Watchdog finds 363 defects with F-35 … 147 described as major

Oh, no, my friends. The F-35 isn’t merely a gilt-edged albatross. It’s a gilt-edged albatross with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Pentagon Report: F-35 Program Struggles With Quality Management

Two F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft ferry from Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in May. (Lockheed Martin)

While there have been improvements, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to struggle with quality management issues, according to a new report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

The watchdog found 363 issues, 147 of which it identified as “major.” The report defined major issues as “a nonfulfillment of a requirement that is likely to result in the failure of the quality management system or reduce its ability to ensure controlled processes or compliant products/services.”

Challenges identified in the report include the need for improved training, the need to improve criteria for acceptance of a plane, and unnecessary over-mixing of sealant used on the wings.

“Although it would be unrealistic to expect first production to be issue free, our contractor assessments indicate that greater emphasis on quality assurance, requirement flow down, and process discipline is necessary, if the Government is to attain lower program costs,” the IG wrote.

Inspectors found small improvements in the number of “quality action requests” needed for each lot of planes, with 972 requests per fighter in LRIP-1, 987 in LRIP-2, 926 in LRIP -3, and 859 in LRIP-4.

Similarly, there was a small change in the average rework, repair and scrap rates per aircraft, improving from 13.82 percent in FY 2012 down to 13.11 percent in FY 2013. The IG report describes these improvements as “only a moderate change.”

“F-35 Program quality metric data show improvement in scrap, rework, and repair rates and in software and hardware quality action requests per aircraft,” wrote the IG’s office. “However, the Government incurred and will continue to incur a significant cost for these issues, either through the previous cost-plus incentive/award/fixed-fee contracts or via quality incentives on future fixed-price incentive-fee contracts.”

The report was conducted between February 2012 and July 2013, a time period that saw dramatic changes to the F-35 program, including turnover at the top of both the Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin’s JSF team. Because of that time frame, the report is focused primarily on the first four low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots.

Lockheed and the JPO reached an agreement on LRIP-5 late last year, and announced Friday the details on lots six and seven, which top program officials have marked as a major milestone due to cost reductions.

The IG’s report focused on work done by Lockheed, in the role of prime contractor, but also inspected work done by five key suppliers: Northrop Grumman, the center fuselage integrator; BAE, the aft fuselage integrator; L-3 Display Systems, who handles the cockpit display; Honeywell Aerospace, managing the on-board oxygen generation system, and United Technologies work with the landing gear system.

Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney was not included in the report.

In an emailed statement, F-35 JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova called the report “thorough, professional, well-documented and useful to the F-35 Enterprise.” But the statement also noted that much of what was in the report has been previously documented and is being addressed.

“A majority of the findings are consistent with weaknesses previously identified by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), and do not present new or critical issues that affect the health of the program,” DellaVedova’s statement read. “The assessment contains 363 findings, from which, 343 corrective action recommendations (CARs) were generated. As of September 30, 2013, 269 of the 343 CARs have been resolved (78%), with the remaining 74 still in work with Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) in development, or approved by not fully-implemented.”

“This 2012 DoD IG report is based on data that’s more than 16 months old and majority of the Corrective Action Requests (CARs) identified have been closed,” a corporate response from Lockheed Martin read, while noting that all open CARs are scheduled to be closed “by April 2014.”

“When discoveries occur, we take decisive and thorough action to correct the situation, continued the statement. “Our commitment is to deliver the F-35’s world class 5th Generation fighter capabilities to the warfighter on time and within budget.”

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130930/DEFREG02/309300036/Pentagon-Report-F-35-Program-Struggles-Quality-Management

SECDEF ready to cut LCS program to 24 vessels, not 52

Considered “not survivable” in combat, over budget, of limited operational value… and now cut short.

Sources: Pentagon Backs Cutting LCS to 24 ships

Sources say officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense want to cut the total LCS buy from 52 to 24. Here, the first-in-class LCSs Freedom, left, and Independence maneuver off San Diego in May 2012. (Lt. Jan Shultis / Navy)

WASHINGTON — The office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) reportedly supports the idea of limiting total purchases of littoral combat ships to only 24, far short of the US Navy’s goal of 52 ships, sources have told Defense News.

