Monday, January 29, 2018

F-35 Concurrency Orphans

We’ve repeatedly noted the lunacy of concurrent development and production.  The Navy tried it with the LCS and failed badly.  They tried it with the Ford and failed badly.  However, the F-35 is the poster child for the idiocy of concurrency.  Now the consequences are starting to come out.  We’re faced with a no-win choice:  either rebuild these non-standard aircraft for exorbitant amounts of money on top of the already exorbitant amounts we paid to build them the first time around or leave them as non-standard, non-combat capable aircraft – essentially throw them away.  Sure, we’ll use a few as maintenance trainers but most will have no purpose.

The National Interest website (1) reports,

“The new F-35 program executive officer, U.S. Navy vice admiral Mat Winter, said his office is exploring the option of leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production in the coming years.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Left unsaid so far is what will become of the 81 F-35s purchased by the Marine Corps and Navy during that same period. If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for.”

National Interest astutely notes that these “concurrency orphans” are the ones that cost the most money because they were purchased earliest in the program.  These are the aircraft that cost $150M-$200M each.

Let’s look at that cost a bit closer.

For nice round numbers, let’s call it 200 concurrency orphans at $150M each.  That’s a total of  $30 billion !!!!!!!

$30B lost to concurrency.

That’s $30B worth of aircraft that will never be operational, never see combat, and will wind up sitting in storage somewhere while they are slowly scavenged for parts.

What could we have done with $30B? 

-          We could have bought 2 Ford class carriers
-          We could have bought 16 Burkes class destroyers
-          We could have bought 7 big deck amphibious ships
-          We could have bought 337 advanced Super Hornets (2)
-          We could have bought untold quantities of logistics support ships, minesweepers, ASW corvettes, and maybe, just maybe, a shell for the Zumwalt’s gun!

Worse, we are still producing non-combat capable aircraft and testing is still on-going so the final concurrency orphan tally will be markedly higher – perhaps 300 or so aircraft.

Come on, seriously, someone has to go to jail for this.


(1)The National Interest website, “108 U.S. F-35s Won't Be Combat-Capable”, Dan Grazier, 16-Oct-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Wants to Buy 80 More Super Hornets for $7.1B Over the Next Five Years”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Jun-2017,


  1. What, no combat ready jets that can only be used for training... Wait where did I heard this before ??

    The Air Force estimates it would cost $1.7 billion to convert 34 older-model F-22 training jets to an operational configuration that is homogenous with today's Block 30 Raptor fleet. Former Air Combat Command Chief Gen. Herbert Carlisle told lawmakers last summer the service was "looking very hard"at what it would take to convert the training jets to operational assets. In an August report to Congress, the service says that upgrading the Block 20 trainers to a Block 30 .

    Oh yeah they did a similar thing Before :D


  2. So

    " 34 older-model F-22 training jets "

    " non-combat capable aircraft and testing is still on-going so the final concurrency orphan tally will be markedly higher – perhaps 300 or so aircraft "

    notice a pattern here, what was that definition again of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    1. 34 non-combat capable is bad but 34 versus around 300 is quite a difference!

  3. Historical perspective.
    The F100A was a evil handling plane, unloved, 203 built. Quickly taken out of service.
    F100D, larger wing and tail plane, to fix above.
    1200+ built.

    F-22, give them to the Thunderbird's, F-35 Blue Angels. The Blue Angel's F18s are imitating Cessnas these days, useful load increases as parts fall off during take off. Sort of like Navy ships.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. I'm missing it. What point were you illustrating with your historical perspective example?

      Similarly, what was the point about the F-22?

  4. Point was the AF at least built 203 F100A, knowing that they were marginally useful/dangerous, then parked them after little use.
    With that experience of the A models, built a lot D models, that did work ok.

    The F-22, the concurrency orphan trainers would make
    flashy mounts for the Thunderbirds.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. Okay, I see. However, there's a potential (likely?) difference here. I don't know the F100 story so correct me if I'm wrong. If the F100 was initially built as well as they could design an aircraft at that time and then, with use, it was found to have problems, that's understandable. In contrast, the initial few hundred F-35s were built while developmental testing was just being started. That's irresponsible, at best, because every aircraft has developmental problems so to build hundreds of aircraft with the absolutely certain knowledge that they would have to rebuilt, if they even could, is sheer lunacy.

