Monday, January 14, 2013

F-35 - More Problems

Navy Times website has a short article about new problems with the F-35 (click here for link to article).  The problems cited are fairly technical so I won't bother repeating the descriptions here.  Read the article for the full story.  Instead, I just want to highlight a couple of points.

This aircraft is still in the developmental stage (has been since the Civil War, I think!) so uncovering new problems shouldn't be surprising or particularly disappointing.  However, this aircraft is also in production as part of the military's concurrent design/build philosophy.  That's where you begin building production versions before you've completed testing of the prototypes.  While there may be some theoretical cost savings, the reality has proven to be a never-ending series of backfits to production aircraft to incorporate the new fixes.  Obviously, retrofits are far more expensive than the building it correctly the first time.  DoD has been taken to task by numerous agencies for this practice and yet continues to do it. 

Making a mistake the first time is called learning.  Making the same mistake over and over is called stupidity.  The Navy attempted the exact same concurrent design/build with the LCS and LPD-17 and both failed in an epic manner.

Moving on, the article points out that attempts to save 11 lbs of weight resulted in a 25% increase in aircraft vulnerability.  Talk about a poor trade-off!  Again, this is exactly the kind of unwise trade-off that resulted in the LCS losing it's cathodic protection as a cost savings measure.  Unfortunately, that deletion lead to the extensive corrosion problems which cost far more to repair and retrofit than any cost savings ever could have generated. 

As described in the article, the limitations on the aircraft's performance envelope are striking at this stage of development. 

The F-35 program is a money pit if ever there was one.  I know that there are a lot of sunk costs that have already been paid and supporters would argue that we're almost there and we can't abandon a nearly complete aircraft program but there simply has to come a point where you cut your losses and walk away.  There seems to be no end to the problems with this program and no realistic end in sight.  Take away the 360 degree targeting system which doesn't yet work, anyway, and this aircraft is simply a legacy Hornet or F-16 with a bit more stealth.  Whether the magic targeting system will ever work as advertised is a doubtful issue just as the LCS magic modules will never work as advertised.

It's time to cut our losses.  I can't believe that foreign countries haven't started to walk away, yet.

8 comments:

  1. I think it's time to cut our loses for the F-35B & C. Put all our money in the F-35A and proceed with the F-35A. As for the Navy and Marines, keep the Super Hornet and Upgrade it to the Super hornet International Roadmap. The Marines, Upgrade the Harrier

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  2. Competition is a wonderful thing. It incentivizes all parties to make the best product for the best price.

    When the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine was selected for the F-15 and F-16 there were problems with it transitioning to and from afterburner and unit price. It got to a point where the USAF asked GE to develop an engine compatible to the the F-15. GE's F110 entered service and surprise, surprise, the F100 suddenly got better. It appeared P&W didn't want to lose their customer to a competitor.

    Competition could be said about the F-16 and F-18. On the international market both designs have had to fight for sales often against one another.

    The closest competitor to the F-35A was the F-22. A naval version of the F-22 was never built. With production of the F-22 ended there is essentially no competition for a 5th generation fighter with the USAF, the program's biggest customer. It's not surprising that the F-35 has hit some major problems since the announcement of the Raptor's production wrap-up. With the incentive gone, the DoD has made the F-35 "too big to fail".

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  3. There is another mistake they failed to learn from. That is why I call the F-35 the Triple McNamara. He tried to build one aircraft which was going to be an Air Force bomber taking of and landing from mile long runways and a Navy fighter being catapulted off and arrestor landed on Aircraft Carriers. The managed to get the F-111 working for the Air Force after spending much money, but the Navy punted and came up with the F-14.

    The F-35 is suppose to be a Air Force fighter bomber taking off from mile long runways, a Marine fighter bomber vertically landing and taking off and a Navy fighter bomber being catapulted and arrestor landed on Aircraft Carriers. While the different version look a lot alike they are much different internally and because the Marine version is the hardest they forced the other two version into a shape that was best for the Marine version.

    They should have built three different airframes optimized for their roles and then saved money by sharing all the expensive electronics, weapons and stealth tech. It probably would not cost anymore since the three airframes today are much different internally.

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    Replies
    1. That's very true. The 1990's were the decade of "joint-ness": JSF, JDAM, J-STARS, etc.

      While I do think a STOVL version of the F-35 is needed, it should not have driven the design as much as it did.

      The F-35C has had a real impact on the entire program, almost as much as the B. It needs larger wing and tail surfaces for good landing characteristics, as well as a nose small enough to look past on approach to the carrier. It also requires the highest level of stealth, as the USN has no other stealth aircraft, while the USAF has the B-2/F-22 and the USMC never cared about it.

      Traditionally successful fighters like the F-4 and F4U started out as carrier designs and then were used on land. Like the F-111 it doesn't work as often the other way around.

      It feels to me like the F-35A was the basis for much of the JSF, and that the C was beefed up with heavier structure, twin nose wheels, bulged bomb bay doors, and a poorly sited arrestor hook. I think the C should have been the airframe baseline instead of the A.

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  4. The main problem (the one that will take the most time & money to complete) is the software.

    This would not change and would actually be worse if it were in 3 separate programs.

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    1. Do you know which aspect of the software is causing problems? We've written lots of software for lots of airframes as regards simply making the plane fly, so that can't be it. Is it the 360 degree sensing and targeting that's proving problematic?

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    2. I think it's the 360 degree IR, the targeting FLIR, and the HMD. All of which must work seamlessly with one another. Compared to the F-35, the Raptor had it easy with software integration. Even now, I believe the F-22 has no targeting FLIR, and has yet to get a HMD. On the F-18E/F the FLIR is a separate pod and system.

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    3. As to the problem ares, that has not been stated publicly. However (just to hazard a guess) since the maintenance and diagnostics sections are the largest, have not been done before (to this level), and the last sections to be added, I would say they are a major contributor.

      Many of the sensors have already been integrated in Blocks 1/2 (including EOTS, EODAS, radar, etc). The problems with the HMD does not include a lot of code changes, but mostly hardware updates (and software to address the new hardware).

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