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October 27, 2011

F-35: The high cost of concurrency

F-35As headed for Eglin 8-31-11
Some lessons are never learned in the Military-Industrial Complex. One of them is you should design and thoroughly test some things before you start building them. Such as F-35s.

Even as Lockheed Martin execs are complaining about a new Pentagon policy that wants to push some of the cost overruns on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter onto the company, costs incurred for fixing already built or nearly built airplanes to resolve problems now being uncovered in testing, the company -- and the Department of Defense are paying the bills in other ways.

Bloomberg reports, what Lockheed officials didn't say yesterday, that the Pentagon has had to reduce its next order of F-35s from 34 planes to 30 so that it can find the money to pay for making changes to the 61 planes already in production to cover problems that been discovered along the way in testing.

It seems that Congress, beginning to face up to the nation's astounding deficit problem, is no longer willing to just write more checks for the F-35 program.

Over the last decade and more, longtime observers of the Pentagon's weapon's buying practices both outside the government and inside (read any GAO report on the F-35) warned against producing airplanes before the test program was at least well down the runway. Here's a commentary from a 2009 article in Jane's by Winslow wheeler and Pierre Sprey. 

Instead of embracing “fly before you buy”, they are rushing headlong into their plan to produce up to 513 aircraft with only two per cent of flight testing now complete. In that handful of test hours, the programme has already discovered significant problems in the avionics and engine that now must be fixed.

 Even more astounding, the programme plans to verify only 17 per cent of the aircraft’s characteristics with flight-testing, according to the Government Accountability Office and Pentagon insiders. The rest will be verified by computer simulations, testbeds, and desk studies. Desk studies?  

Here's the full article.  Download Wheeler-Sprey on F 35 and Gates as in Janes

Contractors like Lockheed want concurrency because they tend to make higher profit margins on production than they do on research and development. The military likes it because once people are employed building weapons they now Congress rarely kills a troubled program.

- Bob Cox

 

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Comments

Scotty

What a mess. Should've just kept going with the F-22. Probably would have been cheaper in the long run.

FrakU

I agree. LM should have built 10 or 20 planes, only, and tested them in every way possible before making huge numbers of test aircraft. that would definatley keep the price down. Another way to keep the price down would be to stop spreading around the production of the aircraft to nearly all the states. Keep it "in-house". The government wont kill it if it's cheaper!

Then again we're talkin' money and politics so logic & reason are the first to go out the window.

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