Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

F-35: UK announces basing plans for F-35

And the F-35 program marches on:
The UK's Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced today.
Speaking at Marham, Defense Secretary Hammond said:
Speaking from RAF Marham, Mr Hammond said: This is the next step in the restructuring of the Armed Forces, providing them with the world’s most capable combat aircraft. Basing the new Lightning II at RAF Marham makes strategic sense and best use of the resources available. It also secures the future of one of the UK’s most operationally-experienced bases.

The Lightning II is the most advanced jet our Armed Forces have ever operated, and carries on the tradition of the Harrier, while having far greater range, payload and defensive capability. Now this decision has been taken, we can start the planning and infrastructure investment required for RAF Marham’s future. 
The plan?
The UK’s first 2 Lightning II aircraft are currently participating in the US test programme and will remain in the US. We expect to receive front line aircraft from 2015 onwards with an initial operating capability from land in 2018, followed by first of class flights from HMS Queen Elizabeth later that year. 
I bring these sorts of stories to your attention because they get little play in the defense media and none among the critics of the program.  They're important milestones in the development and deployment of the world's most advanced 5th generation fighter.

What this story tells you is the UK is now fully committed to the F-35. This decision is based on their Strategic Defense and Security Review done in 2010.  What will happen now, just as it did in Yuma, AZ before the USMC stood up its first operational F-35 squadron, is the building and installing of the infrastructure necessary to support F-35s.

Critics would like you to believe the F-35's future is tenuous at best.  Stories like this and the one about the USAF beginning its OT&E argue in very concrete terms that the opposite is really the truth.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

F-35: Wheeler's blustery baseless blast

Sometimes Washington DC's most abundant product is hot air.  In fact, a lot of hot air.  And much of it comes from those whose entire job and background seem to be focused on producing it and not much more.

One such individual is so-called defense critic Winslow Wheeler.  Wheeler's modus operandi can be summarized in one sentence: "If DoD is for it, he's against it".  He couches his criticism in a claimed expertise he doesn't have and does it all in the name of outing wasteful spending.  He further advances the notion that he knows what's best for our nation's security and the "milicrats" - his term - are letting the nation down.

He popped up again this week like a hot air balloon in order to take his usual pot shots at the F-35 program.  Part of his criticism is based on a report we mentioned earlier about pilots who complained about the cockpit visibility on the F-35 and the claim that the hampered visibility would get them "gunned down" every time.

We also pointed out that LTG Bogdan, who heads the program for DoD, reportedly said that any F-35 pilot with that concern could find a new job flying C-12s.  Bogden pointed out that the F-35 has the DAS which gives the pilot unprecedented 360 visibility and essentially makes the headrest complained about invisible.

Well that set Wheeler off.  As is usual in his screeds, you only get part of the story (DAS is never mentioned by Wheeler) which led to this bit of nonsense:
Sure, general, that's just what DOD needs more of: Washington-based bureaucrats talking down to servicemen in the field with the character to express their experience-based concerns about defective equipment. Donald Rumsfeld did the same thing in 2004 when a reservist in Iraq had the gall to suggest that soldiers should not have to scrounge in scrap heaps to improvise "hillbilly armor" to survive in their vehicles in combat. Saying, "You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld told the soldier to suck it up.

Lt. Gen. Bogdan, welcome to your own personal alcove in Donald Rumsfeld's hall of conceit. 
So one of the most advanced pieces of military equipment is the equivalent to "hillbilly armor"? Oh, wait, that's right, Wheeler never mentioned it did he?

By the way, in case you've wondered about "milicrat" LTG Bogdan's qualifications to run the F-35 program, take a peek at his resume.    Then read Wheeler's.  No contest.  The only thing Wheeler has "test piloted" is a pen.

After chastising Bogdan, Wheeler launches attacks against all others who've had the temerity to support the program and report it to be making progress.  If you can't argue against the message, try to smear the messenger.  And, unsurprisingly, that's precisely where Wheeler heads.  His targets are varied but he spends most of his time attempting to smear the GAO so he can claim it's report should be discounted.

