Kendall: F-35 Production Ramp-Up a Tough Call

Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall says he hopes to ramp up production of the single-engine, stealthy F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, but he will only do so if adequate progress is made in testing on the troubled program.

Production is slated to go as high as 44 aircraft in fiscal 2014 and then 66 aircraft in 2015 for the Pentagon — up from 29 — if all goes well. Testing thus far has been marred by propulsion problems, durability issues with some F-35 parts and faulty helmets. The tailhook for the F-35C carrier version is also a problem.

“The big decision for me on the F-35 will be the decision on the FY 15 budget: Do we ramp up or not?,” Kendall told reporters at a speech during the Credit Suisse/McAleese Defense Programs conference March 12.

“I put two years of flat [production] into the budget last year and I did it as a compromise between stopping entirely and the current plan at the time. That had a big impact on Lockheed. A lot of business slid off on that. I don’t want to do that again. I want to get the rate up if I can.”

Lockheed Martin, however, must deliver on its flight testing and software programs.

“If they stay on track, then we are going to go head and ramp up. The fate of the program is in Lockheed’s hands.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, says the per-unit price is coming down with each progressive low-rate, initial production (LRIP) contract; the contractor is in LRIP 5. However, the aircraft in LRIP 4 is slated to cost about 7% more than those in the previous lot, Bogdan says.

Bogdan and Lockheed Martin expect to complete negotiations on LRIPs 6 and 7 this summer.

– By Amy Butler

– This article first appeared in AWIN First.


  • Lance

    Seems this is government logic at work before finishing testing and get numerous defects solved. Think there jumping the gun way too fast.

    • David

      We jumped the gun way too fast on this program over a decade ago. It’s getting worse with no real sign of getting better. :(

  • There is no justification to “ramp up” production. We are yet to have a jet with fully working mission systems. Without that, operational testing (those people that are supposed to be given a working jet in order to establish the aircraft’s fighting capability and thus write manuals and doctrine for it, won’t be of much use. Which brings us back to: why build so many immature aircraft until things are reasonably figured out? Understood that as a minimum, you have to build 3-6 STOVL jets per year just to keep from losing learning manufacturing curve and existing (not expanded) supply chain.

  • mpower6428

    Passive sensor software upgrades, signals intelligence and radiation power/accuity, will always outpace the overburdened and corrupt Military Industrial Complex that has scarred the defense industry for the past 10 years. “Major End Items” are a thing of the past.

    dump it, dump it now. any combat aircraft above 700 feet will be a giant ,easily engaged, red flag from now until…. ” star trek “.

  • paul

    Isn’t there 1 sane person left in Washington that realizes the F-35 is nothing more than a giant money pit that is bankrupting America?
    The f-35 is the biggest mistake the DoD has ever made. Americans are paying 100s of billions of dollars for something that is already outclassed in ACM by the Eurofighter, SU-30/33,ect, Rafale and probably even the Gripen. Heck even the 30+ year old F-16 is more maneuverable than the F-35. Not to mention ZERO rear visibility.
    We have a bunch of idiots in the DoD and Congress to keep this donkey funded.

    • Jeff M

      I wouldn’t jump to the same conclusion your’e jumping to, without more information, but what I can tell you is that this jet is looking more and more to me like a supersonic electronic weapons platform. This one won’t need stealth, it’ll just fry everything in it’s path with microwaves. EM weaponry is the new stealth.

      • mpower6428

        so…. the power generation on an F-35 is gonna “burn threw” any average ground based active radar system…? i hope you understand that burn threw isnt a new idea, in any spectrum.

        • Mr. Horrible


      • Heath O.
    • gaylord_gaylordson

      Wonderful. An internet expert! Seems the AFs of the World disagree with you and with the assorted other inexpert turds.

      ELP, APA, Winslow Wheeler……a bunch of clowns in the bleachers with zero cred. Thankfullly, no one’s listening.

