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"Air Force To Slip F-35 Initial Deployment Date To 2015"
Inside the Air Force - 2/26/2010
Fraser: Focus on capability not a date
Air Force To Slip F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Initial Deployment Date To
The Air Force will delay the initial deployment date of the F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter more than two years in response to Defense Secretary
Robert Gates¹ decision to extend aircraft development and slow
production, service Secretary Michael Donley told lawmakers this week.
The revelation came just days after Air Combat Command chief Gen.
William Fraser said he would not deploy the fifth-generation fighters
until they have a minimum number of essential capabilities. As
recently as this month, Air Force officials had called for the F-35 to
reach its initial operational capability by mid-2013.
“For the Air Force . . . that will be late in calendar year 2015,”
Donley said during a February 23 House Armed Services committee
hearing when asked by Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC) when the service would
have “deployable, meaningful numbers of planes in the air.”
The potential slip in IOC is the result of a Pentagon decision to
extend F-35 system development and demonstration, Fraser told
reporters during a February 19 briefing at an Air Force Association-
sponsored conference in Orlando, FL.
“My focus is on combat capability. It is not on a date,” Fraser said
noting he is “still very confident in the program and the
restructuring that¹s gone on.”
The fighter must have Block-3 software and a certain number of spare
parts and trained crews to meet IOC requirements, according to Fraser.
The Marine Corps plans to declare IOC for its JSFs with an earlier
block of software.
“Whenever there¹s any adjustments in any program, you have to go back
and take a look at are all the requirements still going to be met by
time frame X or Y,” he said.
ACC is working with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation
Center and other organizations throughout the service to see how the
Pentagon-directed changes will impact its JSF IOC schedule, Fraser
said. “The aircraft are going to deliver at a different rate now . . .
so that¹s why I have to go back and take a look at am I going to have
sufficient air crews trained, sufficient number of aircraft, parts and
spares and all that when SDD is already moved slightly to the right?”
Although the F-35 will likely reach the battlefield later than
expected, the Air Force does not anticipate any major changes to its
current legacy fighter programs, other than already planned
modifications and upgrades. “We¹re going to continue with the program
of record that we have for our legacy aircraft to add capabilities to
them [and] to perform some service life extension programs,” Fraser
Still, the service is performing structural evaluation tests on its
F-16s to see if they can fly longer than planned. “We¹re using the
fleet viability board process to understand where these airframes are
and how long can you continue to fly them,” he said. “All of that
together . . . is how we will
mitigate any potential gap,” Fraser said.
At the same time, Lockheed Martin plans to invest hundreds of millions
of dollars to improve JSF, a fix company officials claim will help
right the lagging program.
Lockheed is already investing funds to establish a new software
systems test line and assign more people to generate the new software
“to catch up,” according to Steve O¹Bryan, Lockheed Martin vice
president of F-35 business development and customer engagement. We
need to put money to catch up or maintain the flight test schedule,”
he said during a Feb. 19 briefing with reporters, also in Orlando.
The new software is expected to field in 2012 -- around the time low-
rate initial production Lot-4 aircraft begin rolling off the
The price tag of the new software is in the “hundreds-of-millions of
dollars” range, O’Bryan said, noting the company is putting
“management reserve” behind the software.
The company is also contemplating the addition of another test
aircraft that “will allow more throughput in the flight test [and]
alleviate the stress on other assets and move it to this one.”
Word of the potential IOC slippage came one day after Air Force Chief
of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the program might soon breach Nunn-
McCurdy spending limits (Inside the Air Force, Feb. 19, p1).
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it would slow F-35 system,
design and development and invest billions of dollars in an attempt to
right the program. While Lockheed is six months late in rolling out
SDD aircraft, company officials claim LRIP-3 aircraft are expected to
roll off the production line on time.
“We are focused on affordability,” O’Bryan said. “We are focused on
execution. What we need to do is concentrate on delivering the jets,
rebuilding confidence in the program and getting jets in flight tests
to the operators. Until we do that all else really pales in
However, Lockheed officials were mum on the price tag of the F-35.
“We¹re still looking at the numbers” in the budget, O’Bryan said.
On February 1, Air Force deputy budget chief Marilyn Thomas said the
service projects that F-35s will cost $141 million per copy.
“The contracts for LRIP-1, LRIP-2 and LRIP-3 . . . I can tell you that
we¹re confident the LRIP-4 contract as well will sign below the
[Selected Acquisition Report] value, O’Bryan said.
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