The most amazing item in the new GAO report on the Joint Strike Fighter is that someone in the Pentagon is seriously planning to accelerate deliveries, adding a total of 169 aircraft to early low-rate initial production blocks.
People! The JSF program office itself has said that the program’s going to face difficulties accelerating production and staying on budget. The GAO report makes it clear that the program did not stay on its cost track in 2008, with continuing manufacturing issues. Building more aircraft on a stable cost base is good, and reduces unit costs. Building more aircraft on an already overstressed production line is bad.
Whose cockamamie idea this is, the GAO does not make clear, but the goal is apparently to accelerate recapitalization of the fighter force; more to the point, it probably represents an attempt by the JSF’s high-level supporters to forestall moves by the USAF and Navy to extend the F-22 and F/A-18 lines.
In any event, the GAO estimates that it will add $33.4 billion to the low-rate initial production bill, or $197 million per aircraft. Hopefully, it’s a non-starter in today’s climate.
Last year’s GAO report, we’ll recall, predicted delays and overruns in the JSF program. It was promptly and publicly pooh-poohed by the JSF team, despite the fact that they were already working on a one-year slip to the test program. So the GAO’s credibility as far as JSF is concerned is pretty good.
The GAO now congratulates the JSF team on its one-year slip – with operational testing of the Block 3 software, the initial service standard, due to be completed in October 2014. However, the report details the conclusions of the Pentagon’s Joint Estimating Team (JET), which predicts that development will cost $5 billion more than projected – a total of $51.8 billion – and will not be completed until October 2016.
Both the JET and the GAO think that the JSF office is optimistic about flight testing and software development. The GAO notes that the JSF team plans to validate only 17 per cent of the fighter’s capabilities in flight, and 83 per cent through laboratories, on the CATBird flying test bed and by analysis.
The JET, meanwhile, expects that the JSF program will need 2700 flight test hours for its mission systems, versus the planned 1700 hours.
The GAO’s investigation, too, shows how the program plans to reach its flight-test goals, with a profile of development test flights (only a portion of total test flights, which include operational tests) through 2013, when developmental testing is supposed to be completed.
We’ll see about that. It might be pointed out that in just over two weeks we will be half-way through FY2009, and there certainly haven’t been 150-plus sorties (half the FY09 goal) flown.
Accelerate the program? As the classic story of trying to meet schedule under pressure puts it:
He looked 'round and said to his black greasy fireman,
"Just shovel in a little more coal,
And when I cross that old White Oak Mountain
You can just watch Old 97 roll."
That ended well, as I recall.