  • Noamsaying

    The F-35 is the TFX/F-111 fiasco revisited. Wing loading of an F-105, which was routinely shredded by Mig 21s in Nam. With our enemies acquiring their own stealth aircraft, there will be dogfights in the future and this pig will be second best. Took out fire supression equipment to lighten the load, when this is supposed to replace the A-10 as a ground attack aircraft. F-35 should be canceled, and separate air superiority and ground attack aircraft should be developed, and the Navy should design their own stealth fighter for carriers. Air Force should not have their plane penalized with extra weight for carrier landings. F-35 is a jack of all trades, master of none.

    • STemplar

      Honestly if you are in a dogfight then your SEADs strategy has completely failed and you are already losing regardless of how good your aircraft may or may not be.

      Having said that, the F35 is a pig they keep smearing lipstick on and yelling prom queen hoping enough keep believing.

    • David

      In all fairness to the F-105, it was used in Vietnam to perform a mission for which it wasn’t really designed and it was defeated by small, maneuverable MiGs because it was never intended to be a dogfighter. However, your analogy to the TFX is spot on!

    • William_C1

      The F-105 was not “routinely shredded by MiG-21s” in Vietnam. 17 F-105s were shot down by MiGs while F-105s killed 27 aircraft in return. The F-105 was also a pure fighter-bomber, never intended to be fighting it out with MiGs. It didn’t have any sort of BVR capability, didn’t have an engine that could generate 43,000 lbs of thrust, didn’t have any sort of advanced networking or sensor fusion, etc.

    • Pappy

      To be clear, the F-35A weight issue is not because of a carrier landing requirements; it’s because of the STOVL requirements and the internal weapons carrying requirements built into the basic design and shared by all three variants.

      • blight_

        Meaning that we tried to shoehorn too much commonality too early on in the design phase? Sigh.

        If it was a matter of simply accepting the different-ness earlier on in the design phase, the three aircraft would be allowed to be different without compromising them individually.

        I shudder at the thought of a F-16/Hornet/Harrier tri-brid mess.

  • Belesari

    Flying Dorito. Need i say more?

    • Sadam

      Doritos are awesome

  • Nick

    What am I missing, but wouldn’t it make more sense at this point just to build more F-22s? At least we know how much those cost.

    • Big-Dean

      so that more pilots can die from asphyxiation??? The choices are grim indeed.

      • jhm

        I’d rather go down from that then be taunted by some third world pilot in a pak/fa flying circles around me…

      • Mark

        That problem has been addressed. Valve in pilot worn gear I believe.

    • tiger

      The F-22 Is not that great either. Nor is designed for the Fighter/attack role.

      • johnvarry

        Say what? That is EXACTLY what the F-22 was designed for. To replace the F-15 in the air superiority role. Why do you think it has thrust vectoring if not to improve maneuverability?

  • STemplar

    Lets ramp up production on a short range tactical aircraft we can’t get into or sustain in the theater where it will be needed because of range issues. Kind of makes whether or not it is even working a side bar really.

    Adm Greenert made the devil’s advocate observation that it makes little sense to build a gen 5 aircraft and hang gen 4 weapons from it. Not to mention when you look at actual total cost of moving a F35 into theater and sustaining it compared to just buying more TLAMs there clearly should be someone calling a big time out on tacair expenditures period.

    If we are looking to deter China we aren’t going to accomplish that with a tactical aircraft with an unrefueled combat radius that requires us to be well inside the first island chain to sustain any serious operational tempo. In addition for those that use dogfighting as their benchmark if you are in a dog fight you already screwed up the battle.

  • frank

    F-35 = BUST!
    We are better off putting AESAs in our F-15s and F-16s and giving them new displays, ect. Give the pilots more flying time and develop even betters missiles/bombs. That will save the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars.

    • johnvarry

      We are upgrading F-15’s and F-16’s with AESA. F-16 is also getting new cockpit displays.

  • US-concstitution

    When dealing with a 5th generation fighter/bomber support type aircraft in which this is slated to become, getting into a dogfight with a future russian 5 generation fighter the f-22 would outperform, taking into account the new ayesa radar system which is the real game changer in future air to air combat. The F-35 is built around those 5th generation radar systems, as a support role if a situation were to arise where having such a system is required. Comparing this plane to the french alpha-rameo’s is a joke. It is all about the electronics of this new craft and the benefits of this planes cost far outweigh the risks of not having a support type fleet of this plane at our disposal.

