Pentagon's Top Weapons Tester: F-35 Still Challenged


The Pentagon's top weapons tester has never been shy about hammering Lockheed Martin's F-35. In an Oct. 14 memo to the Defense Secretary, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore once again slammed the program for continued schedule delays, insufficient testing progress, and ongoing challenges with major systems. He "very strongly" recommended DOD restructure the program.

The full 8-page document surfaces as Gilmore turns up the heat on the F-35 program. In the memo, Gilmore repeated his claim that the F-35 “clearly” will not be able to finish its development phase - called System Development and Demonstration (SDD) – and begin operational testing as planned in August 2017. The full flight envelope, weapons clearances and verified mission data file for the aircraft’s final warfighting software load, Block 3F, will not be available before May 2018, DOT&E states in the memo.

In fact, Gilmore believes IOT&E likely won’t start until late 2018 or early 2019, unless DOD decides to start the test phase without “significant aspects” of full 3F capability, a DOT&E spokesman recently told Aviation Week.

The program office is more optimistic. Top officials have acknowledged the F-35 will not be ready for its final test phase until 2018 at the earliest, but Joint Program Office (JPO) chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan anticipates IOT&E will begin early that year.  

The JPO estimates the program will need an additional $530 million to complete the $57 billion SDD program, primarily to pay for new requirements and unforeseen delays, according to spokesman Joe DellaVedova.  

“Most of this needed funding will come from other F-35 JPO funding sources to minimize the impact on the U.S. Services and DoD overall budget requirements,” DellaVedova says.  “No additional funding will be required from the International Partners.”  

Unless the F-35 program’s current plans are revised and additional resources provided, DOT&E says it is “unlikely” that the low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 10 F-35s delivered in fiscal 2018 will have full combat capability, according to the DOT&E spokesman. This projection is significant for the Air Force, particularly, as Secretary Deborah Lee James recently certified to the congressional defense committees in compliance with the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act that the F-35As delivered in FY18 would indeed have their full warfighting capability.

But for now, the Air Force is not worried.

“The Air Force considered multiple factors and inputs from various entities before certification,” says Air Force spokesman Capt. Michael Hertzog. “With some additional risk today, we believe Block 3F with full hardware, software, and weapons capabilities planned will be available to support LRIP 10 aircraft.”

James Drew contributed to this report.

Here is the full memo, obtained by Aviation Week. 





Discuss this Blog Entry 117

on Nov 17, 2016

Given the number of unique technological innovations in the F-35, IR, fusion, RAM coatings, the AESA radar, that pilot's helmet, secure communication channels, visual detection systems, etc, why don't you just give North Korea a detailed engineering map to develop a mega-ton fusion nuclear device?

on Nov 17, 2016

You obviously don't know what the word unique means.

on Nov 18, 2016

You do mean uniquely and spectacularly unworkable technological innovations, don't you?

on Nov 19, 2016

Many of those credits are not UNIQUE to F-35; and given the status of the fleet (numbers and capabilities), some of them can't actually be counted in the credit column for F-35 yet...
The "future upgrade capabilities" bucket is where many promised F-35 capabilities keep falling - Because an engineering map can just as easily lead you, surprise, to a slogging program, no matter how detailed the map - Often times it's BECAUSE of all the detail... That's why we KEEP seeing restructures, followed by rosey proclamations of "This time we got it", followed be revelations and delays and upgrade kick-outs; ultimately leading to the incredibly annoying chants of "See, I told you so" chants from F-35 fanboys every time something goes in the RIGHT direction.. Literally, this is a program run and supported just like HRC and OBummer's failed policies and re-election bid - Fanboys are the media for the program, skewed obscinely in one direction, so common sense goes right out the window.

