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  • JSF In The Dock
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 5:39 PM on Mar 11, 2010

    A critical hearing on JSF is under way on Capitol Hill, with an openly frustrated Sen John McCain and Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen Carl Levin introducing the proceedings by recalling the optimism expressed by Defense Secretary Gates back in August. "it's a bit frustrating to hear the Secretary tell us that everything is OK," McCain said, "and then read in media reports that it's not."

    So far, GAO printed testimony and comments by director of cost assessment and program evaluation Christine Fox have detailed the cost increases in the program.

    GAO numbers show that in then-year dollars, the average procurement cost - fully equipped aircraft, spares and overhead - and program acquisition cost, including R&D, have both increased by some 62 per cent since the project started in October 2001 - handsomely exceeding the 50 per cent threshold for the Nunn-McCurdy breach. Indeed, the average procurement cost has jumped from $95 million to $112 million - 18 per cent - since March 2007.

    By the way, maybe Lockheed Martin will stop using silly numbers in public now:

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    JSF Fast Facts

    The GAO is skeptical about the manufacturing program and notes that - even under the revised program - the DoD will have ordered 307 aircraft through 2014, before development testing is completed (now expected in November 2014).

    McCain, in his first question for Fox, asked directly whether increased unit costs would result in lower production numbers - Fox had quoted the C-17 and F-22. "This will result in dramatically higher unit production numbers if precedent holds true." So far, though, nobody's making this connection on the record.

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    Ashton Carter tells the SASC about the fish he caught last weekend

    Procurement chief Ashton Carter is blaming the increases on a number of factors:  overruns in development costs of the STOVL aircraft, "degradation of commonality" and higher labor and overhead rates. Carter is also telling South Dakota Sen. John Thune that the question of operating costs - the program still claims lower operating costs than today's fighters - is being investigated, as the DoD works in anticipation of the formal Nunn-McCurdy breach.

    Sen Joe Lieberman is predictably taking the opportunity to rubbish the F136 alternate engine. One important response from Fox: the much touted $2.9 billion to build the F136 includes spares. So the F135s that would be acquired instead don't use spares? If that's so we should buy a lot more of them.

    Dr Carter: it was Edison, not Einstein, who said that genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Update: Levin corrects him.

    The GAO's Michael Sullivan tells Sen Saxby Chambliss that cutting the slip in the program from 30 to 13 months is "optimistic" and that software "will be the long pole in the tent". Chambliss asks Carter why it took the DoD so long to validate the first JET report. "It came a year later and said that it had been going on for two years, not one year," Carter says, adding that he "became aware of the JET report soon after I took this position". (He clearly wasn't reading this blog.)

    Chambliss returns to the attack on the F-22 issue, noting that the F-35 is now within $28 million of the F-22 cost, according to the GAO:  $112 million average procurement, versus $140 million, and wants to know why the Senate wasn't told about this during the debate over the termination of the F-22. "I can't talk about that, since I wasn't in office at the time."

    Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-Super Hornet) asks where Navy and other tactical aircraft shortfalls stand now, and there's no current answer. But Carter opens the door to another Hornet/Growler multiyear purchase, as long as savings "are in the teens". Good news for Boeing.

    "With all due respect, I hate to say 'I told you so'," McCaskill says. Indeed. She's also asking whose fault it is, and Carter takes blame on the government side. "It's our job to tell the truth, not an optimistic story, and that has not always been done," Carter says. (Damn right, sir. - Ed.).

    Tags: jsf, gao, nunn-mccurdy

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