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As if the Tanker program tangle wasn’t enough, U.S. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton also worries about the F-35 program, in particular about slow software development that may push the Joint Strike Fighter’s operational debut into 2016. “With respect to the A-model [USAF] aircraft, my assessment is that it is ahead on test points and flying hours, software stability has been good and the structure has experienced no failures or surprises,” says Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz.However, there was a big caveat to his assessment.“There are some issues with respect to timing on software development,” Schwartz says. “We don’t have a complete understanding yet of whether that will affect the new, predicted [initial operating capability] IOC of April 2016. “I’m still concerned about the schedule – a little less on technical matters, [but] software appears to be a potential pacing item.”A defense acquisition board (DAB) meeting was held last week and another is due soon. The presentation was the Navy program manager’s preliminary technical baseline review that involved a look at both production status and schedules as well as test data and progress on software engineering. Another DAB will soon finalize inputs for the Fiscal 2012 defense budget.Program delays could ripple throughout the military according to a new Government Accountability Office report. Researchers contend that currently projected F-35 production will allow the level of 2,000 fighters mandated by the Quadrennial Defense Review to fall to roughly 1,800 fighters over the next 18 years.Schwartz disputes the analyses saying there are options and workaround such as structural and avionics upgrades to extend the operational life of Block 40/50 F-16s and thereby ensure the U.S. can execute the national military strategy.“A-model, F-35 performance has indicated it is the best of the lot,” Schwartz says. “[But,] if the aircraft aren’t ready to put on the ramp, we’ll work alternatives. There is a related fighter force structure strategy that will accompany the F-35 production information in the Fiscal 2012 budget plan.”
ar99, JSF, software, Schwartz
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