on May 26, 2017

NorEastern : "Given the number of unique technological innovations in the F-35, IR, fusion, RAM coatings, the AESA radar, that pilot's helmet, secure communication channels, visual detection systems"
>>>> These are nothing new and even may be seriously outdated!
- IR/visual detection? OLS-30 on Su-3 is better performer than the one on F-35 and since OLS-35 and OLS-50 have been fielded. OLS-50 has been created for PAK/FA but such SWIRST is nothing new in western Europe : OSF "1" mounted on 1st Rafales was already doing this and now they're on 2nd generation of such system when 1st gen was already able to lock on a supersonic F-22 from its front from 270-285km and much further from the rear.
- RAM coatings? Nothing new! RAM coating was created for Horten Ho-IX! Paperclip brang the prototype to Northrop, NKVD brang the coating and Nazi stealth studies to Moscow. Then, well, Russians considered they'd get ruined and it wasn't so efficient and would get the soviets ruined. Don't you think that, strangely, at the same time Soviets began to sell X-band radars to everyone, they let these secrets "go"?
Then we have USA building F-117, then B-2 which id cancelled after 20 built, then F-22 cancelled after 195 built and F-35 being a technical fiasco while Russia but moreover, more powerful China are selling huge numbers of L band radars.
- AESA radar? Everybody gets some and BTW, being X-band...
- that pilot's helmet? Mig-29 pilots had already HMDs in the 80's!
- secure communication channels? US Army had it before but after the French as they bought RITA from 'em.

!!! Note that USA has neither baked-in RAMs nor active cancellation of radar-waves, not even speaking about IR stealth!
NK doesn't needs megaton thermonukes : they have enough to keep USA at arm's length and South-Koreans are not willing to end with a nuke war so deterrent works well.

on Nov 17, 2016

Why does the US Pentagon in Times of peace try too accomplish everything with budget busting singlet airplane.

on Nov 17, 2016

In the late 1980s & early 1990s there were 3 separate fighter replacement programs that CONGRESS ordered the Pentagon to combine into one program!

THAT is where the JSF program that produced the F-35 came from!

on Nov 17, 2016

Get rid of this pig in a poke the pentagon CEOs have wasted so much money on and keep the A-10 and F-16 they will more than do the job well into the future.

on Nov 17, 2016

Our adversaries would totally agree with you; the USAF should cling to technology from the 1970's. The future will look exactly the same as the past, so no need to change. What could possibly go wrong?

on Nov 17, 2016

The Donald will be tested on this item.

on Nov 17, 2016

Given his past history, the cost projections and milestone dates will be revised such that the F-35 comes in early and under budget. Victory!

on Nov 19, 2016

It's rather amusing that haters of a guy uniting parties and trying to make peace with the very people that spread chaos, are willing to make far-reaching guesses as to what a President-elect MIGHT do... You show weakness and fear, at it's finest!
What's even worse is that the current administration has already DONE far worse, and lied about it, and made everything about race, sexism, and Islamophobia - And there are numbskulls out there that bought it hook line and sinker.
Look around you, for Pete's sake - The "ender of wars" has triggered wars all over of the globe, and armed our enemies; the people claiming better race relations have created a multi-faceted race war amongst their own people; these perpetrators of our current debt situation are pushing for MORE illegals, MORE refugees, MORE benfits, MORE free handouts, MORE jobs overseas...
So, do us all a favor - Use your head before you continue the liberal lines... You'll learn something very valuable.

on Nov 17, 2016

It'll be YUUUUGE and Beautiful at the same time....And the Chinese and Russians will pay for it.

on Nov 17, 2016

love it. but it's Chyyyna ! Trump hasn't a clue ! LOL

on Nov 19, 2016

Would love to hear what clue YOU have - Care to share it, or is your liberal heart just telling you to maybe accuse me of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, or whatever politically correct garbage line the party is pushing next?
I'm gunna bet you go with the old "he personally offended me" card - Good luck with that... Noone's paying much attention to cry baby's, what with thousands of them breaking the law in the streets on a daily basis.

on Nov 17, 2016

Why does the Pentagon in times of peace try to accomplish everything with a budget busting single airplane? I don't know in what role an updated F22 can't outperform a F35.

The F35 is the US AFs attempt to build the equivilant if the British WW2 Mosquito, except the British used wood, glue and brass screws.

on Nov 17, 2016

Not really. The F-35 is actually 3 distinct aircraft, and if we looked at it that way (i.e. 3 programs running in parallel) then the costs are not surprising at all.

