Saturday, January 19, 2013

DOTE Report - JSF

The 2012 DOT&E report (1) has been made public and, as always, contains lots of goodies to look at.  This is the group that oversees the testing and evaluation of the Dept of Defense (DoD) projects and equipment.  These guys determine whether the latest magic toy really does what the DoD claims it does.  Often (usually?) DOT&E findings are somewhat at odds with the DoD’s public claims and there is a healthy tension between the two.  For instance, the Navy does not want to perform shock testing on the LCS (due to the anticipated negative results, I’m sure) whereas DOT&E wants it done and soon and has taken the Navy to task.

Tonight’s goodie concerns the JSF.  DOT&E notes,

“Approximately 34 percent of the total planned flight testing, based on test points completed through November 2012, has now been accomplished …”
 
Despite the fact that only a third of flight testing has been completed, DoD has begun production.  We’ve discussed in previous posts how this type of concurrency (simultaneous design/testing/development and production) inevitably leads to expensive redesigns and reworks of the airframes already built and yet DoD continues this idiotic practice.  Hey, DoD, those are my tax dollars you’re throwing away!

DOT&E goes on to state,

“Certain test conditions were unachievable due to unresolved problems and new discoveries.  The need for regression testing of fixes (repeat testing of previously accomplished points with newer versions of software) displaced opportunities to meet flight test objectives.”
 
This is telling us that not only is concurrency costing more money, but the need to test the new “fixes” is impacting the normal course of testing, further slowing an already way behind schedule.  And still DoD persists.

DOT&E comments on the impact of flight test delays,

“The lag in accomplishing the intended 2012 flight testing content defers testing to following years, and in the meantime, will contribute to the program delivering less capability in production aircraft in the near term.”
 
The Air Force attempted to begin pilot training on the F-35A but DOT&E noted,

“Because of the immaturity of the system, which is still largely under development, little can be learned about operating and sustaining the F-35 in combat operations … “
 
It keeps getting better.

“The program’s most recent vulnerability assessment showed that the removal of fueldraulic fuses, the PAO shutoff valve, and the dry bay fire suppression, also removed in 2008 [editorial note:  removed for cost reduction reasons], results in the F-35 not meeting the Operational Requirements Document (ORD) requirement to have a vulnerability posture better than analogous legacy aircraft.”
 
The report notes that the F-35A version is now within 273 lbs of its maximum specified weight limit.  There is no growth left on this airframe and it hasn’t even been deployed, yet!

The JSF program has announced decreases in performance specs due to observed limitations during testing.  Turn performance has been reduced from 5.3 to 4.6 sustained g’s.  Acceleration from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach has been increased by 8 seconds, meaning that the plane has failed to meet acceleration specs and is being downgraded in recognition of that.

Here is a fun one.

“Horizontal tail surfaces are experiencing higher than expected temperatures during sustained high-speed / high-altitude flight, resulting in delamination and scorching of the surface coatings and structure.”
 
The report goes on to describe pages of individual problems.  If you’re interested, follow this link and read the report.

The main points to take away from this are,

  • This is a seriously flawed program with no end in sight.
  • Concurrency is killing the program both in monetary and scheduling terms.
  • There has been a steady degradation of specifications as a means to deal with a variety of problems.  In other words, if the plane won’t perform as expected, change the specs rather than the actual performance.  By the time the JSF is ready for deployment, it will be merely a slightly stealthier version of an F-16 or F-18 at a ridiculously expensive price.

(1) Director – Operational Test and Evaluation, FY2012, Annual Report

6 comments:

  1. While I agree that the report makes for grim reading - in particular the previously highlighted engineering problems which remain unresolved - there are at least a couple of encouraging points. Namely, despite entering weapons carrying (albeit inert) and high AoA testing, no new nasty surprises have emerged - yet! Also, the B version now has a little more weight margin to play with.

    Re the turn and acceleration figure decreases - as was pointed out to me on another site we shouldn't take these figures in isolation. Compare them to other jets. The F35 is benchmarked against F16/18 but crucially it has to match their clean performance while it carries two 1000lb bombs, two AMRAAMs and internal fuel. Stick bombs and missiles on the agile Typhoon and it's rates of turn and acceleration will drop dramatically compared to clean.

    You will get no arguments from me about the stupidity of starting production a third of the way into testing.

    "Hey, DoD, those are my tax dollars you’re throwing away!" - Happily not mine. Something about "No taxation without representation." I'm thinking of having that printed on a T-shirt!

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    1. "No taxation without representation." Ouch! You've been waiting over 200 years to say that, haven't you?! Good one! Had to figure that one would turn around and bite us in the ass someday.

      Regarding the turn numbers and comparison to F-16/-18 clean performance, I haven't been able to independently verify that. Do you have a source for that? Just curious.

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  2. One thing to keep in mind is that DOT&E "never" has anything nice to say. That's their job.

    They still have major issues with the APG-79 on the F-18E/F

    ---------------Quote--------------
    Assessment
    • The APG-79 AESA radar demonstrated marginal
    improvements since the previous FOT&E period and provides
    improved performance relative to the legacy APG-73
    radar. However, operational testing does not demonstrate a
    statistically significant difference in mission accomplishment
    between F/A-18E/F aircraft equipped with AESA and those
    equipped with the legacy radar.
    • Full development of AESA electronic warfare capability
    remains deferred to later software builds.
    • While SCSs H6E and 23X demonstrate acceptable suitability,
    the AESA radar’s reliability continues to suffer from software
    instability despite software upgrades. The radar’s failure
    to meet reliability requirements and poor BIT performance
    remain as shortfalls from previous test and evaluation periods.
    • Overall, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet weapon system
    is operationally effective and suitable for most threat
    environments. However, the platform is not operationally
    effective for use in certain threat environments, the details of
    which are addressed in DOT&E’s classified report.

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    1. You're quite right. By the nature of their job, most of the notes in their reports will be negative in the sense that they're reporting problems that they've found. Also, the mere existence of problems, especially for a first-in-class platform, is not a major issue by itself. It's only when the problems are excessive in number or the result of stupidity do I really take note. Sadly, the Navy has plenty of both types.

      It's also refreshing to read a more realistic assessment of the platforms and projects as compared to the often delusional PR type statements that the Navy offers.

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  3. @ComNavOps - apologies for not replying earlier, I was struck down by man-flu, which as all men know, is fatal while you've got it. The original sources are buried away on my hard drive somewhere, but this cropped up recently on Flightglobal:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/reduced-f-35-performance-specifications-may-have-significant-operational-impact-381683/

    By "clean" I take it they mean no underwing fuel tanks carried.

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    1. WiseApe, thanks for that link. I noted the comment that the reduced turn/accel performance puts the JSF in the F-4/F-5 range.

      In an earlier comment you noted that the JSF performance was being compared to clean (like you, I assume that means wingtip Sidewinders only and no underwing tanks/weapons) Hornets/Falcons and you implied, I think, that that was not comparing apples to apples. If that's what you meant, consider this... The JSF is designed to fight clean (internal weapons carriage) so a comparison to a clean Hornet/Falcon is quite appropriate. Would you agree? If so, it looks like we're going to get a JSF that has the performance characteristics of a Hornet/Falcon, if even that.

      As the link explained, that rather mundane level of performance may be offset by the 360 degree sighting and targeting and the inherent stealth. Still, unless the 360/stealth combo is hugely beneficial (and it may turn out to be) we've spent a buttload of money to develop a Hornet/Falcon with a little extra stealth. At this point, the success or failure of the JSF clearly hinges squarely on the 360/stealth.

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