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  • Pentagon Watchdog Sinks Fangs Into JSF
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 9:01 AM on Jan 21, 2010

    Relax, JSF fans. I'm not going to bash the program here.

    I'm standing to one side and letting the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation do the job for me. [AWIN subscribers go here for our story on the report. To see the USAF chief of staff's response, see our story here.]

    DOT&E reports are not classified but are not issued online. Still, the Fiscal 2009 report on JSF is the most pessimistic official study of the program to be published so far.

    Its headline conclusion is that even with favorable test results, more test aircraft and more funding, initial operational test and evaluation "could be" finished by early-to-mid 2016 - 18 months behind today's schedule.

    The report raises other concerns. The configuration of the low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft that are due to carry out OT&E has not been defined, and the DOT&E is concerned that their capabilities will not be representative of production aircraft.

    Modeling and simulation - which the JSF team has touted as the secret weapon that will allow the project to be completed on time and on schedule, despite recent history - is at an early stage, says the DOT&E. The problem is that most of the labs and models have not been accredited - that is, accepted as valid substitutes for aircraft testing. For this to happen, the report says, the lab performance needs to be verified by "hardware and software-in-the-loop ground and flight tests" and DOT&E cautions against a tendency to use models before they are ready.

    There is a litany of current problems, including more clutch heating discovered in last year's hover-pit tests, increasing take-off speeds for the F-35C - now hitting tire limits - and software instability. Thermal management is still a problem. The inter-service JSF Operational Testing Team (JOTT) says that the program "is on track to achieve operational effectiveness requirements but not operational suitability requirements."

    The DOT&E also notes that some key assumptions underlying the flight-test schedule remain to be proven. In 2007, the JSF program sharply reduced the planned number of flight tests, arguing - for example - that the different variants will be similar enough to allow for common tests in some parts of the envelope: DOT&E says this is still to be proven.

    Also highlighted is the potential vulnerability of the JSF to battle damage. To save weight, the JSF program office has removed safety check valves from "fueldraulic" lines that actuate the engine nozzle, and has also reduced the number of fire extinguishers, and the DOT&E is concerned that the jet will be vulnerable to fire if hit. Other tests have shown that battle damage to controls could cause "loss of aircraft and pilot". Live-fire tests with prototype AA-1 are expected to clarify these issues.

    It's fair to say at this point that DOT&E is expected to be critical of new programs. The office was established by Congress in 1983 after a series of procurement failures, as an independent watchdog reporting directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. (The current DOT&E is a nuclear scientist,
    Dr Michael Gilmore.) Lockheed Martin points out that the report precedes some recent milestones, and reiterates its point that the program's recent delays were driven by the late delivery of aircraft - a problem that the company says is betting better.

    Historically, though, the DOT&E's predictions have seldom turned out to be inaccurate - glass-half-full as they may be. And I don't recall when DOT&E has been as much at odds with the "official" schedule as it is today on the F-35.

    Tags: ar99, jsf, dot&e

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