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.

No comments:

Post a Comment