Pentagon: Slow F-35 Production

First International F-35 Rolls Out of the Factory

So, the interwebs are abuzz this morning with news that the man in charge of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program wants to slow down production — and therefore deliveries of the jet.

The slowdown is needed to install fixes to numerous structural cracks and “hot spots” that have been found in the plane over the last year, Vice Adm. David Venlet, JSF program manager, told AOL Defense. The work needed to remedy these cracks could add $3 to $5 million to the cost of each jet.

Keep in mind that the Pentagon just reduced the latest F-35 purchase by five jets, so this news comes on top of that.

Venlet insists that these cracks aren’t an immediate safety issue, they would however cause the airframes to be pulled from service well before their planned 8,000 flight-hour lifetimes.

Here’s key quote from Venlet where he says that ‘heavy learning’ is still happening with the program — I have to say that many were hoping Lockheed and the F-35 office were beyond the heavy learning years:

“The analyzed hot spots that have arisen in the last 12 months or so in the program have surprised us at the amount of change and at the cost,” Vice Adm. David Venlet said in an interview at his office near the Pentagon. “Most of them are little ones, but when you bundle them all up and package them and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs. I believe it’s wise to sort of temper production for a while here until we get some of these heavy years of learning under our belt and get that managed right. And then when we’ve got most of that known and we’ve got the management of the change activity better in hand, then we will be in a better position to ramp up production.”

These hot spots were found after the Pentagon and Lockheed examined the plane following the discovery of cracks in an important bulkhead on the F-35B last year. He apparently wouldn’t say how much production should be slowed.

The big question now becomes, what will a production slowdown to to the cost of each airplane at a time when many JSF buyers are looking to cut billions from their defense budgets? The second question is, what does this mean for the existing fighter fleets that are/were supposed to be replaced by F-35s sometime this decade?

Yes, the F-35 has had a very good year of flight testing but, as Venlet points out, overall testing still nowhere near close to finished. F-35 customers have got to be wondering what additional surprises will come along:

Flight testing of the F-35, though going extremely well lately, is only 18 percent complete, Venlet said. As of Nov. 29, 1,364 test flights had been flown — 896 of them in the past 10 months, despite two stoppages of a couple of weeks each to fix problems found by flying. Under a new program baseline created after the JSF project breached cost limits under the Nunn-McCurdy law, about 7,700 hours of flight tests are planned. “That’s a lot,” Venlet said, adding that number will grow if more problems are found.

Fatigue testing has barely begun, Venlet said. The CTOL variant’s fatigue testing is about 20 percent complete; the CV variant has not started yet. For the STOVL variant, fatigue testing was halted at 6 percent last year and has not resumed after a crack in a large bulkhead in the wing was found, requiring a major redesign of that part.

Here’s the article.

  • pcb

    When the original project winner was announced, there was a lot of questioning of the Lockheed choice. Yeah, the jet looked meaner and had some the required design aspects but there was great concern as to whether the design choice by the DOD reflected their desire for an affordable stealthy jet. The Boeing VTOL design was considered too antiquated, but in Boeing’s defense, they sought to provide the necessary technology based upon the most proven designs. In hindsight, given the troubles with this jet and the escalating costs, they may have been the better selection

  • Pete

    Why does the Pentagon have to pay to fix these planes? Isn’t this a cost Lockheed should pony up given that the product they delivered doesn’t meet the specs required by the customer (8,000 flight hours)?????

  • Michael

    Maybe the original fly-off competions need to be a little more involved to work these things out earlier so we can get production started earlier. And who knows, with such kinks worked out earlier, maybe our overall knowledge base will grow…

  • Black Owl

    Why am I not surprised?

  • chaos0xomega

    During WW2 and the first half of the cold war, the US manufactured thousands of military aircraft every year, and some of those planes are still flying today (B-52, F-4 for example). Today the US struggles to manufacture a few dozen such aircraft per year, and even then they are faulty and not what we paid billions for (F-22 OBOGS failures, etc.). Where is the accountability here? What is causing the erosion of the American industrial base? I understand that modern aircraft are many many times more complex a system than something like an original production B-52 or F-4, but are they really that much more complex that we have difficulty building them? And if so, SHOULD we be building them?