      What was the case for the F100?

      The F-22 is a typical AF case. Everyone acknowledges that we didn't build enough F-22s. Therefore, the AF should be jumping at the chance to bring the 34 non-standard F-22s up to current standards. When we go to war with China, we'll need every F-22 we can get.

  5. I've been playing around with this theme for awhile and decided to start digging into it more seriously. It's a lot harder than I thought and I knew it wsn't going to be easy finding all the data and trying to keep it fair. I'm trying to compare apples to apples and have broken it down to X or Y models, FSD run, one-offs like F16XL, early LRIPS that really just warm up the production line and trainers.

    I feel trainers should be included since some of these F35s that are "useless" do have a role as trainers and since F35 doesn't have a dedicated variant for that, it's a little bit of a guessing game BUT I feel they should be included as I'm also including (to be fair) trainer versions of the "teens" series since many of them weren't that combat capable either, to completely exclude them isn't a fair comparison.

  6. As of right now, I'm working on F4 Phantom, the F14,15,16,18, F22 and F35. Haven't started the Super Hornet. The problems so far are really getting more data on the Phantom and Tomcat as they were Twin seaters and haven't gotten yet a good break down as how many were used as trainers....early search into FY tail numbers appears that many (F14s) seem to have deployed so I really need to figure out a different way to figure out a good number for trainers.

    F22 is going to be horrible, no way to make the numbers look good. We basically killed the program BEFORE the production run started so we are stuck with a bunch of early LRIPS/trainers to compare to a SMALL total production run, that percentage of useless/combat capable is really BAD!

    F35 could go either way, we don't know yet the total run so it's how much you hate or love the program were the percentage can be....

    Eventually, I will like to look into the F104 and F105 runs and the French Mirages, that could be interesting...

    I have a ton of aviation books and internet to find the numbers, they are out there, just need to keep digging....

  7. Just did some research on the F100 and it raises an valid point: Where do you put the F100A? They built 200 of them, got rid of them really fast, so how should one consider it in the big scheme of things? Would we consider it like an early LRIP today? F100C and D had big production runs and saw combat, how combat capable was a F100A? Probably not that much so I think I'm putting it in the "useless" category....but it makes a big difference, that's 200 fighters that go on one side of the scale, it's not negligible on a total run of 1750 F100s.

    1. Interesting investigation. I look forward to seeing what you find.

      Note, though, there is a difference between aircraft that were never combat capable (the F-35s that we're talking about) and aircraft that were fully combat capable, as intended, but just not good enough to warrant a long service life (the F-100, perhaps).

      Also, the premise of the post is the effect of concurrency. Again, it's one thing to build a production aircraft that just wasn't very good and quite another to build an aircraft from a design that wasn't fully developed or tested prior to building.

      So, give some serious thought to how you categorize aircraft as you look into this.

  8. I would like to send you the spreadsheet first and run it by you so I can hear what u have to say and trouble shoot it. Any way I can send a private email to you?

    1. Post your email in written form in a comment and I'll send you an email that you can reply to. For example, yourname at gmail dot com. That will avoid spambots. I'll delete the comment as soon as I see it to minimize exposure of your address.

  9. Wonder what congressional members will say, if the DOD audit captures the high cost of all these concurrency orphans,with more being produced ! Some folks should be fired over this travesty.

    1. BTW- This Paul is not me, as this is the first time I've come here. Plus, you will know it's not me because I would have written that some folks should be shot.

      I came here because this site was referred to at ' Chant du Depart '. I'm bookmarking it because what I have read so far is good.

      Thanks for the post.
      Paul L. Quandt

  10. Hmm, I though of another scheme they can justify all those not to much combat capable F-35's at least the A model.
    They could be used for the air defense mission over the continental US, at least if I was a Air force general that's how i could sell it to Congress.
    See they can't be used for high end combat but they're perfectly good for air policing.