In a lengthy and wordy attack, this is the sum of his ramblings:
In short, DOD appears to have an unseen hand in influencing the text of GAO reports, and the management guidance as perceived by the GAO staff is to accept the DOD guidance to reduce as much as possible any areas of disagreement. The differences may only be subtle in a final GAO report, or they could appear in the form of strangely unsubstantiated assertions and conclusions -- the sort of vapid statements that appear in GAO's new F-35 report. 
In short, he has nothing but the usual innuendo, baseless assumptions, bluster and half-truths. The stock and trade of a man well out of his depths.


Monday, March 25, 2013

F-35: Air Force to begin Operational Testing and Evaluation

A little blurb in AINOnline caught my attention:
Operational testing and evaluation of the F-35A has begun, with the delivery of four aircraft to Nellis AFB. They were accepted by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center in a ceremony on March 19. Eight more F-35As will join them by 2019. 
This isn't about Lockheed Martin testing the aircraft.  OT&E begins the Air Force's evaluation of the aircraft.  OT&E is the formal testing conducted prior to deployment of an aircraft (or any other major piece of equipment) to evaluate the operational effectiveness and suitability of the system with respect to its mission.

Or to be more succinct, the program continues to make progress.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

F-35: GAO and the helmet mounted display

Those that have followed the development issues with the F-35 also know the helmet mounted display for the F-35 is critical to accessing and using the advanced capabilities of the aircraft.  They also know there have been some issues with the helmet mounted display, serious enough that the contractor agreed to pursing the development of a less capable helmet at the same time in case the primary helmet's problems couldn't be fixed.

The GAO doesn't spend a great deal of time on the helmet mounted display, but does say this:
The helmet mounted display (which provides flight data, targeting, and other sensor data to the pilot) is integral to the mission systems architecture, to reduce pilot workload, and to achieve the F-35’s concept of operations. The original helmet mounted display encountered significant technical deficiencies and did not meet warfighter requirements. The program is pursuing a dual path by developing a second, less capable helmet while working to fix the first helmet design. Both helmets are being evaluated and program and contractor officials told us that they have increased confidence that the helmet deficiencies will be fixed. DOD may make a decision as to which helmet to procure in 2013, but the selected helmet is not expected to be integrated into the baseline aircraft until 2015.
However, if you've been following the development of the primary helmet, you know that great progress has been made addressing the problems it has had, namely jitter, latency and night vision acuity.

Lockheed Martin, in a March 14th update, said the following:
Pilots have flown more than 4,000 flights and 5,000 hours with the helmet and our feedback from pilots at Edwards, PAX River, Eglin and Ft. Worth, is they love this helmet. During the fall, dedicated tests were performed testing the improvements we’ve made and the results are positive.
There have been reports that both the jitter and latency problems have been successfully addressed and the night vision problem is nearing resolution.  Reading between the lines of the LM release, it appears the company is pretty confident that the primary helmet will be the choice and that at this time, at least, 2015 integration into the baseline aircraft is on schedule.

That's good news.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

F-35: GAO reports on software development

Software is the key to many of the advanced capabilities that the F-35 brings to the force.  A careful read of the GAO's report puts blame for its delays on both DoD and the contractor, Lockheed Martin:
The F-35 software development effort is one of the largest and most complex in DOD history. It is essential to achieve capabilities such as sensor fusion, weapons and fire control, maintenance diagnostics, and propulsion. Recent management actions to refocus software development activities and to implement improvement initiatives appear to be yielding benefits, but software will continue to be a very challenging and high risk undertaking for this program, especially for mission systems. Over time, software requirements have grown in size and complexity and the contractor has taken more time and effort than expected to write computer code, integrate it on aircraft and subsystems, conduct lab and flight tests to verify it works, and to correct defects found in testing.
The emphasized line is the key to much of the delay.  "Requirements have grown".  Those increased requirements then have to be implemented via coding of software.  And that means size, complexity and integration issues.  New requirements then have to be tested and integrated, defects identified and corrections made.  It is then back to testing and integration.  At some point, someone on the DoD side has to say, "no more" and refuse any new requirements being added.  It appears that's now the case.

