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UPDATED: Marine Commandant Lists Top 3 Concerns; Lockheed Commits to Software Delivery In Time For Marine IOC.

Here it is, for everyone to ponder, the F-35 portion of the annual report from Michael Gilmore, director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office. The only sort of public annual benchmark on the success or failure of the Pentagon’s major programs, the OT&E report is often quite dated by the time it comes out. Read the material on software delays with that in mind. The Block 2B software could be delayed by 13 months, the report concludes.

The Marines, whose version the report indicates might be delayed from achieving its initial operating capability by the end of 2015 because of that possible software delay, are sanguine. “There is no change to our plans,” Marine aviation spokesman Capt. David Ulsh said in an email.

UPDATED: “I’m optimistic but I’m paying real close attention,” Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said at RAND Tuesday afternoon, saying the F-35B is “alive, well, and [has] withstood the scrutiny of the building” — i.e. the Pentagon.

“Software development is going better [than some] might have thought,” the Commandant went on, calling it “probably a medium risk as you look towards IOC.” His other concerns? “There are some modifications on the airplane, the actual physical airframe itself” that need to be retrofitted to the F-35Bs already delivered to the Marine Corps, he said. (Lockheed is building the changes into all new F-35Bs coming off the line).

Then there’s ALIS, the Automated Logistics Information System that “sucks all the data out of the airplane” for maintenance and supply personnel to analyze. Right now, Gen. Amos said, the ALIS hardware works in the hanger but is too bulky for easy deployment overseas.

“So,” Amos summed up, “the three things that keep me awake night: One, I want to make sure they complete the software, I think we’re going to be okay; the airframe modifications… and then the deployable ALIS.” UPDATE ENDS

For its part, Lockheed says in a statement that it plans to “release the required combat ready software to the F-35 production fleet no later than July 2015. This software will enable the Marines to identify, target and engage the opposition. It should be noted the USMC will declare IOC with 2B as they have stated the capabilities provided in 2B are superior to anything they currently fly.”

Lockheed spokesman Laura Siebert also notes that “7.4 million of the 8.4 million lines of software code required for full warfighting capability are currently or have already been flight tested.” So that’s one million lines of code still to be tested, if my math holds up.

 

2013DOTE_F-35_report

Comments

  • Gary Church

    Scanned it, no showstoppers. Did not say anything about the poor cockpit visibility mentioned in other critical articles. Designing a fighter with poor cockpit visibility is a HUGE warning flag- what the heck were thinking when they did that? It also sounds like a hangar queen at this point and that is not good; but not the end of the world. I am critical of this program because of the un-freaking-believable cost, but like the V-22, it probably cannot be canceled except by the end of the world due to political considerations (a part made in every congressional district). And if it cannot be killed then we should at least try and get some use out of it. I suspect the lift fan version CAN be killed and this might happen.

    • JohnJubly

      Obviously reduced cockpit visibility was compromised for increased stealth with the knowledge that the 360 staring DAS array will far more than compensate. The UK and US Marines are absolutely relying on the -B, so chances of it being cut are only slightly greater than the -A and about on par with the -C.

      • Gary Church

        Obviously it will far more than compensate. Hmmm. Why even have a pilot?

        • Matthew Morgan

          Because anything we can automate will not be as good for at least the next 20 years, and remote control is subject to jamming ala the RQ-170

          • Gary Church

            A trillion dollars over the next half century. That T word says it all. It is an incomprehensible sum. The unit cost will go up to a quarter billion each and we are going to risk that strafing illiterate tribesman?
            They will all get shot down on the first day of a real war by modern weapons.
            This has got to end. It is redistribution of vast wealth from the pockets of the dying middle class to the pockets of corporate shareholders. Criminal.

          • Matthew Morgan

            And do you honestly think that it would be cheaper with three separate platforms, each with their own unique R&D costs, as well as maintenance costs and pilot training? We can assume in this “wonderful” alternate reality the air force keeps the A, but for the Marines and the Navy to go for different platforms would lead to costs like you wouldn’t believe.

          • Gary Church

            I do not know what you are rambling about now. I said nothing like that. Do not put words in my mouth. If you are having some kind of internal dialogue then it is all yours and nothing to do with me. Your “alternate reality” as a subtle insult just blew up in your face. The money for this ultimate cold war toy is already something no one can believe. I already said that.

          • Matthew Morgan

            Yeah sorry, looking back at my comment it is abundantly clear that I did a horrible job at getting my message across.

            (it was 11:30 at night for me, cut me some slack)

            Anyways, I’ll try to put it in simpler terms.

            As I hope you know, the single largest driver in costs for fighter aircraft isn’t the purchase, but rather the maintenance for keeping that thing flying for the next couple decades. It’s the support network that’s the real cost. That’s why when you hear talks about cutting the A-10, the proposal isn’t just to cut numbers, but instead axe the whole fleet.

            The reason the F-35 looks so expensive is because there has been nothing done on this scale with fighter aircraft before. Never before has the U.S attempted to unify it’s fighter fleet to a common air-frame. But the cost saving benefits in the long term are enormous. with 70% commonality between all three air-frames, we don’t need to worry about keeping numerous production lines open to churn out replacement parts. We don’t need to worry about expensive training for maintenance on a wide variety of jets. We don’t need to worry about maintaining numerous depots holding parts that can only service one plane.