    1. Most of them will be given to ANG eventually, it will be costly but Congress and Senate will love it since it will help them promote their airbases and keep ANG in their states.

  11. Thanks for clearing things up, I deleted my comment to protect the one I quoted.

    1. That's fine. More importantly, what are your thoughts on any aspect of the post?

      Here's an historical example for you to ponder. The F-14 Tomcat had around 8 (I forget the exact number of the top of my head but that's very close) non-standard (meaning non-production), non-combat capable aircraft built that were used for the development and testing portion of the program. As far as I know, all other aircraft were fully combat capable. Some were assigned to the east and west coast replacement squadrons (pilot training) and, from time to time, various other training commands such as Top Gun but all were fully combat capable. Contrast this to the 200 (likely 300+ eventually) non-standard, non-combat capable F-35s. What lessons do you draw from this?

  12. Not sure if you will see this, but I thought you should know that the DoD did not "waste" $30 Billion.

    There were 141 early (ie pre Block 3F) F-35s produced. As of today (March 2019) all but 17 Block 2B F-35s (all USAF) are at least Block 3i (with all the new avionics hardware). 43 of the 141 have been upgraded to Block 3F. Next march it will be 106 of the 141 and in 18 months (Sept 2020) all 141 will be Block 3F (including the 17 Block 2Bs from the USAF).

    1. Thanks for the update. Two aspects to keep in mind,

      1. The upgrade costs are on top of the original purchase price and, if hardware is involved, represent paying 'twice' for the same work. Concurrency is wasting money. How much money is involved, I don't know. Perhaps you have some figures?

      2. Block 3x is NOT fully combat capable, as I understand it. It's more capable but is not fully capable. Block 3F has had numerous capabilities deferred to Block 4 or beyond. Block 4 is supposed to be the fully combat capable version. So, all the upgraded 3x's will have to undergo yet another round of upgrades to achieve full combat capability. It's also questionable exactly how fully combat capable Block 4 will be as at least a few capabilities appear to have been even further deferred beyond Block 4.

      Even the Block 3x new aircraft being produced today will have to undergo upgrades to Block 4 eventually to achieve fully combat capability. The total F-35s produced so far appears to be around 360 as of Dec 2018. All will have to undergo upgrades to Block 4.

    2. There are 2 types of upgrades in relation the the early jets, Block Upgrades and Concurrency Upgrades. The Block Upgrades related direction to features and functionality and the Concurrency ones relate primarily to service life instead of functionality (ie something is wearing out faster than predicted), think the recent "omg our early F-35Bs might only have 2200hrs of service life" reporting.

      The Block upgrades come in two phases, Block 3i with included "Tech Refresh 2" (ie new avionics hardware) in addition to a software update and was about $5 mil each. The Block 3F, because it was mainly a software update, came in at about $50k.

      The Concurrency updates are a more complex thing to nail down to a single figure. Basically the number of changes that are required are greatest in the earliest jets while the latest are a lot less. I don't have a total in front of me, but I can show you a chart that I got from a recent FOIA request. It is from the Sept 2017 Concurrency Report. All concurrency upgrades are due to be complete by 2024 and coincide with an F-35's normally scheduled depot-level MX schedule.

      Teh "light blue" line is the one that represents the current numbers. As I said, early jets are more expensive to fix and thankfully are also the ones built in much smaller numbers. Lot 2 was about $14.5mil, Lot 6 about $6.5mil, and Lot 10 about $500k.

      What do you mean by "Full Combat Capability?

      Right now (Block 3F), the F-35 has full internal and external stores capability with everything from SDBs, JDAMS, PAveways, JSOWs, AMRAAMs, adn Aim-9X munitions. It has full use of all of it's sensors and communications. IIRC only "minor" features have been deferred to Block 4.1.

      Is it perfect, hell no, but nothing ever is.

      On the Block 4 side of things, it is coming in basically 4 stages. Blks 4.1 (2020) and 4.3 are primarily software only so will come in at the same $50k that 3F did. Blks 4.2 (2022) and 4.4 are hardware & software and their cost will depend on what is actually included. We do know that 4.2 will include updates to the EODAS, ETOS, ESM, radar, main display, SATCOM, etc. Costs for these have not been nailed down yet but we do know that some of them are actually cheaper & better than the current stuff. For example, the EODAS has increases in performance while reducing costs due to better tech.