The GAO recommended, in 2011, that certain steps be taken to speed up the development of the F-35's software.  These included:
- starting up and operating a second system integration lab, adding substantial testing and development capability;
- prioritizing and focusing resources on the next block of software and decreasing concurrent work on multiple blocks;
- implementing improvement initiatives recommended by an independent software review; and
- evaluating the possible deferral of some capabilities, either to later blocks or moving them outside the current F-35 program to follow on development efforts.
The GAO notes that their recommendations were put into action with positive results.  For instance:
[P]rogram officials reported that the time span to fix defects has decreased from180 days to 55 days, allowing the program to keep better pace even though the number of defects has increased. In addition, the time taken to build and release software to testing has decreased from 187 hours to 30 hours due to new automated processes. Contractor officials currently plan to broaden the assessment’s initiatives to other software development efforts, including logistics and training.
So, bottom line, we should see an improvement in the speed of software development.  And while the GAO calls recent management actions "positive and encouraging", it notes that there are still challenges ahead:
These recent management actions are positive and encouraging, but overall, software development activities in 2012 lagged behind plans. Most software code has been developed, but a substantial amount of integration and test work remains before the program can demonstrate full warfighting capability. Software capabilities are developed, tested and delivered in three major blocks and two increments—initial and final— within each block
 The status of the three blocks, as reported by the GAO report, is as follows:
- Block 1.0, providing initial training capability, was largely completed in 2012, although some final development and testing will continue. Also, the capability delivered did not fully meet expected requirements relating to the helmet, ALIS, and instrument landing capabilities.
- Block 2.0, providing initial warfighting capabilities and limited weapons, fell behind due to integration challenges and the reallocation of resources to fix block 1.0 defects. The initial increment, block 2A, delivered late and was incomplete. Full release of the final increment, block 2B, has been delayed until November 2013 and won’t be complete until late 2015. The Marine Corps is requiring an operational flight clearance from the Naval Air Systems Command before it can declare an initial operational capability (IOC) for its F- 35B force. IOC is the target date each service establishes for fielding an initial combat capable force.
- Block 3.0 providing full warfighting capability, to include sensor fusion and additional weapons, is the capability required by the Navy and Air Force for declaring their respective IOC dates. Thus far, the program has made little progress on block 3.0 software. The program intends initial block 3.0 to enter flight test in 2013, which will be conducted concurrently with the final 15 months of block 2B flight tests. Delivery of final block 3.0 capability is intended to begin nearly 3 years of developmental flight tests in 2014. This is rated as one of the program’s highest risks because of its complexity.
To review, Block 1.0 still has some tweeks to be made to fully meet expected requirements concerning the helmet, ALIS and IFR requirements, but is otherwise done.

Block 2.0 is scheduled to be delivered in full in late 2015 (it provides the "initial warfighting capabilites".

Block 3.0, the full up warfighting capabilities including sensor fusion, etc, is still in development and the GAO, at least, is reporting "little progress" at this point.  However, the delivery date of 2018 remains the target. 

So, as mentioned, much works remains ahead in the area of software, and delays in its development have and are having an effect on the testing schedules of the program.  GAO concludes:
In particular, the development and testing of software-intensive mission systems are lagging, with the most challenging work ahead. About 12 percent of mission systems capabilities are validated at this time, up from 4 percent about 1 year ago. Progress on mission systems was limited by contractor delays in software delivery, limited capability in the software when delivered, and the need to fix problems and retest multiple software versions. Further development and integration of the most complex elements—sensor fusion and helmet mounted display—lie ahead. Sensor fusion integrates data from critical subsystems and displays the information to the pilot. Figure 2 depicts the percentage of sensor fusion work associated with each software block [ed. - the figure shows 36% with Block 1.0, 22% with Block 2A, 25% with Block 2B and 17% with Block 3). About 36 percent of the sensor fusion work was completed in software block 1. Final verification and closure of remaining fusion requirements through block 3 will not be completed until 2016.
Blocks 2A and 2B is where the majority of the integration will take place, and that's in  development and testing now.  Delivery date remains "late 2015".  As the GAO notes, the "most challenging work" on software lies ahead.  Program management changes have helped speed up development, testing and error correction, but it remains an extraordinarily complex and ambitious undertaking.

I think it is fair to conclude that this is where the action is in the next few years and it is here where the program stands its biggest chance of seeing more delays.  Building on the improvements that have been implemented, freezing any new requirements and adding what resources are necessary to maintain the current projected schedule are ways DoD and the contractor can avoid costly delays. 

The software is the heart and soul of the F-35's capabilities suite.  The hardware is mostly an engineering challenge.  We'll cover one of those challenges tomorrow as we talk about the F-35's helmet.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

F-35: GAO report - reviewing 2012

It is important to understand what was and wasn't accomplished in the F-35 program in 2012 and why.