            The reason all other planes in the past have been cheaper is because they have not been adopted on the scale the F-35 has. When one considers we’ll be flying 2,400+ F-35′s through the next half-century, I’m honestly surprised the number isn’t higher. The only other plane to have been kept in service for this long is the B-52, and the amount of money we’ve pumped into keeping it in the air makes the F-35 look like chump change.

          • Gary Church

            Nothing imaginable can make what this thing costs look like “chump change.” I am throwing the B.S. flag on that one. You are one of those guys that likes to throw in these little infomercial factoids hoping to change reality while using words like “honestly” and “hope.”
            I will not let you get away with it.

          • cvxxx

            The f-35 is not capable of lasting in combat. The B-52 is in dire need of replacement. The “commonality” is a pipe dream there will be no savings. It is a turkey. It has no ACM capability. Some smart 3rd world country could build thousands of cheap fighters to over whelm the airspace. Data linked it would be easy to destroy F-35 which will be heavily out numbered.

          • Michael Kinney

            I am not a big fan of stealth as I now believe it can be beaten. I would like to see this country built top of the line air superiority fighters and cheaper attack aircraft designed specifically for just that task. We also need a capable light fighter for export sales now that the F-16 is about done.

          • Tarpey

            Remember McNamara?

          • Michael Kinney

            Multiple aircraft designed for a specific mission is always better than a “do it all design”. Yes it would be much cheaper IF we had actual competition like we used to. People were buying into the F-35 while it was still on paper only.. Why? Just like the F-104. LM confessed to spending 21 million in bribes for countries to buy that aircraft. How much do you think they spent on this cash cow?

  • Don Bacon

    From the Report–
    Performance
    –Overall suitability performance continues to be immature, and relies heavily on contracted support and workarounds unacceptable for combat operations. Aircraft availability and measures of reliability and maintainability are all below program target values for the current stage of development.

    Availability/Reliability/Maintainability
    –Average F-35 availability rates for operational units are below established threshold values. None of the variants are achieving their predicted reliability. The amount of time required to repair failures for all variants exceeds that required for mature aircraft, and has increased over the past year.

    Verification Simulation
    –The program is now at significant risk of failing to mature the Verification Simulation (VSim) and failing to adequately verify and validate that it will faithfully represent the performance of the F-35 in the mission scenarios for which the simulation is to be used in operational testing.

    Vulnerability
    –The F-35 is vulnerable to ballistically-induced propellant fire from all combat threats. The vulnerability of the f-35 to electrical system ballistic damage remains an open question.

    Buffet and TRO
    –Buffet and TRO continue to be a concern to achieving operational capability for all variants.

    Mission system assessment
    –Despite flying the mission system test flights planned for CY 13, the program did not make the planned progress in developing and testing mission system capabilities. Software development, integration in the contractor labs, and delivery of mature capability to flight test continued to be behind schedule.

  • Don Bacon

    From the Report–
    software
    –Testing of Block 2A training capability (no planned combat capability) was completed in 2013. The first increment of Block 2B software, version 2BS1, was delivered to flight test in February 2013, four months later than indicated in the integrated master schedule. Through October 2013, little progress was made in completing flight testing required by the baseline 2B test plan.
    –The program began implementing plans for Block 3i capability, which will be used to deliver production aircraft in Lots 6 through 8, all of which will have an upgraded core processor and other mission systems processor improvements. The program plans Block 3i to include no new capability beyond Block 2B, as it is intended to only encompass rehosting of Block 2B capability on the new TR2 hardware.

    weapons integration
    –Did not make the planned progress in CY13. Weapons integration is recognized by the program as a critical path to both Block 2B completion and the end of Block 3F development.

    helmet
    –Although some progress has been achieved, results of these tests have been mixed.
    -Filters for reducing the effects of jitter have introduced instability, or “swimming.”
    -Night vision acuity is not acceptable.
    -Latency has improved but has not yet been tested in operationally representative scenarios.

    ALIS
    –The current ALIS capability forces maintenance operations into numerous workarounds and causes delays in determining aircraft status and conducting maintenance.

  • CharleyA

    “Dated” in the sense that a last minute push in December can skew test stats, but more complex issues aren’t resolved by completing test points.

    I was struck by the detail in the new report, compared to earlier reports, and the lack of candor coming out of the program office, and of course, the contractor and its PR firms, plus friendly “journalists.”

    There are a lot of issues to work through. Software maturity of both the aircraft and the ALIS system are just two of those that affect USMC IOC. The vaunted sensors – EOTS, DAS, and the radar – are not performing to spec in some regards. The HMDS is still problematic, and won’t be entirely fixed until Gen 3 / TR-2 hardware are installed – something not available to Block 2B F-35Bs. Then there are still service life issues with the lift fan doors, tires/wheels, stabs, etc.

