DN - Defence Notes

Avalon 2015: USAF confident F-35 will meet targets

25th February 2015 - 12:02 GMT | by Damian Kemp in Avalon

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The re-baselining of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter programme has been successful and ongoing improvements in areas such as support and logistics will drive the cost down further, according to the programme head.

Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office US Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, speaking at the Australian Airshow near Melbourne on 23 February, hit back at suggestions that the programme has continued to fail since the re-baselining three years ago.

‘Since the re-baselining we are holding to targets and haven’t shifted on budget, dates or capabilty,’ Bogdan said.

‘Capability has not been moved since the re-baselining and we plan to deliver capability in 2018. We are confident that [in mid-2015], that the US Marine Corps will say if they are called into conflict they will take this aircraft into combat.

‘We are confident that by 2019 the F-35A will cost US$80-85 million [per unit] and that is an important number because if you look across the landscape that is close to a fourth generation price for a fifth generation aircraft.’

A key aspect of the programme is through-life costs and maintenance, and efforts are underway to drive down those costs including simple actions like changing panel fasteners to reduce maintenance hours and changing manufacturing processes, in one case introducing greater automation for canopy manufacture.

Additionally, the programme office is hoping to encourage operators to make greater use of simulators which they believe is being underestimated by customers and can be used at one-tenth of the cost of the aircraft flying.

‘These aircraft have lots of panels, when they are taken off they have to go back on properly and the fasteners need to be sophisticated,’ Bogdan said.

‘We found these fasteners were breaking and maintainers had to fish bits of them out of the aircraft and this was costing many hours of maintenance time. We discovered if we redesigned the fasteners we can save hours and we are in the process of doing that.’

Bogdan admitted that the programme was battling to keep on target but even when effort was required to prevent slippage these delays were days, weeks or a few months and he was confident the programme could keep to its schedule.

He said they had solved problems with F-35C arrested carrier landings and an engine fix was entering production.

While the F-35B STOVL  variant was experiencing cracking this was also being solved with the intention of maintaining the re-baselined schedule.

Issues with four-ship testing were being dealt and Bogdan said ‘while we know how to do [four ship flying] the problem is what one aircraft sees all four have to see and we don’t have that yet but this won’t stop the aircraft going to war’.

‘We are facing a five month delay with the Block 3F software but we are working to fix that and it won’t effect deliveries as we will deliver 3I software to the air force for initial operating capability. As well, we built in six months of flexibility with the 3F software and we have not used that but we do need to act to keep it in line.

‘We are two-thirds done with flight testing and I can guarantee you there will be problems but we can see it far enough to mitigate it or fix it and I believe we can stay on the re-baselined schedule.'

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