    • mpower6428

      define “support role” and then level that with the aircraft’s “official” stated purpose. and then tell us why a plane who’s active and most probably passive return signals are not already common knowlegde to all but the most isolated foriegn states.

      and then tell us why a none stealth plane ” pecking the lobe ” would be any less effective until a hot war between states breaks out. and then tell us why we couldnt or shouldnt wait until a “hellcat” gets off the factory floor. etc etc etc.

  • JohnB

    A half-century ago, President Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn his fellow Americans of a “military-industrial complex” that will endanger our nation’s liberties.

    Very precisely, Eisenhower said: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

    “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

  • oblat

    People forget that basic aerodynamic performance is critical to all fighter and attack aircraft. F-22 pilots expect to be involved in more dogfights then before because they cannot carry many missiles and once they are expended they will have to use the gun.

    Even in BVR combat performance matters. Greater speed means missiles launched with more energy thus with greater range and lower time of flight. Greater speed and maneuverability means a greater kill zone for your weapons and a smaller one for the enemies.

    Compared to even 3th generation fighters the F-35 is completely outclassed. Really the aircraft is designed to be a light bomber only the range is so bad it cant do that properly either.

    • tiger

      That would be nice if the Missiles worked. The AIM-120 does not. The F-22’s are only armed with Aim-9’s.

      • William_C1

        Since when does the AIM-120 not work? It hasn’t had too much use but it has racked up a few MiGs over the years.

        • blight_
          • blight_


            “Lot Acceptance Test/Rocket Motors
            • Beginning in December 2011, propellant hot spots, burn
            through, and failures at low temperatures (-65 degrees
            Fahrenheit) caused unpredictable Lot Acceptance Test
            (LAT) failures. ATK, the subcontractor who produces the
            rocket motors, continues to investigate these failures.
            • The Program Office, Raytheon, and AMRAAM safety
            communities coordinated to certify Nammo to become an
            approved alternative rocket motor supplier.
            • The Program Office has suspended performance-based
            payments until resolution of the shortage of rocket motors
            due to unacceptable LAT performance. ”

  • llQll

    Can the whole program, take what works and incorporate it in a new F-16 Block……Buy more Eagles preferably the Silent Eagle variant, maybe even add some features from the F-22 into the airframe and by Typhoons from Britain, The Navy and Marines can buy more SuperHornets…..The Chinese or Russians dont have and will not have for decades the aviation assets this nation has.

    • tiger

      What do you tell the Royal Navy? They Have Carriers being built now for F-35 B’s. How What good are Super hornets to the USMC if they can not operate from a LHA?

    • johnvarry

      Your rely is naive and short sighted. Russia may not have resources to develop PAK-FA which is why Russia is teaming with India to produce it.

      When PAK-FA becomes operational what then? F-15 and F-16 do not match SU-33 as it is now. Only the better training of our pilots gives us the edge.

  • Mitchell Fuller

    Before additional production is committed to on F 35:

    1. General Bogdan needs to take a batch of current planes all models and really shake them out with around the clock flight testing and ground testing for a year to determine additional weaknesses in plane. These weaknesses then need to be corrected and corrections incorporated in to future production.

    2. Cockpit design needs to be modified to give pilot the same non computer generated situational awareness as a pilot has in an F 15 or F 16. Pilot not having this is a serious design flaw (amongst many).

    3. A second company needs to contracted to provide an additional engine for use, so entire fleet would not be grounded as has happened with P&W engine. This is a strategic matter that needs to be acted on immediately.

    • William_C1

      You do realize that entire Super Hornet fleet of 500+ aircraft is powered by the same GE engine. Our entire F-15 fleet is powered by the same P&W engine. The F-16 is the exception, not the rule.

  • PolicyWonk

    Its not that tough a call: the answer is NO – until the testing problems are resolved in the opinion of the testing manager. The problems are so myriad, that the test program manager considers continued training in the aircraft to be a waste of time.

    The Pentagon program head (who wants to job to retire) is saying otherwise (what a stunning revelation that is!).

  • Professor Ski!!!