For the most part, 2012 was a very good year for the program and is considered to have helped get the program back on target and on track.  The GAO offers the following specifics:
The F-35 development flight test program also substantially met 2012 expectations with some revisions to original plans. The program exceeded its planned number of flights by 18 percent, although it fell short of its plan in terms of test points flown by about 3 percent, suggesting that the flights flown were not as productive as expected.7 Test officials had to make several adjustments to plans during the year due to aircraft operating and performance limitations and late releases of software to test. As a result, none of the three variants completed all the 2012 baseline points as originally planned. However, the test team was able to add and complete some test points that had been planned for future years. In this manner, the program was actually able to accomplish more test points in total than planned.
What was it then that caused the slowdown?  Software development for the most part.   Many of the test points that were not accomplished required a certain level of software development and integration.  And that level had not been accomplished in 2012.
Aircraft dedicated to testing mission systems exceeded the number of planned flights and fell just short of accomplishing the total test points planned. Testing supported development of software providing training and initial warfighting capability as well as baseline signature testing. Overall progress in verifying and fielding enhanced capabilities was limited, largely because of late and incomplete software. 
We'll take a look at the GAO's report on the software in more detail tomorrow.

As to each variant, the GAO reported:
The Navy’s F-35C carrier-suitable variant exceeded its number of planned flights and planned test points for 2012. Testing verified the basic flight envelope (demonstrating ranges of speed and altitude), flight with external weapons, and prepared the aircraft for simulated carrier landings. The program also accomplished shore-based tests ofa redesigned arresting hook (the hook engages the landing wires on aircraft carriers).
Shorter version, the C variant is on target and the arresting hook problem appears to have been solved (to be verified at a future date with actual carrier landings).

The STVOL (B) version:
The Marine Corp’s F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant exceeded the number of flights and test points. It successfully completed the first weapons release, engine air start tests, fuel dump operations, expanded flight envelope with weapons loaded, and radar signature testing. It also tested re-designed air inlet doors in vertical lift operations.
So the former probationary variant had a very good year and obviously earned it's way off probation early.

The Air Force or "A" variant:
The Air Force’s F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant accomplished high angle of attack testing, initial weapons separation, and engine air start. It also evaluated flying qualities with internal and external weapons, and expanded the envelope for airspeed and altitude. This variant did not accomplish as many flights as planned and fell short of planned test points by about 15 percent. Operating restrictions and deficiencies in the air refueling system were the main constraints.
The "A" is the test bed furthest along in the testing regimen so it stands to reason that software development would likely retard its testing more than that of the other variants.   And, as mentioned by the GAO, there are some deficiencies in the air refueling system that need to be resolved.  The "A" is where the testing shortfall for the year is found.

But it is pretty obvious that overall, the testing went well for the year and did indeed help the program get back on track.  However, it is just as obvious that software development is one of the keys to maintaining the momentum gained in 2012.  The B and C variants will soon hit that window of time where software could retard their testing.

We'll take a look at the GAO's take on that software tomorrow.

Monday, March 18, 2013

F-35: Singapore will order F-35

Before we get into the GAO report this week, I wanted to note another sign that the F-35 is considered the strike fighter of the future.  The island nation of Singapore has signaled that it intends to order F-35s to replace its aging F-5s and eventually, its F-16s.  Like Israel, Singapore is unlikely to consider a aircraft that it doesn't think will do the job for it when the chips are down.
Singapore's defence minister, Ng Eng Hen, said on Tuesday the air force "has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to further modernise our fighter fleet".

"Our F-5s are nearing the end of their operational life and our F-16s are at their mid-way mark," he said in parliament.

"We are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35." Ng gave no timeline but said the defence ministry "will have to be satisfied that this state-of-the-art multi-role fighter meets our long-term needs, is on track to be operationally capable and, most importantly, is a cost-effective platform." 
If you've been taken in by all of the critical press that continually claims the F-35 is the plane that won't fly, you have to be asking yourself why countries like Israel and Singapore would be ordering these aircraft if what the critics would have you believe is true?

