Here’s a quick update on the F-35, courtesy of GAO (1).
Software. First, a refresher on the F-35 software development. Software is being developed and delivered in blocks with each block adding new capabilities and moving the aircraft closer to full operation.
1&2 A Training
2B Initial Warfighting Capability; Marine IOC
3i Extension of 2B; Air Force IOC
3F Full Warfighting Capability; Navy IOC
Engines. Engine reliability is still a major issue.
“Data provided by Pratt & Whitney indicate that the mean flight hours between failure for the F-35A engine is about 21 percent of where the engine was expected to be at this point in the program. The F-35B engine is about 52 percent of where the engine was expected to be at this point.”
Look at those percentages. That is some awful reliability! Who’d have thought that the B version would have the more reliable engine?
Cost. As of Dec 2014, GAO reports the total program cost estimate as,
Unit Cost $159M per aircraft
So there you have it. With all the proclamations about $80M aircraft, the actual unit cost is $159M. That’s a little different than what the program managers and LM are telling us, huh?
Concurrency. This is a stunning bit. We’ve thoroughly documented that the practice of concurrency (production of an item while it’s still being designed and tested) inevitably adds cost as products have to be reworked multiple times to fix and modify problems uncovered during testing.
“As of June 2014, DOD estimated that at that point about $1.7 billion in funding was needed to rework and retrofit aircraft with design changes needed as a result of test discoveries.”
$1.7B required for concurrency corrections??!! The report doesn’t state how many aircraft are affected but let’s say there are 100-200 that have been produced or are in production at this point that are affected, so that works out to around $9M - $17M per aircraft for concurrency fixes.
Is that the end of the concurrency costs? Well, no.
“… with more complex and demanding testing ahead and engine reliability improvements needed, it is almost certain that the program will encounter more discoveries.”
So, the concurrency costs will continue to add up. I hope the F-35 supporters add these costs into the production costs as they make their claims about how cheap the F-35 is.
Finally, bear in mind that this aircraft hasn’t even come close to working through all its test points. There are lots more problems to come.
(1)GAO, “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter”, Apr 2015, GAO-15-364