Thursday, April 21, 2011

Another delay for F-35 in-service date?

Air Force Times

By Dave Majumdar - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Apr 21, 2011 15:34:08 EDT
The F-35 Lightning II’s initial operational capability might slip for the Air Force and Navy versions of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jet, Vice Adm. David Venlet, the program’s manager, told reporters Thursday.
While Venlet deferred to the service chiefs about exactly when the aircraft would be declared operational, he said that realistically, it would happen after 2016.
“Our [Technical Baseline Review] schedule now shows development test completing in ’16. Realistically, I don’t see it being in ’16 for Air Force and Navy,” he said.
Overall, however, the F-35 program is making progress, but much more needs to be done before the tri-service effort can be considered truly back on track, Venlet said.
He said that flight testing has begun to pick up as of the beginning of the year. As well, the program’s ability to manufacture aircraft is beginning to stabilize.
This year and next year, the program must demonstrate that costs are under control, with the first order of business to determine the actual cost of the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Four contract aircraft, he said.
“We’re probably just approaching about the early first 10 percent of LRIP-4 production, and I’m waiting to see actuals align to the baseline,” Venlet said. “Then we’ll be negotiating LRIP-5.”
LRIP-5 will consist of 35 aircraft, he said.
Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s prime contractor, is set to deliver its proposal shortly. After the government receives the contract, the program office will extensively review the proposal before negotiations begin, Venlet said. The program office also will conduct a “should cost” review.
It is important that Lockheed deliver on the LRIP-4 contract, Venlet said. Though the LRIP-4 contract is based on a fixed price, the dollar amount the government pays is allowed to rise by approximately 6.5 percent. If the price exceeds that amount, Lockheed is on the hook for that additional cost.
However, Venlet said the government cannot allow the company to be driven out of business by absorbing huge additional costs indefinitely, and as such, contracts for LRIP-5 could be adjusted to ensure the company has an acceptable margin. This, Venlet said, is why Lockheed’s performance on LRIP-4 is so important. Venlet said, thus far, he is very pleased with the F-35’s radar cross-section, which has undergone testing over ranges.
“We don’t have any worries currently that [is] going to be a defective piece of the aircraft,” he said.
However, other manufacturing issues are plaguing the program. There are parts shortages for the Navy’s F-35C version, and some engines have had to be replaced due to quality problems.
Venlet also said the manufacturing timelines of certain parts need to be shorter. Currently, some parts take 29 months to build; he wants that down to 24 months.
The other big task on the plate for the F-35 program is to build a sustainment strategy for the aircraft, Venlet said.
“This is really a year to focus on sustainment,” he said.

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