The obvious answer you'd come up with is they wouldn't.  But they are.  You can draw your own conclusions from that very fact.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

F-35: GAO report

I'll be spending some time on this over the next week, but I thought I'd quickly highlight a pretty good summary to establish a baseline:
The F-35 program made progress in 2012 on several fronts. The program met or substantially met most of its key management objectives established for the year. Also, development flight testing exceeded the planned number of flights by a good margin for 2012, but did not quite accomplish the planned number of test points.  The program made considerable progress in addressing significant technical risks needing resolution, such as the helmet mounted display. Furthermore, software management practices improved, but this area continued to require more time and effort than planned. While the F-35 program made progress in 2012, the bulk of development testing and evaluation is ahead, is planned to continue into 2016, and is expected to identify additional deficiencies impacting aircraft design and performance. To date, slightly more than 11 percent of development contract performance specifications have been verified as met and the development flight test program has cumulatively accomplished just over one-third of the test points and test flights planned. The operational test community raised concerns about the F-35 readiness for training, development test plans and results, and the schedule and resources for starting initial operational testing in 2017. 
Probably the best and most objective summary of the good, the bad and the ugly you're going to see.  None of the hysteria you're used too in the critical press.  None of the odd implications, claims or wild assumptions to wade through.   Progress on all fronts, however, much more work (and testing) is left to be done. 

Note too that the summary makes a point about the progress on the helmet.  It calls the progress "significant".  Improvement in software development management too gets a nod with the added point that it is an area that is still behind schedule and a lot of work remains.  The report notes that production and costs "are trending towards targets and aircraft deliveries are accelerating."

What it doesn't do is try to paint the program as a train wreck as is so typical of the critical media.  It appears to give a good, objective look at the program, notes its deficiencies and challenges while also touting its progress and improvements.

We'll discuss both sides of that as the GAO has covered it in the coming week.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

F-35: Quotes of the Day

I've pointed out the absurdity of a particular quote attributed to a  "leaked memo" from the Director of the Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, i.e.:
Other sections of the report outline some of the flaws that make the cockpit unsafe for pilots:

“The out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft The head rest is too large and will impede aft [rear] visibility and survivability during surface and air engagements. Aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time in dogfights."
 Lieutenant General Bogden, DoD's lead man on the F-35 program, was apparently hit with a question about this by someone in the media.  His answer is priceless:
He pointed out the DAS system, would allow rear viewing (and below) and then said, “If some F-35 pilot out there is afraid of getting gunned every time, then we can have him fly C-12s.” 
Of course a C-12 is the military version of a civilian King Air.  In terms of insulting a fighter pilot, I can't imagine a worse one.  What Bogden effectively did is dismiss the criticism as just plain nonsense.   That won't stop uniformed critics from still trying to use this as some sort of indicator of the aircraft's deficiencies, but, in fact, it is a red herring.

The other quote comes from the GAO in a report they released yesterday on the F-35 program.  I'll be going through the report and featuring some of it in the coming week.  However, in answer to those who continue to claim that the F-35 program is still deficient, GAO mostly disagrees:
GAO is not making recommendations in this report. DOD's restructuring of the F-35 program and other actions are responsive to many prior recommendations. DOD agreed with GAO's report findings and conclusions.
Those first two sentences do more to throw cold water on the critics arguments concerning the program as a whole than anything I've seen in a while.   Is there a lot of work still ahead?  You bet.  Are there challenges still to be overcome.  Yes.  But as the GAO says, the actions and restructuring to date have put the F-35 program on "on firmer footing."


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

F-35: A reminder - this isn't your grandpa's fighter jet

With all the nonsense flying around among critics about headrests and reduced visibility from the F-35's canopy, I thought we'd go back to basics today.  Here's a short reminder of the aircraft we're talking about, not the straw one the critics like to attack:
The F-35 joint strike fighter is often defined by its stealth characteristics, and the debate revolves around whether one needs “a high-end aircraft” or, if one is pessimistic, whether “stealth is really stealthy.” Although interesting, such discussions miss the point. Stealth is an enabler for this aircraft, not its central definition. As a Marine F-18 pilot put it:

 "I would say low observability is a capability set or is an asset to the platform, but the platform as a whole brings a lot by itself. There are situations where low observability will be very important to the mission set that you’re operating in. And then there will be situations where the ISR package or the imaging package that comes with that aircraft, the ability to see things, will be more important; that will change based on the mission set and how you define the mission."

