A program-wide focus on affordability would not have eliminated all these issues, but it would have demanded early solutions. That the F/A-18E/F was rolled out on schedule—as well as on weight and cost—was largely due to a vigorous emphasis on cost at all levels of the government/contractor team that was reflected in every presentation, trade study and process.
Thompson implies that cost increases resulted from government actions in cutting the size of early production batches and adding (to be correct, reinstating) flight-test sorties. In fact, the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation team should be congratulated. Without its efforts, we would have numerous aircraft parked and awaiting costly retrofits.
Our IMRT assessment had raised serious doubts about the contractor's ability to meet the production schedule. The team was not delivering aircraft on time, or meeting any other schedule. There were “masked” parts shortages, the result of parts diverted to support out-of-station work and later aircraft completions. As a result, the schedule was changed.
These lessons are applicable to all technology development programs. I found the same blind optimism, technical arrogance and normalization of deviance at NASA and in other programs I have had the opportunity to assess.
The current F-35 program leadership has made strides in bringing this system to full-rate production and has embraced the pillar of affordability. Our requirements reviews show that the warfighters will have the best complement to their F-22 and Super Hornet/Growler strike capabilities, with a system performance beyond our initial expectations.
We need to remain strongly committed to this joint program. Use these hard-learned lessons, embrace affordability as a core best practice and together deploy this system to the fleet—or watch our board of directors on Capitol Hill take it away.