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  • Why The QLR Is News
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:30 PM on Dec 19, 2011

    There is no faster way for an adept flack to kill a story than the "nothing really new" gambit. We've seen a good deal of that in the six days since the Quick Look Review report escaped from its cage.

    A typical report quotes an analyst as saying that "the F-35 was turning out to have the same schedule, cost and technical issues suffered by most aircraft programs, including Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.  'It's not a pleasant picture, but it's far from a terminal one either'."

    If "most programs" had the Dreamliner's issues, this would be one depressingly incompetent industry to work in. And the 787's problems so far have translated into strategic failure: The goal was to bury Airbus in the mid-market, but the old-school A330 is still alive and kicking, while Airbus outmaneuvered a distracted Boeing in the narrow-body segment.

    The JSF problems may or may not be terminal, but the idea that a major take-away from the first full year of flying (F-35s this year have flown twice as many sorties as the program had notched up a year ago) is that the production ramp-up needs to be stopped is something new, and not normal.

    For the F-35, it's also new that a critical report leaked as fast as it did. That's usually an indication of high-level dissent.

    Some of the coverage misses the point of the report, which is the looming collision between discovery in flight and fatigue testing and planned production increases.

    Given the status of testing, and the lag time in developing and implementing fixes, the report concludes that there is "a high risk that rework and retrofit costs ... will continue to be realized across the entire LRIP production flow" -- including LRIP-9 deliveries in 2017. Those aircraft are due to be ordered just after high-angle-of-attack flight tests are completed, and while second-lifetime fatigue tests are still under way.

    The play-down reports also invariably note that the report did not recommend terminating production. That's the good-news story? "Hi, dear, how was the check-up?" "Fantastic! I don't have Ebola yet!"

    Let's look at that wording in detail (page 7). The QLR team separated the program issues into four categories. Category I:  "Areas where a fundamental design risk has been identified with realized consequences sufficient to preclude further production."

    They didn't find any, but it would have been a damning indictment of program management if they had. For a team of outsiders to walk in and, in 30 days, discover an unfixable problem sufficient to terminate the program on the spot would point to ineptitude at best.

    As noted above, the categories were set by the QLR team on the basis of what they found. Also, the team's original charter was not to determine whether the program should be whacked, but to investigate concerns about testing delays, and concurrency costs.

    So if they didn't find any Category I issues, why is there a Category I at all - except to provide the program's defenders with a soundbite?

    If anyone has a brilliant alternative answer to that question, I'm all ears.

    Tags: ar99, tacair, jsf

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