Tuesday, December 13, 2011

F-35 Sound, but Slow Down Production: Report

A "quick look" report on the U.S. Defense Department's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) delivered to the Pentagon's acting procurement chief a few weeks ago was leaked to the public Dec. 13 by the Project on Government Oversight and says aircraft production should be slowed down.
A REPORT LEAKED Dec. 13 says the F-35 program is sound but production should be slowed down. Above, an F-35A Joint Strike Fighter in flight earlier this year. (U.S. Air Force)
The report was delivered to the office of Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's acting procurement chief, and calls for the slowdown while 13 test issues are resolved. But the report also declares the F-35's design fundamentally sound.
"No fundamental design risks sufficient to preclude further production were indentified," the report reads.
When asked about the 13 problems highlighted in the report on Dec. 8, Pentagon press secretary George Little said "the secretary is aware of the report."
The Joint Strike Fighter program office (JPO) declined to comment on the report because it is an internal document. But an official with the program said the information within the report is accurate and that the F-35 JPO helped to create the document.
"There may be issues regarding the F-35 program," Little said. "Any large weapon program generally has issues from time to time. And we are aware of certain issues with the F-35 program. But we believe it's important to continue to invest in the program."
Most of the 13 problems highlighted in the report are well known and have been previously addressed by both Lockheed Martin and the JPO. The biggest issues include the helmet-mounted display - which Lockheed Martin F-35 program manager Tom Burbage has previous said is well on its was to being fixed - fuel dump system, integrated power package and arresting gear on the carrier version of the jet.
Corrections are already being developed for the carrier variant's tailhook.
"A joint JPO, Lockheed Martin, NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] engineering team is developing necessary corrections," JPO spokesman Joe Dellavedova said. "Initial focus is on hook point modifications and tailhook hold down damper adjustments. The system will be retested when corrections are incorporated."
Three less-problematic issues are aerodynamic buffeting, airframe fatigue life and executing testing, according to the report. Five other issues noted were: lightning strike protection, software, weight management, thermal management and logistical system.
Taken together, the problems are substantial enough that the report argues production should be slowed down. From the operation assessment perspective, most of the deficiencies stem from the helmet's performance. There were also some classified concerns cited that were not in the report.

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