Moreover, one of the challenges facing the F-35 is that it is often described using historical aviation words, generally obscuring the technological advance of stealth itself. As Lieutenant General David Deptula, USAF (Ret.), constantly reminded his Service and others, the “F” before the F-22 and the F-35 is somewhat of a misnomer. There are significant generational changes in the way individual combat aircraft and fleets of aircraft handle data and can make decisions.7

Stealth on this aircraft is a function of the manufacturing process; it is not hand built into the aircraft and maintained as such. It is a characteristic of high-tolerance manufacturing, and as such, stealth will be maintained in the field, not in the factory or depot. This is revolutionary in character.

 At the heart of the F-35 is a new comprehensive combat systems enterprise.8 The F-35 is the first combat aircraft that sees completely around itself. The Electro Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) makes this happen, and it allows the operator or the fleet managers to see hundreds of miles away on a 360-degree basis. The combat system enterprise allows the aircraft to manage the battlespace within this seamless 360-degree space.

Unlike legacy aircraft, which add systems that have to be managed by the pilot, the F-35 creates a synergy ­workspace where the core combat systems work interactively to create functional outcomes; for example, jamming can be performed by the overall systems, not just by a dedicated electronic warfare system.

The F-35 is a flying combat system integrator and in a different historical epoch than the F-15s, F-18s, and F-16s. The 360-degree capability, coupled with the combat system enterprise, explains these historic differences on a per plane basis. 

The ability of the new aircraft to shape distributed air operations collectively is another historic change that the United States and its allies need to make, especially with the growing missile, air defense, and offensive air capabilities in the global market space and battlespace. The legacy combat aircraft have added new combat subsystems over a 30-year period. These evolved aircraft and their new subsystems are additive, iterative, and sequential. The resulting configurations are built over the core foundational aircraft. All of the legacy U.S. aircraft with the latest modifications, when offered for foreign sale, were rejected in India’s fighter competition for the much newer European fighters, the Eurofighter and Rafale.

The F-35 was built with a foundation that allows interactivity across the combat systems, permitting the forging of a combat system enterprise managed by the computer on the aircraft. Said another way, F-35 core combat systems are interactive with one another, creating a synergistic outcome and capability rather than providing an additive-segmented tool. 

The aircraft’s systems are built on a physical link, namely, a high-speed data bus built on high-speed fiber optical systems. To provide a rough comparison, legacy aircraft are communicating over a dial-up modem compared to the F-35 system, which is equivalent to a high-speed broadband system. The new data bus and high-speed broadband are the facilitators of this fully integrated data-sharing environment on the aircraft. While legacy aircraft have had similar subsystems, integration was far less mature. 
The emphasis is all mine and is there to point to the areas and capabilities that critics just can't seem to wrap their heads around.  This aircraft isn't about "dogfights" - that's 4th generation thinking (although all indications are, given it's systems and low observability, the F-35 would acquit itself well in that sort of an environment).  It is about a revolutionary step in a new direction with one-of-a-kind capabilities that will change how combat aircraft are deployed and used.

I don't understand why this new conceptual framework (along with F-35's new advanced capability) is so difficult for critics of the program to understand.


Monday, March 11, 2013

F-35: The art of fighting strawmen

Some of the critics are simply desperate when it comes to denigrating the F-35.  And one of the things they love to do is pretend the aircraft is something it isn't and then tear it apart because it isn't.

The perfect example is characterizing the F-35 as a air superiority fighter.  It is a constant attempt on the part of many critics.  I pointed to one just the other day.

The name of the F-35 is "Joint STRIKE fighter".  It isn't nor has it ever been touted as an air superiority fighter.   That's the F-22 Raptor's job.  That doesn't mean that the F-35 isn't capable of shooting down enemy aircraft, however, the idea (think low observable) is to get the F-35 into areas without being seen and striking targets such as air defenses and other selected targets in support of the commander's objectives.  And to do that, you're likely going to try to avoid other aircraft.

But what if you can't?  Well here are the critic's latest "criticisms":
Other sections of the report outline some of the flaws that make the cockpit unsafe for pilots: “The out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft The head rest is too large and will impede aft [rear] visibility and survivability during surface and air engagements. Aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time in dogfights."
That's supposedly from a "leaked memo" from the Director of the Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I say "supposedly" because it seems to be completely ignorant of the 360 visibility capability for the aircraft. What it essentially implies is the ability of the pilot to see 360 degrees with the F-35's helmet and sensors doesn't exist or won't exist.