Stopping at 24 ships would end LCS procurement with the fiscal 2015 budget.

The Navy, according to sources, is countering with proposals for higher numbers, but strongly advocates going no lower than 32 ships — a number that would continue production another one or two years.

The positions are part of ongoing deliberations to formulate the fiscal 2015 defense budget, due to be submitted to Congress in February. The annual budget process has been heavily disrupted due to sequester cuts, and the White House’s insistence on producing two versions of the budget — a non-sequestration version, called the program objective memorandum (POM) — and an alternative POM (ALT POM), incorporating the mandated cuts and hence, far more severe reductions in purchases and programs.

Pentagon budget officials have focused primarily on the ALT POM, and in late August began switching to the POM. The OSD proposal to limit LCS to 24 ships is understood to be part of the ALT POM discussions.

Asked for comment, both OSD and Navy officials emphasized that no final decisions have been made.

“Until the FY15 President’s Budget request is submitted to the Congress in February 2014, and becomes part of the public record, all decisions are pre-decisional and it is inappropriate to discuss specific details,” said Lt. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

“We continue to evaluate the future demand for forces and will maintain a balance between force structure requirements while managing fiscal and operational risk,” she added. “We remain committed to a 52-ship LCS program —this number accurately and appropriately captures the requirement for capacity and capabilities.”

One defense official noted a mandated $52 billion cut is coming at the end of fiscal 2013, Sept. 30.

“You can’t cut force structure that quickly,” Maureen Schumann, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Aug. 28. “We’ve already cut the readiness accounts to a bare minimum. So the investment accounts will take an inordinate part of those cuts for 2014 on.”

In addition to supporting a reduction to 24 ships, OSD also reportedly is insisting the Navy place a top priority on fielding the mine countermeasures (MCM) module, one of three major mission packages under development for the LCS.

The Navy already has prioritized the MCM module in order to fulfill its most pressing operational need for the ships — three developmental packages have been delivered — but the effort has seen significant issues that have pushed back its operational readiness.

Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official, noted during a July 25 appearance before Congress that, “sequestration, combined with recent congressional marks and rescissions, will impact the operational test schedule for the mine countermeasures mission package.”

Stackley did not say during that hearing what the revised initial operational capability (IOC) date was for the MCM module, but he noted the surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare packages are scheduled to reach IOC in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

What 24 Means

While LCS has been controversial since its inception more than a decade ago, the Navy’s top leadership has never wavered in its support of the full program. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, have remained adamant in their support, testifying before Congress in defense of the program and proclaiming it in multiple public addresses.

Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of the Navy’s surface forces, noted in an internal memo produced in November that with 24 ships — half devoted to mine warfare — the Navy will have exceeded the current minesweeping capacity of its ships and aircraft. While the modules are required to be interchangeable between the two LCS variants, only the Independence-class ships have been used in developmental MCM testing.

Four littoral combat ships have been delivered, while construction contracts or contract options have been awarded for 20 more. The numbers are evenly divided between the Freedom class, built by Lockheed Martin at Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wis., and the Independence class, built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. Construction contracts have been awarded for LCS hulls five through 16; four more are in the 2014 budget, while hulls 21 through 24 are planned to be funded and awarded in 2015.

The Navy’s program of record shows two ships scheduled for 2016, and two more in 2017. A minimum of 32 ships would extend production another one or two years — enough, perhaps, for the sequestration restrictions to be relaxed or eliminated.

Meanwhile, Pentagon budget deliberations continue on a wide scale. But time is growing short. Under OSD deadlines, budget proposals are to be presented to the deputy’s Management Action Group in late September, followed by briefings to Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s top acquisition official, in late September or early October. A full budget brief to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel isn’t expected until November.

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130902/DEFREG02/309020018

Pentagon considers cancelling F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, overseas partners may be in trouble

Yikes! A kick in the budgetary backside for the Pentagon as tough choices are being made between smaller forces, less new equipment, and reduced operations.

