management set.
--Schedule slippages on full-scale development.

As of December 3, satisfactory progress had been made in some of these areas and $5.5 million had been released. The remaining $4.5 million was still being withheld pending further contractor action. The principal concerns were Engineering Change Proposal 0006 which Program officials stated was fundamental to development of an adequate program budget for the following year and beyond, and some slippage in the full-scale development aircraft delivery schedule.
Oops-- My bad! (This isn't about the JSF.)

Experienced readers would have seen defunct and incorrect (for the JSF) terminology and known this wasn't about the F-35.

So what was the troubled and risky program described above? Why it was none other than the now-venerable F-16. And the above text was excerpted (with a minimum amount of anonymizing) from a 1977 GAO report.

Scary huh? The only difference between then and now is that the GAO has bigger staffs and budgets to do their hatchet work. So be skeptical when and if you start seeing handwringing over the JSF in the future

1 comment:

Arcane said...

Ever since I became a maintenance officer and began delving more and more into various criticisms of weapons systems, I have become extremely skeptical of the GAO. But this is just icing on the cake! Thank you for finding this.