本帖最后由 speed 于 2010-1-22 11:51 编辑 |
All Eyes On JSF In 2010
Jan 5, 2010
By Bill Sweetman
After a year of broken promises and blown deadlines, and failure to make progress in flight testing that not even the harshest critics predicted, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is on the defensive.
The obvious problem is that flight-testing continues at a snail’s pace. In January, program leaders were promising that 10 test aircraft would fly in 2009, and even in the spring they were forecasting that the first vertical landing would take place in late summer or early fall. By September, only one new jet was flying, but they still promised five more aircraft by year-end, and a vertical landing in October or November. By early December, one of those five aircraft had flown; BF-1, tasked with the vertical-landing tests, made it to the NAS Patuxent River, Md., flight-test center but had not flown again by mid-December.
The team blames manufacturing issues in general, and former program leadership in particular, saying too much emphasis was placed on visible milestones, so that aircraft rolled out were not ready to fly and aircraft that flew were not ready for sustained testing. In September, program leadership made a prediction, identified as 12-12-12: Within 12 months the team would have 12 aircraft in test and they would each be flying 12 sorties per month.
That prediction has been put in doubt by two developments: the small-to-zero likelihood that the end-of-2009 goals will be achieved; and a negative report by the reconvened Joint Estimating Team, which first reported on JSF in the fall of 2008. That report, predicting that testing would be completed two years late, was dismissed by JSF leaders as based on obsolete concepts of flight testing. The second report, indicating that the picture had not improved, persuaded new Pentagon procurement chief Ashton Carter to start looking at ways to reduce risk and mitigate delays.
A development stretch—today, development testing is supposed to be completed in 2013 and operational testing a year later—will raise costs. The program cannot legally move to a multiyear contract until operational testing is completed. The Pentagon and Congress will both rule in 2010 on whether to inject more money into the program or pay for development overruns by cutting early production numbers. Congress may fret about concurrency: in current plans, every year’s delay means 230 more aircraft ordered before development is complete.
One consequence of the delays and cost uncertainties is that plans for a 368-aircraft, five-year consortium buy for eight international partners (the U.K., Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Canada) have still not resulted in a firm offer. In October, Australian Defense Management Organization Chief Executive Stephen Gumley said he believed the idea was dead. In 2010, defense ministers in Norway and the Netherlands may have to explain to their parliaments that the JSF will cost more than they promised.
The big issue in 2010, however, will be program performance on three tracks. First, the JSF team has to get the remainder of the systems development and demonstration (SDD) aircraft in the air—this was supposed to happen by May-June, with the last of them leaving Fort Worth for the customer’s flight-test center by September. Meeting these deadlines will be essential to reaching the “12-12-12” flight-test target.
The second track is training. The three F-35A SDD aircraft have to stay in Fort Worth until May-June to clear the training envelope, so the first two low-rate initial production (LRIP) F-35As can be delivered in mid-year to Eglin AFB, Fla. The first cadre of Marine Corps instructors needs to start work on the F-35A in 2010, moving to training that is specific to the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant in 2011 to ready the first operational crews for the Marines’ 2012 initial operational capability date.
Third, the F-35B needs to clear its vertical landing envelope for two reasons: that has to be completed before the vertical-landing training syllabus can be finalized, and the F-35B test and LRIP aircraft are needed to make a contribution to mission-system testing.
Meanwhile, competitors are taking aim at the JSF’s costs and program performance, and whether the fighter’s stealth will prevail against the non-stealthy, but faster and better-armed Sukhoi Su-35S and other contemporaries.