In 2019, DOD will decide whether to enter full-rate production for the F-35 aircraft. From the next year onwards, the Pentagon plans to invest about $10 billion annually for two decades acquiring F-35s – the most expensive and ambitious weapon acquisition program in U.S. military history. [wlm_nonmember]By the time the program moves into full-rate production, 500 aircraft will be procured and will need fixes and resolving deficiencies found during the testing. Bringing those aircraft to full capability could cost $1.4 billion. The F35 program office will hold a summit later this year to determine who will be responsible for the costs associated with resolving the remaining deficiencies.[/wlm_nonmember]
In the recent years, the program made significant progress to bring the aircraft to maturity, reduce cost and improve operability. Alas, a recent report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends DOD to hold that decision until all critical deficiencies found in testing are resolved. Specifically, GAO recommends Congress to limit the funding of the upcoming upgrade of the aircraft (known as ‘Block 4’) until DOD provides a sound business case for the effort.[wlm_nonmember] – Subscribe to read the full version of this post – [/wlm_nonmember]
[wlm_ismember]Moving into full-rate production means a lot to the services and manufacturers, that will benefit from the larger scale, lower costs and long-term stability in the supply chain for subsystems, components, and spare parts. But the 215 aircraft that were produced and delivered to customers through nine low-rate production lots, parallel to the completion of development and testing.
These aircraft will need retrofits to fix issues found during testing. The program office estimates that over 501 aircraft will be procured by the time initial operational test and evaluation is completed. Bringing those aircraft to full capability would incur additional costs estimated at about $1.4 billion. Following the completion of developmental testing in April 2018, the program is expected to continue to initial operational test and evaluation once enough test aircraft have been updated to the final production configuration.
According to DOD, the aircraft entering initial operational test and evaluation this fall will address all critical deficiencies previously found. Further solutions will resolve deficiencies through operational testing, production, and modernization.
Program officials stated it is reasonable to resolve some deficiencies while in production but GAO argues that such rework could result in additional costs – DOD plans to spend billions of dollars to modernize the F-35 with new capabilities, particularly in the Block-4 upgrade and is requesting $278 million to begin that process.
In 2017, the program office made progress in completing developmental testing and completed that testing in April 2018. The program office plans to start its initial operational test and evaluation once enough test aircraft have been updated to the final production configuration. However, the program will defer action on some deficiencies found during developmental testing until after entering full-rate production, which could contribute to additional program costs.
To complete the F-35 development program without further delays, the program office plans to defer resolving some of the known deficiencies to post-development efforts. The highest priority deficiencies – include those that could jeopardize safety, security, or other critical requirements, should be dealt with before completing development. but others, that may impede or constrain successful mission accomplishments, are differed for later resolution. Who will pay for these fixes is not clear yet. The program office will hold a summit later this year to determine who will be responsible for the costs associated with resolving the remaining deficiencies.[/wlm_ismember]