    Simple idea get ride of the aircraft. Take the technology that has worked the best, and put it to use on a improved av-8 harrier, a good start would be to add a Vulcan 20 mike mike internally, and strengthen the air frame for more pylons. A super harrier would probally cost a quarter of a single f-35. This sequester will help make the military understand that the multiple billion dollar flying computer with a toilet on board isn’t always needed. We must prepare for a second Falklands war, war with Iran in support of Israel, the problem on the border, the North Koreans and the communist Chinese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • blight_

      “put it to use on a improved av-8 harrier”

      Harrier was built around the Pegasus just like the JSF-B was built around the LiftSystem.

      The best we can hope for is to uncouple the three programs and let them diverge as needed to meet their missions. Accept that some weight gain will cause the -A’s to get heavier than they should, and that over time the weight limits imposed by the lift system will require cutting other systems from -B that may not have to be cut on the A’s, and that the C will diverge from the others due to the demands of navalization.

      We were asking for too much commonality from three very different missions. I wonder how much it would cost to redesign JSF-A without the constraints of sticking to a commmon -B and -C design. The avionics are bought and paid for, as is the engine and most of the lower RCS design.

  • Zspoiler

    If its nothing but a money pit just upgrade the F-15 , F-16XL ,F/A-18 Super Hornets.Harriers With tech from the F-35. And build more F-22`s We know these systems work. Until we get our house in order.

  • johnvarry

    F-15 and F-16 are becoming obsolete. Most of the rest of the world matches or exceeds our current 4th gen fighters. Russia/India and China are preparing to field 5th gen fighters.

    Comparing the F-35 to a F-105 is rather stupid. F-105 was designed for high seed dash to deliver a nuclear warhead and dash out. It was designed for high straight line speed not for maneuvering. Pilots have compared F-35 to the Super Hornet in performance.

    Many “experts” claimed the F-16E/F was a performance dog while being developed while failing to realize that the fly by wire is one of the last things to be optimized. At Aero India 2009 Super Hornets put on a impressive aerobatic display considered the equal of the F-16 and Eurofighter. The Super Hornet did this with all six under wing pylons loaded. It was one of the only aircraft to do this.

    F-35 is comparable in empty weight, loaded weight, thrust to weight ratio, maneuverability, wing loading, and handling as the F-18 E/F Super Hornet.

    The F-15 was the first US aircraft designed for air superiority and designed as a high energy fighter.

    F-35A with 50% fuel has roughly same thrust/weight ratio as F-16E/F Block 60.

    For those of you singing the praises of the F-16 keep in mind that pilots are no longer praising its handling. The F-16 went from a A model of about 16,000lbs empty to about 22,500lbs for the E/F/Block 60. The F-16 is no longer considered the light super maneuverable fighter it was when new.

    Empty weight of a F-16E/F is about 22,500lbs. PW F110 making about 28,000lbs thrust. GE F110 engine making about 32,000lbs thrust. Has to carry stores and SNIPER XL pods externally.

    Empty weight of a F-35A is about 29,500lbs. PW F135 making about 43,000lbs thrust. Carries stores internally, SNIPER XL targeting capability is built into airframe.

    Yes F-35 has poor visibility to rear…when using eyeballs. EODAS creates a virtual cockpit that when operational creates a virtual environment that allows pilot to see in any direction without aircraft’s structure blocking view in any weather or visibility condition.

    • Vpanoptes

      Assuming, of course, that they ever get EODAS to work properly. I think we need a back-up here. I favor a cyborg pigeon perched in the rear of the cockpit, trained to peck on the back of the pilot’s helmet (assuming that ever gets fixed as well) when it detects that T-50 sneaking up on you – peck peck peck means “check 6!”. Lockheed could probably manage this in only 4-5 years; the pigeons and associated hardware wouldn’t probably add more than $5-6 million per plane.

    • Brian

      “EODAS creates a virtual ****pit that when operational creates a virtual environment that allows pilot to see in any direction without aircraft’s structure blocking view in any weather or visibility condition.”

