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  • JSF Numbers Games
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 4:48 PM on Feb 23, 2010

    After the US Marine Corps' firm declaration that the initial operational capability (IOC) date for its Joint Strike Fighters will not slip, even though it now predates the end of development testing, the USAF emerged with a much squishier statement. USAF's Lt Gen Mark Shackelford, talking at last week's Defense Technology and Requirements (DTAR) conference, and senior USAF leaders at the Air Force Association symposium in Orlando said that the service would be reviewing its 2013 IOC date - which now also falls before the scheduled completion of development testing and almost two years ahead of the end of operational testing.

    So far, the JSF program has resisted showing slippage in the IOC dates - the USAF and USMC dates have not changed since 2007, although the DT/OT milestones have slipped by more than two years since then. A September 2008 brief shows a mini-OT&E program in early 2013, allowing the USAF to declare IOC with Block 2 software, but this will not be possible with the latest development slip.

    JSF program people can duck the IOC question, because it's up to the customer - technically, the chain of command that includes the operating unit - to "declare" IOC. It's also true that there has been (historically) some tendency to declare an IOC early for public relations purposes when a weapon system is far from mature, with a long interval between IOC and full operational capability (which, for a fighter, usually means that multiple units or a complete wing can be deployed overseas, without disrupting operations at home).

    But until now it has been unheard of for IOC to be declared on a system that hasn't completed IOT&E, let alone DT. This is for a good reason: IOT&E is when the aircraft falls into the hands of regular operators, not test crews, and it's when the user can test the ability of the airplane to be operated day-in, day-out by people who have only their standard training to guide them.

    The Navy has historically has been the toughest service in terms of IOT&E - the Navy's operational evaluation (Opeval) is largely separated from the test community, and Opeval often results in requests for fixes that the test program did not uncover. But the standard Opeval is not visible on the JSF schedule.

    One reason for the attempt to hold IOC dates may be to avoid Congressional criticism of the program's high concurrency - and consequent pressure to slow production further. Even with an FY2013 IOC date, more than 200 JSFs would be on order before USAF IOC. With a 2015 date, all those jets would have been delivered before IOC was declared. $20 billion worth of non-operational fighters does not look good.

    Also of interest - with the Selected Acquisition Report and a likely Nunn-McCurdy breach coming up - will be the total USAF buy. This is still nominally set at 1,763 aircraft. But the USAF is taking down fighter wings and its ability to afford 80 F-35s per year, which it needs to do in order to sustain its force structure, is in question.

    In most respects, whether the USAF takes 1,000, 1,300 or 1,700 jets is immaterial, because the end of production is so far in the future. But it matters big-time for Nunn-McCurdy, which (as Amy Butler reminds us) is based on program unit costs.

    If (for example) the realistic USAF offtake is more like 1,200 aircraft, the average production cost will increase - because the nearly-600 jets eliminated are A-models in mature production, the cheapest in the program, and many of the 1,800-some F-35s left are either LRIP aircraft or the more costly F-35B and F-35C variants. Also, the unit cost will include a bigger share of the rising development costs. It will be interesting to see what the SAR actually says about those numbers.

    Tags: ar99, usaf, marines, jsf

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