The Mosquito was a versatile aircraft, but it was no dogfighter, did not land on carriers and had no vertical take-off/landing capabilities. The ambitions of the F-35 are unprecedented and you really cannot compare it to any examples from the past.

on Nov 17, 2016

The F35 isnt a dog fighter either....but moving on the Mosquito was a night fighter ( all they needed was high speed to catch slow flying bombers), it did land on aircraft carrier ( it was the first twin engine plane to do so).
if you remember the F4 phantom, it was a fighter, a strike fighter , a carrier aircraft all rolled into one.
The F35 does one extra, the vertical landing, but the aerodynamics and structure of that is satisfactory, its the software that controls the weapons systems and sensors that is the problem and causing delays and cost over runs.

on Nov 19, 2016

Seeing as software runs EVERYTHING on that jet, it's QUITE the problem to have. Saying its the software causing the problem in this case is exactly the same thing as saying the F-35 is the problem... See how sugar coating can always be easily swiped away when there actually ARE issues?
The F-35 isnt actually DOING one better than the F-4; not until it's actually able to perform its missions as advertised - Right now, after 20 years, we got limited capability from an incomplete software set, a couple years of test and dev to look forward to, and a grand total of 5 weapons integrated - One of which doesn't have targeting integrated, another one has to be carried externally.
Not being a dog fighter, who cares about that?... How wabout being able to replace F-16s one-for-one - NOT YET.

on Nov 21, 2016

The F-35 airframe contains virtually the entire EW suite currently carried by the EC-130H "Combat Call" EW platform. The F-35 can find and map the entire enemy EW order of battle. The F-22 cannot do that and on today's electronic battlefield, that's crucial.

on Nov 17, 2016

For all the bad-mouthing of the F-35, and what could have should have, etc. Consider this is the most complex military project of all time. Yes, it is easy to say, it should have been split into separate aircraft programs (Fighter, bomber, vertical takeoff), but it wasn't. There is no turning the clock backward.

I think we all underestimate the complexity and broad requirements of the program. Many of which I'm sure are not disclosed.

Two previous comments I think explain the situation:
* More or less impossible to accurately forecast the cost and timeline due to unknowns. And the opportunity to guard-band the estimate not possible for political reasons (e.g. cannot simply add another year of development to reduce schedule risk).
* In an effort to meet current milestones, items are shifted to future milestones (e.g. move from non-recurring bugdge to operational budget.

No, I don't work for Lockheed... (or any other Mil/Aero company).

on Nov 17, 2016

I always wonder if a lot of the delays are from things needing redone related to the Chinese stealing information on the program from Lockheed in the late 2000's.

on Nov 17, 2016

will it be ready before it's obsolete?

on Nov 17, 2016

maybe we'll have a future opportunity to have them built for us in China?

on Nov 17, 2016

Whatever happened to the obviously obsolete idea of on time and on budget?? Since when did we accept it as OK to be years beyond and millions above the original bids and timelines. It seems to me that not only are there no longer any real penalties for these contractors to not meet the terms of the contracts they sign but there are millions in extra revenue to be had by dragging them out as long as you can. When will we ever learn that we are getting taken to the cleaners by these companies and their 20 million dollar CEOs.

on Nov 17, 2016

Yes, Lockheed has just reported record earnings ($1.1 billion for third quarter) while failing at JSF development, and the LMT stock price has reached new heights. The LM execs like this last part because much of their income is in stock.

on Nov 17, 2016

All is well, all is well, all is well. If General Bogdan says the plane will be ready for IOT&E in early 2018, you can take that to the bank. And what will we end up with for the next 60 years? The best fighter aircraft built anywhere in the world, especially as it undergoes upgrades (a new variable cycle engine will be unbelieveable, as will new weapons, sensors and software). Is there anything to worry about? Um, no.

on Nov 17, 2016

". . .will be unbelievable" -- you got that right.
All the optimistic estimates of JSF cost, affordability, schedule and performance from fifteen years ago have been proven wrong.
“Optimism and stupidity are nearly synonymous.” -- Hyman G. Rickover

on Nov 17, 2016

Cost & schedule misses are well known. Performance is short on a few KPIs but overall the F-35 is meeting spec and even exceeding it in a few areas.