    • Black Owl

      I can answer all four of your questions: There is no accountability. The obsession with the brand new high techno-whizz-bang and lack of an interest in what’s proven and effective is what is corroding the American industrial base. We don’t know why these aircraft are so complex, but we are willing to spend billions finding out when upgrading our current aircraft would be cheap and get the job done just as well. Lastly, oh my NO WE SHOULDN’T.

    • tiger

      More American kids go to college to make Spring break videos than sit through a Calculus 2 or Fluid Dynamics class to earn a BS.

    • Cranky Observer

      = = = During WW2 and the first half of the cold war, the US manufactured thousands of military aircraft every year, and some of those planes are still flying today (B-52, F-4 for example). Today the US struggles to manufacture a few dozen such aircraft per year, and even then they are faulty and not what we paid billions for (F-22 OBOGS failures, etc.). Where is the accountability here? What is causing the erosion of the American industrial base? = = =

      It is a feature, not a bug. A substantial portion of US military procurement is a welfare program. Neverending program extensions and price increases keep the money flowing to “deserving” recipients.

      Cranky

    • El tirador

      I think a portion of the problem is systematic. As early as the 1970’s much more DoD funding was spent on flying testbeds to gather data and suitability of aircraft design. Looking at the YF16 and YF17 program and comparing it to the YF22 vs. YF23 or the JSF,,there are some stark and critical distinctions between how the competitive bidding and flyoffs where run. I am not certain the current model for selection really gave us the lowest risk, most cost effective result.

  • Tad

    Can’t American industry get anything right anymore!? Why does it seem like our engineering ability has gone to heck? I’m thinking of some military planes, some ships, etc…

  • BigRick

    I’m sorry folks but this is it for for.

    Even though I’ve been a luke warm supporter of the F-35, and we do need a new platform, this latest news of adding 3-5 million to the already ridiculous price will be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I can no longer support this effort. This program needs to be shut down and Lockhead needs to eat the cost for incompetence and poor management. No only that, but Lockhead needs to pay back the taxpayers every dime spend on this program and maybe even some punitive damages for wasting 10 years of our National Defense time and effort and for royally screwing all three services-especially the Marine Corp.

    We need a new platform but we no longer need Lockhead

    We need to start over (with a fixed price contract) with another manufacture.

    • tiger

      Gordo Cooper: “Do you boys know what makes this bird go up? Funding makes this bird go up.”
      Gus Grissom: “That’s right. No bucks… no Buck Rogers.”
      Gordo Cooper: “And uh, the press over there… They all wanna see Buck Rogers.”
      Deke Slayton: “And that’s us… Buck Rogers.”

      The Right Stuff-1986

    • Appia

      Clawing that much cash from Lockheed would likely break the company. It would need infusions of cash from the shareholders, which might or might not be forthcoming. If not, the US government will have to supply the cash and receive the new shares, effectively nationalizing the company. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, but I don’t want to hear any whining about “Obama” and “Socialism” if it happens.

  • Musson1

    If you want to fly faster, higher and pull more G’s – you have to pay for it. And, it ain’t cheap!

  • jumper

    I think the problem is there is the perception that every other plane we’ve ever built entered service and started kicking Nazi/Commie a$$ right out of the production hanger. The truth is that EVERY plane has had development issues, some quite serious and far worse than the F-35. (The P-51 wasn’t worth the cost of production when it entered service) But, the internet didn’t exist back then so there weren’t half a million “experts” telling everyone why it’s such a disaster. While the accounting practices are a little shady due to scope creep, DoD incompetence, and Lockheed’s lack of accountability, the actual technical development of the jet isn’t even close to the worst we’ve ever seen.

    • Michael

      Would the worst be the A-12?

      • tiger

        Oh, there are far worse projects. The F7U Cutlass for example.

