July 01, 2013
Less than two years after a new Pentagon leadership team adopted a new integrated master schedule (IMS) for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program—which in 2010 plans was to have been declared operational by now—the latest plan is at risk, according to the Defense Department's chief weapons-tester.
Software required to meet the Marine Corps' limited initial operating capability (IOC) date is already expected to be eight months late relative to the August 2011 IMS, Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee on June 19. Radar and electro-optical system snags have delayed weapons integration, consuming all the margin built into weapons testing. Buffet and transonic wing-drop “continue to be a concern to achieving operational combat capability.”
The root of the software delays is that the program has been forced to add tests at a rate that more than offsets better-than-scheduled testing performance. The main causes, Gilmore says, are the helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) and regression testing—which ensure that changes have not caused problems in areas previously vetted. Regression testing alone has already forced the addition of 366 test points in 2013.
Flight-testing of Block 2A, the last non-combat software release, started in March 2012 with the goal of finishing in February, but was only 35% complete at the end of May. The Marines' IOC software release, Block 2B, was to be delivered for flight-test in August, according to the IMS, but is now not expected before April 2014, only six months before the due date for completing those tests. These have to be finished before the program can perform an operational evaluation in 2015 that must be completed before the Marine IOC, set for July-December 2015.
Sacrificing Block 2B capabilities to meet the schedule is not an attractive option, Gilmore notes, because even full Block 2B aircraft will “likely need significant support from other (fighters) . . . unless air superiority is somehow otherwise assured and the threat is cooperative.”
The Block 3i configuration, the basis of the Air Force's planned IOC date (August-December 2016) is also under tight schedule pressure, Gilmore explains. It is wedded to significant changes to the radar, and to the electronic-warfare and communications-navigation-identification processors (not just the integrated core processor, as reported earlier). Lot 6 F-35s, which start deliveries in 2014, include this new hardware and cannot fly without 3i software. “Maturing Block 3i hardware and software will be a significant challenge in the next 12 to 18 months,” Gilmore warns.
The DOT&E adds that “the most significant source of uncertainty” regarding what combat capability the JSF will provide in 2018 is that the program has to deliver an operational Block 3i while concurrently developing Block 3F, which is intended to meet the key performance parameters set in 2001.