As we've pointed out many times the advanced helmet for the F-35 does indeed exist as does the capability for 360 degree visibility.  Out of cockpit visibility is, well, 360 degrees.  And the "headrest" will not get in the way since the pilot will actually be looking behind him with the sensor mounted outside and behind the cockpit and not trying to see through the headrest.

Certainly, as we've noted, the helmet has had some challenges.  It had latency and jitter problems, but those have apparently been solved.  And the night vision acuity problem is being worked on.  But the fact remains that the 360 degree visibility is available and working ... a feature no other fighter jet enjoys.

But you wouldn't know it from the critics who, apparently, are either ignorant of its existence or simply prefer pretending it doesn't exist.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

F-35: LTG Bogden corrects the record

Apparently there's a learning curve even for Lieutenant Generals when dealing with the press on a high visibility program:
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan told a defense conference that he'd reached his quota for "juicy, controversial, headline-making quotes" for the month after lashing the plane's manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp and enginemaker Pratt & Whitney during an air show in Australia. 
Of course, what everyone should know is that "costs" on any program, in the wake of the unilateral defense spending cuts made by the Obama administration followed by the impact of sequestration are going to have all DoD program chiefs hollering about keeping them down.   Anyone with business experience recognizes such actions as a form of negotiation.  But, of course, that's now how his words were interpreted by the press.
Bogdan told a conference hosted by Aviation Week on Tuesday that his comments were taken "a little out of context" and he had never said the $396 billion fighter program - the Pentagon's largest weapons program - was in trouble. "I will overcommunicate all the troubles we have on this program as long as you don't overreact," he said. 
I got a chuckle out of that last comment.  Of course the press did overreact, thus the reason for the comment and the necessity to set the record straight.  Costs, as we've chronicled here, are coming down.  However, as we've mentioned, the laws of economics still apply.  Cut the program, cut the production total, etc. and that will drive the price, per copy up.

Back to Bogden - he admits that costs are coming down:
On Tuesday, Bogdan cited progress on the quality of software work being done by Lockheed, and said production costs were the "shining star" of the program since they were now coming down. 
He also pointed to a few of the issues the critics love to bash and pretty frankly said, "no big deal":
He said technical issues such as the plane's complex helmet and the tailhook on the Navy's version of the plane, did not keep him up at night since the program was still in development. "The fact of the matter is we are still in development. We only have a third of our flight test program completed. You've got to expect that we're going to find things," he said. Bogdan said defects and issues could still arise during the rest of flight testing, which meant that the jet could be grounded again at some point. "I hope not, but it's not unexpected," he said. 
Of course they're not unexpected to anyone who has followed any military weapons system through it's development.  It is only the critics who have no such experience, or apparently never learned from what experience they might have (or find it more convenient to ignore that experience) where you'll see every developmental issue characterized as a fatal flaw.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

F-35: Beware of critics without a clue

Unfortunately when talking about the F-35, the discussion has become very polarized.  And just as unfortunately, those who are critics of the program tend to do a lot of talking about a subject they seem to know little about or are prone to misrepresent it or both.

And example of that is here.  This particular person just can't seem to wrap his head around the fact that the F-35 is not an F-22 and was never designed to be an F-22.   Additionally he quotes Winslow Wheeler, which in itself, damages any credibility he might have.  He also misrepresents the low observability of the F-35. He uses dated and incorrect data. And, finally, it appears that the author has absolutely no concept of what the F-35's capabilities actually are or how they are used.

In other words, the usual mind-numbingly irrelevant stuff from a would-be critic.

As a review of what the F-35 is all about, I again direct your attention to the work of Robbin F. Laird and Edward T. Timperlake and their paper "The F-35 and the Future of Power Projection."

It would be nice, for once, to see a critic take on the real F-35 and talk about it's capabilities and it's purpose instead of, as usual, tearing into a straw F-35 they invent out of their ignorance.