      • Thinking_ExUSAF

        Depends on your defnition for “worst”. The A-12 certainly is in the running if costs enter the equation. The F-111A (although eventually turned into a very good aircraft!), the B-70, or the B-58 might good candidates for the worst as well (at least in the modern era), and all for different reasons!

    • SMSgt Mac

      The Barling Bomber

      • joe

        TSR2 (okay, British, but we’re in the programme too)

        • Thinking_ExUSAF

          To keep the Commonwealth in play, how about the Avro Arrow? It was, as best as can be told, a completely outstanding aircraft that was slaughtered on the altar of partisan politics. That has GOT to to qualify it as a candidate for the “worst” program!

  • Roy Smith

    You really have to wonder if the new weapons that Russia & China are putting out,even if they are crap,will have any competition anymore from the West,including the U.S. Our NATO European allies & European Union leaders are making “draconian” cuts to their defense. We can’t afford new weapons or to even recapitalize/reset the weapons we already have. For those who say to cancel the F-35 & buy F/A-18 Super Hornets,can we even afford to do that(buy more Super Hornets)?

    • tiger

      Well Sir Teleprompter said he was going to “reset our relations” with Russia. Hows that working out???

    • kim

      We could buy Gripens, too. Nowhere near as pricey….

  • BigRick

    p.s. here’s what I recommend, the most important thing here is quantity, we need to get the numbers back up

    For the Air Force,
    -explore the F-15 SE version
    -SLEP all F-16s to latest version

    For the Navy
    -continue buying latest Super Hornet versions but explore the new proposals
    -accelerate X-47B development, put two squadrons on each carrier by 2015

    For the Marines
    -it was a good move to buy the slightly used British Harriers, but they should SLEP
    each and every one of Harriers to get as much life as possible, hopefully for another 10 years

    For all three
    -invest in next gen AMMRAM that has much longer range and higher speed-kind of like what the Phoenix missile used to be. This new one needs 70+ mile range and Mach 5+ speed.
    -continue to invest in advanced radar, microwave, laser and other technologies

    Gen 5 aircraft
    -DO NOT attempt to build another single aircraft for all three services-that’s is folly. The requirement for each service are too different.
    -If you do, build a Navy version first (a la F-4 style) that can be used by the other services later
    -set a firm fixed price and delivery
    -we need to get away from the idea of quality will be over quantity. We need a 5th gen fighter but not at the expense of numbers.

  • PHS3

    I tend to agree with BigRick, however quality over quantity is a good thing, but You can’t build a quality aircraft, with total supremacy, which can also cover all demands from all 3 services. And You can’t expect Your allies to willingly pay for capabilities, which will never ever be of use to them, like Denmark (where I live). We would never be part of a serious first strike on anyone – not even the Swedes or the Germans (this part is a joke of course) – but we sure like the thought of US being able to do it, if necessary. And we are proudly working together with US in Afghanistan and other places, thank You.

  • Lance

    Not a BIG deal the USAF is upgraded its F-16 to extend there life for a decade. So it’ll be fine to slow its replacement with F-35s too. The main deal is both F-15s and F-16s will be upgraded so they be in good shape till over 2021 so it may take that long to get enough F-35 to replace F-16s anyway.

  • Black Owl

    I for one would like to take this opportunity to again remind everyone that the Super Hornet International Road Map is highly capable and has a performance level near that of the F-35, but relies on everything that has been proven to work in the past and is extremely cheap at roughly the price of 1/2 an F-35B or F-35C. It makes perfect sense to buy and use those, but obviously too much sense for the defense industry.
    http://www.boeing.com/AeroIndia2011/pdf/Aero_Indi

  • Elijah

    An Airplane Admirer, Jestering Jets, Love’em but am afraid of”em.

  • tiger

    Slow production? That production floor is a ghost town now.

  • Valcan

    See this is my problem with the Joint buys. To many demands on one airframe and it becomes so expensive and complicated that you no longer can buy the 1000 you need so you buy just 300. And the next generation just 200. This continues until someone fixes it or the fleet becomes so expensive and precious that war is avoided many times to disasterous consequences.

