Tuesday, October 2, 2012

F-35 development shows good progress

Air Force Magazine has an article out entitled "Slow Climb For The F-35".  In it the author chronicles what has happened in the development and testing of the JSF.  He obviously hits those points which have been a concern, but he also gives a pretty positive assessment of the F-35's progress.

One of the more interesting series of quotes comes from VADM David Venlet:
Vice Adm. David J. Venlet, the Pentagon’s program executive officer for the F-35, told a Senate panel in May that overall, he has "confidence in the resilience of the plan" to get the F-35 past its teething problems and into service with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. "My observations and assessments over the past year," Venlet told the Senate airland subcommittee in a budget hearing, "give me reason to believe the basic aircraft and engine designs are sound and will deliver."

Venlet reported "very good engine and airframe contractor responsiveness and progress" during the previous year. The tests on Wasp "exceeded plans and expectations," he said, adding that the F-35 has now flown "to its maximum speed and hardest turn limits." Carrier pilots, he said, are "highly complimentary" of their version’s handling characteristics in test flights at NAS Patuxent River, Md.
Those quotes are quite a bit different than those the critics have made about the aircraft.  And, it seems the pilots who are going to have to fly this fighter like it.

Concurrency, something the critics have harped about, also came up:
Concurrency—producing aircraft meant for operations while flight tests are under way, requiring rework when problems are discovered in tests—is a transient issue, Venlet said, and "will lessen over time." The two years of extra time and additional funding built into the revised schedule was necessary, he said; however, he doesn’t think further extensions will be needed. 

Neither did Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, then Air Force Chief of Staff. Asked in June if he thinks the F-35 program has had enough time to address concurrency issues, Schwartz answered, "Yes, for the A model," the conventional takeoff and landing version to be used by USAF.

"There’s always going to be some retrofit," Schwartz added. He pointed out this would be true of any combat aircraft. Schwartz acknowledged the issues with the STOVL and carrier models, but said the F-35A is generally meeting the Air Force’s expectations for this stage of the program. The launch of local area operations at Eglin shows the program’s progress, he said, and "we have a good sense of how it’s going."
Interesting statements, given the fact that concurrency has been characterized in much of the defense media as a mistake.  Of course Schwartz's only concern is the A model (the Air Force model) but it would be difficult to believe the same assessment wouldn't be true of the other two models as well (see Venlet statement about Wasp tests).

There's a lot more in the article and it will be discussed in more detail here in the coming few days, but those two points resonated, given the criticism you've likely read in the defense press.  It appears that while there were obviously initial program problems - which should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever watched one of these programs develop - they're pulling out of it and, as the article states,  in terms of testing, "the F-35 "is now ahead of the revised schedule in most categories, catching up fast in others."

Good news.

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