What if it had all gone according to plan?
With ten operational aircraft rolling off the Fort Worth assembly line each month, the F-35 program is well on the way to fulfilling its potential as the most important defense program of the 21st century.
The fifth low-rate initial production batch of 44 F-35As, 44 F-35Bs (12 of those for the UK) and 32 F-35Cs is due to be completed in early 2012, at which point almost 300 aircraft will have been delivered. The F-35A flyaway cost is headed towards the goal of $47 million in current dollars.
The USAF declared initial operational capability with the F-35A this summer, following about a year behind the Marine Corps. Although operational test and evaluation of the Block 3 software configuration is still underway, and due to continue until mid-2012, the Block 2 configuration adds new weapons to the AMRAAM and JDAM -- qualified back in 2009 -- and covers close air support and interdiction missions.
Back to our regularly scheduled reality.
Last week, Air Force secretary Michael Donley -- the boss of the biggest JSF customer -- declined to say when the USAF could expect to declare IOC, saying that the service was still discussing capabilities and timelines with the JSF program office.
The source of this alternative history? The schedule and program plans in effect when Pentagon procurement chief Pete Aldridge announced that Lockheed Martin had been selected for the JSF systems development and demonstration program, exactly ten years ago. This is a program that has been fully funded since its inception and has not, as far as I know, had a single additional requirement laid upon it.