RSF (not verified)
on Nov 22, 2016

"Cost & schedule misses are well known."

After 15 years of semi-functionality with the largest fighter budget in history you've got that right. At last, something that we can agree on.

on Nov 17, 2016

I was a critic of the F-35 program for years, but then the actual capabilities of the aircraft began to be published. I now support the F-35. The F-35s capabilities are revolutionary. You need to fly at night over uneven topography at 25 feet off of the ground? That is just software. You need unmanned fighters? That is just software. You need a fighter that will react in micro-seconds to threats instead of the seconds it takes a pilot to respond? You want a fighter that can command a dozen drones simultaneously? You want to be able to seamlessly integrate data from radar, IR sensors, and visual information and beam that data to other platforms? You want the perfect front man to coordinate the tactics of fourth generation fighters laying back 100 miles? You want a platform that can lay waste to S-400 missile batteries in tight A2/AD defenses? You want a fighter that eats the opposition's 4+ generation aircraft for lunch? You do want the F-35 then. In a big way. The software will be fixed. It after all is just nine million lines of code. But it will take awhile.

on Nov 17, 2016

"You need to fly at night over uneven topography at 25 feet off of the ground?"
That essentially was what the F-111 could do many decades ago, but I have never seen anything LM has put out that F35 can do NOE ( nap of the earth) missions like you describe. The APG81 radar would need TFR modes which arent highlighted by the builder NG.

on Nov 17, 2016

Keep up with the times. With AESA radar there is no need to install a TFR. And when I say undulating terrain I mean going through a roller coaster ride, not some flat terrain.

on Nov 17, 2016

"A fighter that eats the opposition's 4+ generation aircraft for lunch?".
The F35 would starve to death.

on Nov 17, 2016

" More or less impossible to accurately forecast the cost and timeline due to unknowns."

Then why lie about what it will cost and when it will be delivered?

Why not be hoist and sat "we don't know what it will cost and hen it will be delivered." My question of course is rhetorical.

If the firm of USAF & LM we honest the program might never be approved.

So all we the people of the United States may reasonably do is assume that the every time the USAF says a program will cost $Z we need to assume it will cost Z x 1.5 or 2.

When the Air Force says it will take 10 years to IOC we must assume it will take 15-20.

When in the last 40 years has a major new USAF airframe come in on time and at cost?

The Pilatus PC-9 had been in production for years and the USAF managed botch turning it into the T-6A.

The plane had been in production for ten years when it was selected as the JPATS winner in 1995. It took 5 years before it entered service with the USAF. And in typical fashion there were major cost overruns.

on Nov 17, 2016

Most people here are viewing this program through the lens of the past. As an engineering manager yes it is pretty much impossible to predict what it will cost when you are doing something new. It's not like you are building another house or designing a new car. The F35 has entirely new capabilities and a completely different systems architecture. It does not have a "VHF radio" or "DME rx" in the traditional sense. Instead is has an array of sensors where information is digitised at the skin and sent to an onboard networked supercomputer. The software is the aircraft now and gives a flexibility, redundancy and capability that has only been dreamed about. Radio fails, a mother sensor picks up the role. One motherboard fails, you only lose a 30th of total capacity not a whole system. New software won't just give you an upgrade, but a new plane entirely. This architecture was tried in limited fashion on the F22 but is fully developed (nearly) on the F35. Software can't be reverse engineered without the source code and you can dumb down capabilities for export models. If one does end up in a country you don't like you can shut it down cold with a single command from a satellite or cause it to crash. It takes time to develop this capability and you cannot predict the cost or timeline for this level of integration.