I'll leave you with this little reminder:
An excellent insight into the role of the F-22 in anticipating the F-35 was provided by a Marine Corps F-22 pilot. ­Lieutenant Colonel Dave Berke is becoming a key F-35 squadron commander, but he provided an interview while at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) regarding his experience with the F-22 and how he saw the plane as part of the ongoing revolution in re-norming air operations. In response to a question about what the fused sensor experience is all about in fifth-generation aircraft and how the whole capability of an aircraft is not really an F series but a flying combat system, Berke provided the following explanation:

"I think you’re hitting the nail on the head with what the JSF is going to do, but it’s also what the Raptor missions have already morphed into. The concept of Raptor employment covers two basic concepts. You’ve got an antiaccess/global strike mission; and you have the integration mission as well. And the bottom line is that the integration mission is our bread and butter. When I say “us,” I’m talking about the Air Force and the F-22. Most of our expected operating environments are going to be integrated."

As a pilot with significant operational experience across the legacy fleet, Berke provided insight into how the fifth-generation solution was different:

"It’s a major evolution. There’s no question about it. My career has been in F-18s, but I also flew F-16s for 3 years. I was dual operational in the Hornet and the Viper when I was a TOPGUN instructor. I am now coming up on 3 years flying Raptors. I was also on carriers for 4 years, so I’ve done a lot of integration with the Navy and a lot of integration with the Air Force. Three years flying with the Air Force has been pretty broadening. 
For me, it’s a great experience to see the similarities and difference between the Services. Navy and Marine aviation is very similar. USAF aviation is very different in some ways. I actually was with the Army for a year as FAC [forward air controller] in Iraq as well. So from a tactical level, I’ve got a lot of tactical operator experience with all three Services—Navy, Army, and the Air Force. This has been really illuminating for me having the experience with all of the Services in tactical operations. 

Obviously I will draw upon that experience when I fully engage with the JSF. But flying a Raptor, the left, right, up, down, is just flying; flying is flying. So getting in an airplane and flying around really is not that cosmic no matter what type of airplane you’re sitting in. 

But the difference between a Hornet or a Viper and the Raptor isn’t just the way you turn or which way you move the jet or what is the best way to attack a particular problem. The difference is how you think. You work totally differently to garner situational awareness [SA] and make decisions; it’s all different in the F-22. With the F-22 and certainly it will be the case with the F-35, you’re operating at a level where you perform several functions of classic air battle management and that’s a whole different experience and a different kind of training. . . ."
So who are you going to believe - a pilot with "significant operational experience" or some know-nothing critic without a clue?


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

F-35: LRIP 8 funded

 Just hours before sequestration took effect, LRIP 8 was funded by DoD:
Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) received a $333.7 million U.S. downpayment to buy initial parts, components and materials for an eighth batch of F-35 jets, as the Pentagon locked in the funds hours before automatic budget cuts begin.

Yesterday’s action exempts the funds from the across-the- board spending reductions known as sequestration that take effect today because Pentagon officials have said contracts with obligated dollars won’t be cut or terminated. The eighth contract calls for 35 jets, including four aircraft for the U.K. and two for Norway, according to a Pentagon statement.
This will mean two things - continuity in production and lower costs.  And despite all DoD's carping about this and that, they realize the absolute necessity of this program to the future needs of our military and our country.

And hopefully, by the time production run is due, this will all be sorted out.


Monday, March 4, 2013

F-35: Fleet cleared for take off again

As expected, the F-35 program is back in the air
F-35s were grounded after a crack was found during a routine inspection of a turbine blade of a test aircraft stationed at Edward Air Force Base. The engine was taken to manufacturer Pratt and Whitney's Middletown, Conn. Facility for testing.

Company officials said the results showed the particular F-35 had been operated "for an extended time in the high-temperature environment in its mission to expand the F-35 flight envelope.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors on this specific engine were determined to be the cause of the crack." Pratt and Whitney said no additional cracks were found during the inspections of the remaining F-35 inventory. 
The crack in one blade was on one of the original test aircraft that has been subjected to a great deal of stressful testing.  When you do that, parts will eventually break or fail.  In this case, while the blade did indeed crack, it didn't fail.  It was instead found during routine maintenance checks, just like it is supposed to happen.

The fact that the rest of the fleet has been cleared to resume flying points to the fact that it isn't considered to be a defect with the engine.

Or, for some of those wringing their hands out there and trying to portray this as "another failure in a troubled program", pretty much normal wear and tear that all fighter aircraft at some point experience.