But this does not just affect the US military. There are 10 international partners involved in the F-35 boondoggle. In particular, Britain’s Royal Navy has predicated its entire 21st century naval aviation programme on the F-35B STVOL variant. Its new aircraft carriers are under construction without the cats & traps that would permit an alternative (such as the F/A-18E/F) to be substituted affordably.

Is it too late to restart the AV-8B production line?

Pentagon considers cancelling F-35 program, leaked documents suggest

F-35 JSF (AFP Photo / HO)

Leaked documents from a Pentagon budget review suggest that the agency is tired of its costly F-35 fighter jets, and has thoughts about cancelling the $391.2 billion program that has already expanded into 10 foreign countries.

Pentagon officials held a briefing on Wednesday in which they mapped out ways to manage the $500 billion in automated budget cuts required over the next decade. A slideshow laid out a number of suggestions and exposed the Pentagon’s frustration with its F-35 jets, which are designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. based out of Bethesda, Md. The agency also suggested scrapping plans for a new stealthy, long-range bomber, attendees of the briefing told Reuters.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to reporters on Wednesday and indicated that the Pentagon might have to decide between a “much smaller force” and a decade-long “holiday” from modernizing weapons systems and technology.

Pentagon briefing slides indicated that a decision to maintain a larger military “could result in the cancellation of the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 program and a new stealthy, long-range bomber,” Reuters reports.

When officials familiar with the budget review leaked the news about the F-35s, the agency tried to downplay its alleged intentions.

The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapon system. A fleet of 2,443 aircraft has an estimated price tag of $391.2 billion, which is up 68 percent from the projected costs measured in 2001. Earlier this year, Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program manager, condemned the manufacturer for “trying to squeeze every nickel” out of the Department of Defense.

Although the warplane is the most expensive combat aircraft in history, its quality is lacking. In February, the US military grounded an entire fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters because of a crack found on a turbine blade on one of the jets, marking the fourth time that a fleet was grounded because of manufacturing problems. In April, Bogdan told a Senate committee that he doubted the planes could withstand a sophisticated cyberattack.

But before the sequestration took effect this year, the Pentagon secured several contracts with Lockheed Martin to ensure the continued production and maintenance of the costly F-35s. This week, the Defense Department struck another deal with the company to produce 71 more jet fighters, claiming the costs per aircraft have been reduced by about 4 percent – an insignificant reduction when compared to the 68 percent price increase that has occurred since 2001.

After news broke of the Pentagon’s prospect to cancel the program, officials tried to control the damage of such an alarming statement that runs counter to the claims they publicly make.

“We have gone to great lengths to stress that this review identified, through a rigorous process of strategic modeling, possible decisions we might face, under scenarios we may or may not face in the future,” Pentagon Spokesman George Little told Reuters in an email when asked about the slides. “Any suggestion that we’re now moving away from key modernization programs as a result of yesterday’s discussion of the outcomes of the review would be incorrect.”

An unnamed defense official familiar with the briefing told Reuters that the leaked budget document indicated possibilities for a worst-case scenario. He admitted that the Pentagon considered scrapping the program, but said it was unlikely, since “cancelling the program would be detrimental to our national defense.”

Regardless of the Pentagon’s intent, Congress is responsible for authorizing Department of Defense spending, and has often forced the agency to make costly and unnecessary weapons purchases.

Last year, US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that the US has no need for new tanks. But even though senior Army officials have repeatedly stated that there is no need to spend half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds on new 70-ton Abrams tanks, lawmakers from both parties have pushed the Pentagon to accept the useless purchases.

Earlier this year, an investigation revealed that lobbying efforts by Northrop Grumman have kept a costly Global Hawk drone flying, despite the Pentagon’s attempt to end the project. A defense authorization bill passed by Congress requires the Air Force to keep flying its Block 30 Global Hawks through at least 2014, which costs taxpayers $260 million per year.

The US spends more money on defense than any other nation, but lawmakers from both parties often insist that the agency continue to buy tanks and keep ships and planes it no longer needs. Although the Pentagon has expressed its frustration with the costly F-35 fighter jets, there is little the agency can do without congressional support.

http://rt.com/usa/pentagon-f35-stealth-bomber-963/