Avionics engineer - and for the record no I don't work for Lockheed but wish I did.

on Nov 17, 2016

Thanks for that, at last someone who knows what they are talking about saying its the software thats causing the delays. Too many are hung up over the three different roles and the saying thats the cause of the delays. yes the structure isnt as compatible as originally thought but it essentially is solved.
You should have added the very long delays have caused their own problems as the SDD started in 2001 which means the computing hardware they started with is completely out of date and having to redesign and retest software with new processors is a major issue.

on Nov 17, 2016

I have actually worked on two large developmental projects with well over one million lines of code each. They both controlled upwards to 100 hardware devices. It is near impossible to get that much code perfect. And then along comes the F-35 with 9 million lines of code. It will be more than a decade before the software engineers wring everything possible out of that hardware platform. After all they still need to write the software to enable night flying over undulating terrain at 25 feet. The F-35 will keep improving. It is looking like it will be the premier aerial platform for more than the next generation.

on Nov 17, 2016

The F-35 has continuing software problems. Sep 27, 2013 ---"There's an awful lot of software on this program, it scares the heck out of me," said Bogdan of the jet's more than 10 million lines of software code. "It's the gorilla in the room."
--- This just in. The new Ford F-150 pickup truck has been getting some good performance reviews and it has -- wait for it -- 150 million lines of code. The tiny Chevy Volt has ten million lines.

on Nov 17, 2016

Oh, so it's really the software that's causing the delays? The fuel tank problems, engine fires, ejector seats, helmets, stress cracks, heating issues, etc are all just a smokescreen then.

RSF (not verified)
on Nov 22, 2016

Bah! Whats another $530 million at this point? All those issues can be solved by just throwing more money on the $500 billion dollar pile.

on May 26, 2017

Rob : "Software can't be reverse engineered without the source code and you can dumb down capabilities for export models. If one does end up in a country you don't like you can shut it down cold with a single command from a satellite or cause it to crash"
>>>> You just give the best reasons to any foreign country NOT to buy it!

on Nov 17, 2016

Kelly Johnson is now on his 100K revolution right now. History repeats. Missiles were the answer in the early 60's, remember? When flight Lt's relying on them to their peril became Generals serving in the MIC, they were made to work. The constantly moving bar in developing this jet is telling.

on Nov 17, 2016

While I do not believe the F-35 is a thoroughly bad airplane, or that it's current problems are unsolvable. I do reject the assertions of F-35 rah-rahs that all is well and it is on schedule and being produced under cost predictions.

We are in what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the “Post-Truth" age. So I delved back in the archives and dug up the Rand report: "Root Cause Analyses of Nunn-McCurdy Breaches
Volume 1" (2011).

Table 4.3 (page 43) shows that in the 2001 SAR the USAF IOC was to be June 2011, and the 2009 SAR placed that date at March 2013. By May 2013 the USAF predicting an IOC by December 2016. This of course is, we are to believe, "on schedule."

Table 4.9 on page 56 shows just how badly production was slipped between the 2001 plan and 2011, causing at that time production to not end in 2027 as planned in 2001. Rather production was to extend into 2034 in the 2009 scheme. If we all play pretend that may be “on schedule.” If we pretend hard enough it might actually end in 2034. Try to wish real hard, it may save Tinkerbell.

Once again the program is NOT on schedule, it is on a schedule contrived by use of an imaginary start date, one selected to fit the claim being made. Further slippages will be met, as they have in the past, by newly invented start dates. 2001? It never happened, the world was created in 2013. Or was creation in 2016?

Back to the Rand Report.

"Figure 4.4 provides SAR cost variance data in six categories: estimating, economic, schedule, engineering, quantity, and support. These data, which are not presented in terms of unit costs but rather in terms of total program cost, identify schedule delays as the primary driver of cost growth in RDT&E (77 percent for schedule individually) followed by estimating and engineering (6 and 30 percent, respectively). For procurement, which is a far larger figure than RDT&E, estimating accounts for 94 percent of the cost growth." (pg 41)

“Figure 4.4 Explanations of Cost Growth from SARs. 2001-2009 (Page 42).”

So much for the glib explanations that airplanes are being delivered at or below estimates. Estimate made when, 2013, 2015, the day before?

Table 4.4 on page 46 shows the causes for the slippages and overruns. They are described as (matter in parentheses mine):

Baseline Issues; unrealistic estimates for cost or schedule; immature technology, excessive manufacturing, integration risk; unrealistic performance expectations.