    Plus the boats aren’t ready. The brand new LHA 6, and the older amphibs will require deck structural and other mods to support the weight and thermal load of the F-35B, which will take years to implement. In the meantime, the spots will have to be rotated to manage how many F-35B operations occur in each spot. MX and engine spares handling aboard and underway will be interesting.

    Anyway, lots of information in the report not previously disclosed other sources.

    • Viper550ful .

      Why should the boats be ready in 2015?
      It will take years after 2015 before some F35B will be commissioned to a LHD/LHA for operations.

    • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

      Charley, this report does have much more detail because the plane is now undergoing extensive operational and live fire testing. Next year’s report may well be most instructive. I have enormous respect for the OT&E folks — especially their live fire testing — but know from years of covering this stuff that it takes time to process the huge amounts of data they gather and time to draw conclusions about the data. On rereading the report, I was intrigued by the discussion on weight, While not a new concern. the report clearly documents how little margin remains. The tradeoffs between performance, safety and capability will be interesting to chronicle.

      • CharleyA

        Yes, the weight margins are pretty tight. As you say, not a new concern for JSF, and certainly not unusual in aircraft programs. But I was surprised at the number of structural cracks discovered in the static test articles shortly after the 8,000hr simulated “first life” of all the variants. Whether permanent fixes will affect those margins adversely I guess we’ll find out.

        • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

          From what I’ve heard recently from company and government folks, they aren’t unduly concerned. Of course, that may change…

  • James Jones

    I am reminded of the old engineering observation that ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’. The final cost of this political piece of war fighting engineering will not only be huge in dollars but also in lives lost if it has to fight. By the time it gets into service Brazil will be able to put fighters in the air that will shoot it down. You can’t add 5-7 years of debugging after deployment let alone the time it’s taken to actually get one to fly without being hopelessly behind everyone else.

    The Chinese will be able to steal all of the tech we developed and improve on it with the help of the Russians. Let’s turn our military industrial complex over to Israel. They can do it faster, better and cheaper. With the profits they will make we can stop sending them aid and that can offset the cost of the weapons they sell us.

  • OMEGATALON

    Like with any piece of new hardware, it’s the software (intelligence) that makes it work as this is why the F-35 is closer to the realization than Russia’s T-50 PAK-FA which India says is a piece of junk because they don’t have the software to make the jet fully functional.

  • Don Bacon

    one-third availability
    FY2013 DOT&E Report
    p.47

    F-35 Fleet Availability
    • Average F-35 availability rates for operational units are below established threshold values. (Availability is not a meaningful metric for aircraft dedicated to test, and thus SDD aircraft are not included in this section.)
    – The program established an availability threshold rate of 50 percent and an objective rate of 75 percent to track fleet performance for Performance Based Logistics agreements.
    – Aircraft availability rates by operating location from November 2012 through October 2013 are summarized in the following table. The first column indicates the average availability achieved for the whole period, while the maximum and minimum columns represent the range of monthly availabilities reported over the period.

    F-35 Availability from Nov 2012 — Oct 2013
    Operational Site / Average / Maximum / Minimum

    Eglin F-35B /39% / 54% / 22%
    Eglin F-35C / 32% / 61% / 13% (beg. Apr 2013)
    Yuma F-35B / 29% / 45% / 6%

  • Don Bacon

    “7.4 million of the 8.4 million lines of software code required for full
    warfighting capability are currently or have already been flight
    tested.” So that’s one million lines of code still to be tested, if my
    math holds up.

    1. Who believes Lockheed.
    2. Lines currently being tested also still need to be tested.

  • Don Bacon

    “So,” Amos summed up, “the three things that keep me awake night: One, I want to make sure they complete the software, I think we’re going to be okay; the airframe modifications… and then the deployable ALIS.”

    There is an independent team studying the tardy problem-ridden software, including ALIS, with a report due to Congress on Mar 4.

    How about the retrofit of all those cracked frames that are out there, victims of concurrency, producing planes before development is completed. The GAO estimated last year a cost of $1.7 billion, but who knows as the problem is growing with increased testing, and they haven’t even done the most rigorous tests yet. It’s roughly around 150 planes produced so far.

    If you know anyone who needs employment, retrofitting F-35s will be where it’s at.

    Industry Job Title Aircraft Maintenance Support Engineer 4
    Job Code/Title E2214:Aircraft Maint Spt Engnr Stf
    Job Description Will be responsible for coordinating with F-35 engineering community to assist in determining modification/retrofit tasks associated with specific engineering changes. Will perform analysis of engineering data and compile parts lists required to support the modification/retrofit. . .

  • Tarpey

    Dumb question-maybe someone can explain:

    In WWII, Korea, and even Nam, we went thru aircraft, ships and ground vehicles like there was no end.
    With all of the electronics, computers and other good stuff, what happens when a shell fired by a goat herder or pirate takes out one or more of these gadgets?

    I’ve seen footage of B-17′s with just about no rudder and other damage, making it home: same for kamikaze attacks on naval vessels.

    Will we be able to replace the losses as quickly as before (especially considering how deep in debt we already are)?

    • Michael Kinney

      Very good point. We now have aircraft that are too expensive to lose and replace. This F-35 is just pure insanity.