      On the whole "Fly-then-Buy vs Concurrency" thing, like pretty much everything else that Congress comes up with, it blew up in their faces.

      I didn't mean to play necromancer on your thread but I felt you would like to know that they were not being left behind.

    3. Very informative comment. Thanks.

      Regarding Block software and combat capability, here's a quote suggesting the Block 4 is the fully combat capable version:

      "A USD211.3 million contract for “pre-modernization efforts” related to a Block 4.1 software drop was awarded to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) on 2 April, with work to be completed by the end of July 2019.
      Now known as Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2), Block 4 will enable the F-35 to employ its full panoply of sensors and munitions. With the wider Block 4 capability to be rolled out in four increments (Block 4.1, 4.2, 4.3 and 4.4), Block 4.1 is primarily software based, although it does also introduce some new capabilities as well as correcting deficiencies to older ones carried over from the system design and development (SDD) phase of the programme, which is shortly due to conclude."

      Maybe just phrasing or maybe there are some deferred combat capabilities?

      My understanding was that full external stores were not enabled in Block 3x but would be in Block 4. True/not true?

      Do you happen to know of a link showing the current listing of combat capabilities relative to Block increment?

      Very nice graph of the concurrency upgrades!

      To what degree are the MDL issues (highlighted in DOT&E 2018 Annual Report) impacting combat capability?

      You seem to have a lot of info and data at hand and are clearly keeping up with the status of the F-35 program. Any interest in doing a guest post about some aspect of the F-35? Perhaps concurrency/block/tech refresh costs? Or, ALIS development and future (I understand they're looking at going to a 'cloud' based version and abandoning ALIS in its current form)? Gun accuracy issues? Some aspect that appeals to you and would be of general interest? Let me know if you have any interest. It's hard to find someone who is knowledgeable about the program, is positive about the program, but is not a total shill making ridiculous claims. You may be that person and it would be beneficial to make that knowledge available to readers. Let me know.

      In any event, thanks for taking the time to comment. Unfortunately, being an older post, I doubt anyone but me will see it! Hence, the suggestion that you might want to author a post.

    4. More weapons will always be added throughout the F-35's life, as it is in any fighter program. What I think they did was to defer many weapons from a dedicated (traditional) weapons integration program and instead bring them aboard via the UAI interface. Since UAI cam about after the F-35 started, their original plan did not take it's benefits into account. This is why UAI is in 4.1 and was not part of 3F.

      UAI weapons can be added to an aircraft at any time (as long as the aircraft support UAI) after the weapon itself is made UAI. Think of UAI as a "print driver" for a weapon. This is from this year's budget:

      UAI is currently implemented on the F-15E, F-16 Block 40/50 and European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) F-16 aircraft, Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) I and II, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Laser JDAM, Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM), and Precision Guided Munitions Planning Software (PGMPS). Planned implementation include Joint Strike Fighter (JSF/F-35), B-21, MQ-9, JASSM-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), F/A-18, Advanced AntiRadiation Guided Missile - Extended Range (AARGM-ER), Combat Weapons Delivery Software (CWDS), SPEAR3, Joint Strike Missile (JSM), and the Turkish Stand Off Missile - Joint (SOM-J).

      These are about the closest charts that shows how the Blocks progressed. There is no single page Block 3F feature chart that I am aware of.

      Here is what was released about Block 4. It's not know if this is 4.1,4.2, or the plan for the entire Blk4 (1-4).

      I would be happy to guest post for you, but English was never my strong suit (thank God for Spell Check).

    5. Nice Block charts. Thanks for the links. The Block 4 photo appears to show several new/improved weapons and radar enhancements among other changes. I guess it becomes almost a matter of semantics whether one considers the 3F to be full combat capability if you know there are more combat capabilities coming. For me, the definition of full would be the ability to execute the missions with an acceptable chance of success and survivability. Whether 3F allows that is something I have no idea about.


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