    Look at the F-8 crusader. That is how to run a program and it was no less revolutionary that the F-22 or F-35. Later it became the A-7 Corsair.

    S/VTOVL is one of those things that is to airframe intesive for it to make sense to use the same airframe.

    The F-35 is more of a political program.

  • mustangdaren

    Modify the F-15 to SE specs with F-22 engines, modify the Super Hornet with F-22 engines, modify the F-16 with the F-35 engine and now you have three planes with super cruise capability. Use missile tech to fill in the 5th gen gaps or unmanned aircraft. F-35 is a joke, performance is no better than what we have already and it has no super cruise or thrust vectoring. We would have been better off developing the F-22 and increasing it’s numbers to drive down cost because in the end it would be cheaper than the F-35.

  • Kski

    Simple answer to this on going issue. Tell the manufacture this. YOU HAVE ONE YEAR TO MAKE THE F-35 LIGHTING II PROGRAM READY FOR FULL SCALE PRODUCTION, IF YOU DO NOT MEET THIS REQUIREMENT, WE WILL DROP THE ENTIRE PROGRAM.

    Short, Sweet, to the point and VERY DIRECT.

  • William C.

    Why is every somewhat lengthy comment I write deleted?

  • Hunter78

    Abandon the manned fighter/attack aircraft concept completely. Commit to an unmanned aircraft paradigm. Much cheaper, higher performance, larger numbers, no lost pilots.

  • duuude

    “numerous structural cracks”

    What the hell happened to “value for money”?

  • Valcan

    Unmanned aircraft cheaper? LOL CHEAPER!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Atomics_MQ-9

    No they are not cheaper neither are they worth a damn agaisnt a manned opponent. The reason Drones used so much now is Endurance, cost of training, cost of maintanence, and no pilots to risk.

    High performance Manned fighters are the future for atleast the next 50yrs atleast. I am a geek i read all the books but i KNOW the pple who know war. And the technology. The reason the US has commited to so many drones is the above and inaddition to something else. Over half the DoD budget is spent on people. Western soldiers are EXPENSIVE.

    The US needs for low tech needs like the fight in afghanistan simply a crop duster or such with alot of loiter time and some decent payload that is easy, cheap and reliable. For around 6 mil each or so you can get a flight of AT-802U with a payload of 9,000 lbs. Reapers is 3,000lbs.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Tractor_AT-802

    So no outside of fantasies the Drones are not what is really needed.

  • Hunter78

    In dogfights pulling G’s is often the deciding factor. UAV’s can easily out-perform manned.

  • Jeannie

    Glad there is someone over there in the Pentagon who is slowing down. Power gone mad is what is usually over there; men and women asking Congress for their last penny and they get it. I’m tortured by a Navy laser that stabs, hammers and cramps my body. M67854-04-C-5074. Order it from the Marine Corps FOIA. You will see the five sided building wants to take over the law enforcement system of our country, including the cop, court house downtown, jails, prisons, FBI, and state law enforcement agencies. What is happening to me is done by the Pentagon’s Mayport Naval Station helicopters and there is not one thing any of the above agencies of the government can do about it. We are a nation under seige by the Pentagon and the seige is silent, torturous and deadly. The weapon can kill and leave no evidence or it can torture.

  • Commisar12

    Well, apart from this site being RABIDLY F-35, sh*t happens, NO jet has had flawless testing and development. I mean, look at the F-14. it was almost killed and the Navy had to beg for it. Or the F-111, or the P-51, or the B-1, or the B-2. it is way too late to cancel the program, and it seems that only the B model seem to be having this issue.

  • I think F-35 must be another engine not only from pratt and whitney like roll royce and GE, may be first cost opportuneted overrun made headache but benefit advantage in future for saving money for replacing aging aircraft like F-16,F-15 and F-18.

  • FtD

    Russians discarded the Mig29 and concentrates on Su27 and made a success out of it so why can’t americans learn from them, take the already in service F22 platform, develop it further, export to other allies and get some money out from it?

  • Roland

    Not a good news. We needed these jets for defense in case Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea attack us.