This article is part of AIN’s comprehensive coverage of the F-35. Click here for news, videos and images of the long-awaited Joint Strike Fighter.
Although the F-35 is in much better shape now than it was a year ago, “we’re not declaring victory yet–it’s still a development program,” said Lockheed Martin v-p of F-35 program integration Steve O’Bryan at the Paris Air Show. But O’Bryan noted that the top U.S. government procurement official had recently expressed cautious optimism and declared that there are no technical showstoppers. He also expressed satisfaction that the sixth and latest report on the huge program by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been positive, and the first not to recommend any remedial actions. The three U.S. services have recently declared their initial operating capability (IOC) dates, he noted. With more than 84 aircraft rolled out and 65 flying, the F-35 program is proceeding apace.
According to the F-35 master schedule, flight-tests supporting the system design and development (SDD) phase are supposed to end in early 2017. But only 50 percent of the total SDD flights scheduled will have been completed by the end of the year, O’Bryan noted. To set this in context, however, the number of test points in the F-35 flight-test program–a grand total of 56,914–“is more than the AV-8B, F-15, F-16 and F-18 programs combined,” he claimed.
Airborne software remains “a key challenge,” O’Bryan said. There are 8.6 million lines of code, compared with two million on the F-22. The aircraft that have already been delivered are using Block 1A and 2A software (for initial and advanced training, respectively), with the final configuration of the latter scheduled for release to the fleet in the last quarter of this year. The Block 2B software that provides initial war-fighting capability by adding sensors and weapons is now in flight-test at Edwards AFB. The ultimate Block 3F software that provides full war-fighting capability with more weapons, radar modes and an expanded flight envelope is not scheduled for release until the third quarter of 2017. Why? Although 88 percent of the airborne software is now flying (and 96 percent of it has been coded), “the last 12 percent is the hardest to integrate,” according to O’Bryan.
The first-life structural tests for the F-35A and F-35B have been successfully completed, with the F-35C “on track.” Structural changes are fewer than predicted, leading to lower concurrency costs–a big issue between Lockheed Martin and the U.S. customer in recent years.
Affordability is a key issue for the F-35 program. “We’re on path to achieve an $85 million unit recurring flyaway cost (URFC) for the F-35A by 2020,” O’Bryan declared. That figure is in then-year dollars–the current-year equivalent would be $75 million. However, the F-35As being procured in Fiscal Year 2013 are actually costing $140 million each; there will be a steep decrease in the URFC over the next few years. The URFC includes the aircraft, engine, mission systems and an allowance for concurrency costs.
Under discussion at Paris were the intentions of international partners Canada and Denmark–the latest countries to waver in the face of doubts over cost and schedule. Dassault is pushing the Rafale in Canada; Saab thinks it has a chance with the Gripen in Denmark. But eight countries, including six of the eight original partners plus Israel and Japan, have now ordered one or more F-35s. O’Bryan showed a series of slides that detailed the industrial benefits being enjoyed by the partner countries, and reminded the audience that the companies involved are producing parts for the entire F-35 production run–potentially 3,100 aircraft.
In Paris, Lockheed Martin signed a contract with AIM Norway for horizontal and vertical tails, and inked an MoU with CAE for F-35 future training solutions. Level 1 partner BAESystems signed a deal with Magellan Aerospace for horizontal tails and with Terma for carbon-fiber tail skins. There were two further signings with Dutch industry, including one with the Thales subsidiary in the Netherlands.