Tuesday, June 19, 2012

F-35 critics need to get current if they’re going to be credible

Certainly, any developmental program has its problems, and criticism is sometimes warranted.

However, when critics decide to publish their criticisms, it certainly doesn’t help their credibility when they say things which aren’t true or aren’t as they claim.

For instance, there are a couple of stories out recently criticizing the program.  Here the helmet for the F-35 is discussed:

The visor is, according to the Government Accountability Office's latest annual report on the F-35's development, "integral to the mission systems architecture." In other words, the plane was more or less designed around the unique capabilities of that fancy helmet appendage.

Just one problem: It doesn't work. In flight tests, the visor's "symbology" has evidently been unreadable, because the plane itself has been bouncing up and down in the air more than expected. The effect is probably like trying to read an e-book while riding a bicycle along a boulder-strewn path.

"Display jitter," the GAO report says in a footnote, "is the undesired shaking of display, making symbology unreadable ... [due to] worse than expected vibrations, known as aircraft buffet."

Unfortunately for the plane's designers, jitter and buffeting are only part of the problems undermining the visor's use. The others are a persistent delay in displaying key sensor data - making the visor symbols outdated as the aircraft streaks through the air at speeds up to 3000kmh - and an inability to show night vision readings properly.

So what's the big deal? It's just a visor. Well, the GAO report says "these shortfalls may lead to a helmet unable to fully meet warfighter requirements - unsuitable for flight tasks and weapons delivery, as well as creating an unmanageable pilot workload, and may place limitations on the [F-35's] operational environment."

What you see here is only part of the story and it is dated to boot.  While all of that is true, the implication is this is a show stopper.

In short, if the visor doesn't work, the plane may not be able to do all the impressive things that the Pentagon is spending more than US$1.5 trillion (NZ$1.9 trillion)- over the next 30 or so years - to make it do. The GAO said this alarm was sounded by the programme officials interviewed by its investigators.

They then talk about a “new” visor under development and mention that the helmet troubles are "being addressed" but leave it there.

Well wait, isn’t that important?  Are they being addressed?  Are they being addressed in a satisfactory manner?  And how long will it take?

Seems those questions are key ones that would explain whether or not a) this is a show stopper and b) whether the “new” visor will be needed, no?

Instead, that’s ignored for more doom and gloom about the program in general.

Well here’s what’s happening on the helmet as reported here weeks ago.  I don’t know about you, but the following seems pretty important when talking about this problem:

To correct that deficiency, King said VSI is installing a micro-inertial measurement unit (IMU) on its helmets that will dampen the vibrations on the transmitter, similar to the way noise-canceling headphones are able to block out background noise. That technology is set to be flight-tested on a JSF flight sciences test aircraft in late May or early June, and a more rigorous test involving an F-35 equipped with full mission systems software and hardware will take place in late June or July. King predicted that although those tests are unlikely to result in a perfect solution, they should illustrate what specific areas VSI needs to focus on to eliminate jitter altogether.


"What I think is going to happen is we're going to find out there's a vibration component or a frequency component we weren't aware of, and we're going to have to tweak the algorithm to dampen out that last little piece," he said. "I expect it to be about 90 percent successful based on all our lab work and everything else, and the remaining 10 percent I characterize as more fine-tuning than anything else. My expectation is by the end of the summer, we're going to have this problem behind us."

Ah, so the problem has been identified, a fix is being tested and it is anticipated this problem will be behind them by the end of summer.

That, however, doesn’t conform with the doom and gloom portrayed in the title (“Why F-35 Pilots Have the Jitters”) or the discussion of the problem, does it?  And all of this information I just shared is available on line.  It simply doesn’t fit the narrative, does it?

By the way did you notice the other inaccuracy in their discussion of the program?

In short, if the visor doesn't work, the plane may not be able to do all the impressive things that the Pentagon is spending more than US$1.5 trillion (NZ$1.9 trillion)- over the next 30 or so years - to make it do.

“Or so” is a pretty poor way of missing the actual cost figure quoted by the Pentagon by 25 years.  That’s right, the highly controversial cost estimate covers 55 years, not 30.  That too is easily found on line in numerous cites.  Mistakes, half the story and inaccuracies like that don’t help the credibility of the critic.

The other article in question also hits on the helmet problem (inaccurately but provocatively entitled “F-35 Pilots Left Blind”), mostly repeats what was reported about the helmet visor in the other article and it too provides the reader with no exploration of the status of a fix.  It also throws this out there:

Although the F-35 isn’t expected to be up and running until 2018, the actual launch date might be even later. The GAO’s report reveals that the plane also has been documented to have problems with landing in tight spaces and the software that helps power it is in desperate need of an upgrade. Then there is another issue involving the craft’s tailhook, which, if corrected, might cause even more problems to arise. If redesigned, the GAO says that "other aircraft structural modifications may also be required,” skyrocketing the completion cost to even more astronomical numbers.

What in the world does “trouble landing in tight spaces” mean to anyone (you mean landing on the deck of an amphibious assault ship – that’s pretty tight)?  And which version?

Then there’s the tailhook claim.

Does anyone do research before they write anymore?

Software, from the update we gave you a week or so ago:

For the Mission Systems software, 8.1M of 9.3M Software Source Lines of Code (87%) flying today. Conducting Radar, Electronic Warfare, Electro Optical sensor employment. 95% of airborne software now operating in flight and ground labs

That certainly doesn’t conform to the claim about software, does it?

Tailhook?  Well again, this is available to those who will look:

CF-3 performed a total of 18 successful roll-in arrestments [MK-7 (6 with risers and 4 with no risers) and E-28 (8 arrestments)] at Lakehurst from 80 to 100 knots ground speed.

“CF-3” of course is the Navy variation for operation off aircraft carriers.  What is described in that single sentence is successful deployment of the tailhook.

Again, glaring errors or slanted narrative designed to make a pre-determined point – this is a program in trouble.

In fact, it is a program that is progressing rather well if the critics would ever bother to take an objective look.

However, as with reporting found in the two examples above, critics simply hurt their own credibility when they write for an agenda vs. the objective truth.


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