      The problem is it doesn’t work! Helmet Mounted Sights can work *very* well when kept simple & in the real-time domain where initial target / missile cueing information is simply overlaid – but that’s not how the JSF works. It works by creating a “virtual reality middleman” inside the helmet, the supposed “advantage” of which is to allow the pilot to “see through the canopy” (unnecessary if the jet had decent visibility in the first place), etc, but the disadvantage is that it’s no longer in real-time – it’s massively “laggy” and plagued with stuttering / micro-stuttering, sensor lag & input delays.

      “The JSF doesn’t need to dogfight or see out of the canopy because it’s so clever and will rely completely on EO-DAS + HMS” is already looking very shaky given the “not so clever” continuous targeting issues, latency and jitter experienced with both the EO-DAS and HMS. Sometimes IRST contacts have “dropped off” for no reason, other times it’s taken far longer for it to recognize an incoming large IR target as a threat. The onboard computer is not powerful enough and is already plagued with over-heating issues (sometimes locking up completely). It cannot be replaced without major cost and yet more delays.

      And the AESA radar + super-computer + A2G targeting pod electronics all squeezed into the nose-cone is like sticking a 20kw heater in there making it highly unstealthy to anyone with a decent FLIR / IRST…

      What the F35 pilot sees can be over 1 second behind real-time. This is what the latency issues are all about and they are nowhere near as easy to fix as simply upping the GHz on the CPU. It would have been FAR easier to give the jet decent all-round visibility and build a simpler but more reliable HMS that doesn’t try and “stitch” a panoramic thermal display spanning multiple cameras, but rather simply overlay directional cues & estimated range of incoming aircraft / SAM’s.

      HMS’s have been working perfectly on the Gripen (Cobra), Eurofighter (HMSS), Rafale (TopOwl-F), Israeli F-15 & 16’s (DASH II), MIG-29’s (ZSh-5) and even Army Apache AH-64 helicopters (IHADSS) and A-10C’s & C-130W “gunships” (Scorpion), etc, since what – the mid 1990’s? 20 years later, the more fancy F35 one still can’t even get the basics right despite a 100x fold increase in CPU power… That’s just pathetic.

  • Rightstuffer

    In response to several of the posts asking why we don’t build more F-22’s instead of the F-35, the answer is very disturbing. The F-22 program was shut down due to the high cost per plane, which was around $120 million each. When Lockheed shut that program down, they completely dismantled the production line. Lockheed made this impossible to do so, in order to force the F-35, as the only option.
    There is no mention of the unit cost for LRIP 4 or 5. You have to dig very deep to get these numbers, and currently it is guessed that the cost will be over $140 million dollars each!
    So my question is why did we cancel the best air superiority fighter the world has ever seen due to a $120 million dollar each price tag, and are now trying to replace it with an inferior all purpose multirole aircraft that cost over $140 million each?

  • tee

    From “Defense-Aerospace” “Denmark: Second JSF Partner Country Begins New Fighter Evaluation”.
    .The Death Spiral Begins, after all the Reports released since Jan.

  • DennisBuller

    The sad part is the Air Force and the Navy could make due with their updated, existing aircraft.
    The Marines really need this. The F-35B would be a huge boost to the Marines and the Navy as a whole. It would make all those Gator Freighters much more potent.
    So in some respects I am rooting for the B but do not really care about the A or C……
    We need to get Boeing back into the fighter market to put pressure on Lockheed on pricing. right now there is no competition….

    • STemplar

      See I think the exact opposite. With the USMC having to recapitalize so much and update so much to get back to what they should be doing l think of the B as an enormous waste of money. That recent attack in Stan with half a dozen Harriers destroyed and 2 or 3 others damaged demonstrated this austere forward basing notion is a fairy tale. Were thos B models that attack would have cost us $1 billion. We can’t put resources of that value in range of RPGs and AK47s.

      A stealthy USMC jet? They have to hand weapons on the exterior to accomplish the MAGTF mission with these aircraft so stealth is out the window. The whole pocket aircraft carrier is a nice idea but we already delayed the deployment of a real carrier because of finances so it isn’t like we are going to come up with the money to start doing that with gators. We need the gators to do gator stuff.

  • eaglemmoomin
  • eaglemmoomin
  • StevenDDeacon

    If not the F35 ,,, then what? The loss of air superiority will be the biggest tragedy in the history of the United States armed forces since Pearl Harbor!