Execution Issues: Changes in procurement quantity (The Navy prudently cut it's order by 400 airplanes the first year); Inadequate funding/ funding instability (this may easily happen when a program is absurdly low-balled); Unanticipated design, engineering, manufacturing, or technical issues (this might have been avoided had LM actually been required to use the same manufacturing techniques on the X-35 as would be required on the F-35. Boeing which did use the same techniques as it intended to use on the F-32 ended up with a badly overweight X-32. Weight growth on the prototype F-35 was a major driver of slippage and cost overruns); Poor performance of government or contract personnel.

At the root of those problems including all but one of the Execution Issues was "poor performance of government or contract personnel."

The USAF personnel accepted patently absurd low-ball, far too optimistic, estimates from LM which after the F-22 fiasco could not be trusted by anyone performing Due Diligence. Lockheed-Martin was happy to provide those “unrealistic estimates for cost or schedule” as both the USAF and LM could assume that when the truth began to leak out the program would be deemed too far along to cancel.

They were right. From that moment on no matter how poor the "performance of government or contract personnel" was their future prosperity was assured.

Then they both simply kept repeating the same, we are supposed to believe, "honest mistakes" of misrepresenting the prospects for schedule and costs for year, after year, from 2002 to today.

When sometime in the distant future, in the late 2030s, when production finally wraps up, the F-35 rah-rahs will be happily claiming it was on time and below cost. Time and cost invented to fit the assertion.

Welcome to the Post-Truth era. Post-Truth became the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year this month. It had been the word best describing F-35 program promoters since 2001.

on Nov 18, 2016

The 2016 production schedule at the Ft Worth plant calls for 53 faulty useless prototypes, but in fact only thirty have been manufactured in the first three quarters. The three variants in low rate production have low commonality of more than 300,000 individual parts, plus the foreign versions are different because of US export laws, there are quality control problems from poor procedures, etc. Unit acquisition cost based on awarded contracts and gifts for lot 9 is $200 million.

on Nov 17, 2016

Stoical stoneheads gape the more at what
Lurks under twisted words, and fall in love,
Taking for truth what can tickle their ears, or what
Primps itself with the rouge of pretty sound

Titus Lucretius Carus

on Nov 17, 2016

People tend to have an incoherent view of what stealth actually accomplishes. RCS just defines how large an object appears on radar. As the apparent size on radar shrinks a fighter gets lost in all of the clutter apparent to the radar. A S-400 battery can detect a typical fourth generation fighter with a RCS of 1 m^2 at about 300 kilometers at 90,000 feet (don't ask me why Russia chooses to normalize such metrics to 90,000 feet - I have no clue). Just then consider the F-22 and its RCS of 0.0001m^2. Just using simple arithmetic (however the physics underlying this situation is much more complex) a S-400 battery can only detect a F-22 at under 1 km. In other words if a F-22 was to overfly a S-400 battery at 90,000 feet the Russians would have no idea it was there.

Likewise a F-35 is only detectable by a S-400 battery at around 3 km at 90,000 feet. Russia's vaunted A2/AD defense is defenseless against the US stealth aircraft. You can then mentally map how difficult it is for a 4+ generation aircraft with an AESA radar of under a meter^2 to detect stealth aircraft. Darn near impossible.

on Nov 17, 2016

As Pierre Sprey said, and I concur, the only reason the F-35 exists is to provide revenue for Lockheed. The project should have been aimed at a replacement for the AV-8 only.

on Nov 17, 2016

John Boyd is rolling in is grave. The F-35 institutionalizes all he fought against.

Build more F-16's. It bested the F-35 in ACM games every time engagement regardless of who had advantage at the start.

The F-16 is still In production, combat proven, far more cost effective and sustainable when compared to the F-35.

The A-10 proves close-air-support on today's battlefield, does not require stealth, nor supersonic speed.

The F-35 is the classic, mouse built to mil-spec. Over cost, over burdened, under performing.

on Nov 17, 2016

You must be talking about a dogfight. The last one of those to occur between two jets was two decades ago. Not even the F-22 will willingly get in a dogfight. To many things can go wrong. The US's stealth fighters will just get unseen to within 20 km of an enemy fighter and lob an AA missile their way. 60 seconds later the enemy fighter will be wreckage on the ground. No muss, no fuss, no risk.

By the way the A-10 needs a completely risk free airspace to fly. One modern MANPAD will split that craft from tail to nose.

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