Tuesday, April 30, 2013

F-35: The superiority of the F-35's low observability capability

Read an interesting article by a Canadian journalist who went to Ft. Worth to see the F-35 being built and filed a story.  Part of the story includes these paragraphs which help make an important point:
Radar works by bouncing radio waves off targets, like aircraft, which are picked up by a receiver. Stealth technology doesn’t make F-35 invisible to radar, but rather redirects, absorbs or weakens the radar signal to make it harder to “see.”

That’s a “quantum leap” in air combat, says Flynn. “It’s not invisibility, it’s very low observability to the point you can almost act with impunity.” That, he says, will let the F-35 go where existing warplanes increasingly can’t: close enough to destroy air or ground targets defended by state-of-the-art anti-aircraft systems.

The F-35 has gained from Lockheed Martin’s stealth experience: They built the first operational stealth fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk, an aerodynamically unlikely, diamond-faceted flying flatiron that gave Saddam Hussein’s gunners fits in Iraq.

They also built the F-22 Raptor, America’s state-of-the-art fifth-generation air-dominance fighter. “That’s what we use as our stepping stone with the F-35,” says Flynn, who has piloted most fourth-generation fighters and test-flown Eurofighter Typhoon. “That’s our confidence.” “You can’t just apply a coating,” or tweak a few features of an older aircraft to make it stealthy, Scott stresses, perhaps referring to Boeing’s proposals for stealthy versions of its competing F-18 Super Hornet and older F-15 Eagle. “It’s . . . fundamental to the design.” 
This is a part of the F-35 story that often gets short shrift.  The low observability it enjoys is a result of 2 previous generations of stealth technology.  And, as the article points out, you can't just make a non-stealthy jet stealthy.  It's more than a coating.  It is fundamental to the design.   Unless the aircraft is designed to maximize low observability, there's not much a coating can do.  So "stealthy versions" of non-stealthy aircraft, unless that includes a major redesign of the airframe to maximize the low observability in the redesign, is just putting lipstick on a pig.  It may be "more stealthy" than it's unstealthy counterpart, but it is nowhere near as stealthy as the F-35.  Hanging stealthy pods on a non-stealthy aircraft doesn't make it comparable to the F-35. 

Another point to be made here is because the F-35 is a 3rd generation low observable aircraft, it's competition from Russia and China will likely suffer by comparison.  Each of those nations is developing it's first generation stealth aircraft, so we're likely to see much more sophisticated and effective low observability with the F-35 than with the Russian or Chinese 5th generation fighters.


Monday, April 29, 2013

F-35: VMFAT-501 launches 8 F-35s, does 16 sorties in 3 hours

Lt. Col David Berke, commander of VMFAT-501 at Eglin AB in Florida, recently announced:
Today (April 26, 2013), VMFAT-501 executed an 8 ship launch for Air to Air and Air to Ground training, completed hot refueling on all eight jets and launched them on a second mission.
That's big news.  One of the early but unsubstantiated criticisms of the F-35  was it wouldn't be reliable enough to have a high sortie rate.  8 for 8 is pretty reliable in anyone's book.  In fact, the criticisms we're seeing remind one of the same sorts of criticisms (ironically from many of the same critics) we saw concerning the Apache helicopter prior to Desert Storm (or the M1 Abrams MBT for that matter).  We then saw how well it performed, actually firing the opening shots in that battle.

A reminder - hot refueling is done at the completion of a mission with the pilot still in the aircraft (rearming would also take place during that period).  It is a method the Marine Corps uses to increase the sortie rate for it's aircraft.  The F-35s apparently performed well.

Col Arthur Tomassetti, Vice Commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin said of the event:
The ability for VMFAT-501 to launch and recover 8 jets at the same time shows the increasing capability of the training center at Eglin and the continuing maturity of the F-35 program. 
Indeed it does.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

More F-35Bs headed to MCAS Yuma

The first operational F-35 squadron in the world will be receiving more aircraft in the coming months:
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma's F-35 program seems to be moving forward after a brief stall.

A spokesperson with Lockheed Martin, the Texas based manufacturer of the fighter jet, says the company is scheduled to deliver at least one F-35 a month to MCAS Yuma for the rest of the year. Shipping had stalled due to a government issued precautionary suspension.

MCAS Yuma is home to the world's first operational F-35 squadron and currently houses four F-35's. 
Just a small note on a local media outlet that won't likely get much play but indicates that the program continues to go forward.  MCAS Yuma will be receiving, as noted, an F-35B a month for the rest of the year.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Israel names it's F-35's

Again I want to emphasize that Israel isn't a country to take on a new weapon's system lightly.  It makes a very detailed analysis of what is available and is very careful about it's choices.  For the country, one loss on the battlefield means the end of their nation.  They're unlikely to put their future on a aircraft they have doubts about.

The name chosen is a bit unusual, given their past naming conventions, but I think it pretty much sums up their belief in what the F-35 brings to the IAF:
On Wednesday, the Israeli Air Force christened the plane Adir, which in modern Hebrew denotes awesomeness, radness and all-around cool (the dictionary definition is a bit more sober).

While Israel’s first F-35 squadron is slated to arrive in 2017, the army has started to prepare for it — readying structures and runways, and training technical crews and pilots — and thus needed to give it a Hebrew moniker.

 The name was chosen from among more than 1,700 suggestions handed in by IAF soldiers and people from the defense industry. Naming the jet Adir reflects its capabilities and emphasizes the upgrade it will provide to the air force’s capabilities, the IAF said in a statement. 

You might say that a name doesn't really denote much of anything and go on to point to weapons systems that never lived up to theirs.  But in the context of the first paragraph, I don't think this name for this aircraft, given who is bestowing it, points to a fighter that won't live up to it's name.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chairman of the JCS gets behind the F-35

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, swung his weight behind the F-35 recently in a session with the Senate's Armed Services Committee:
A self-described "ground-pounder" (soldier), Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that he was "open-minded" on the fate of the F-35 until he talked to a Marine officer running one of the first operational squadrons of F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Dempsey said that conversation about the plane's performance turned him into an advocate. And then he put his finger on what may be the most important reason for buying the F-35: "We haven't been attacked from the air since April 15, 1953, and I'm not going to be the chairman on whose watch... that's reversed." 
A lot of the critics seem to not understand the importance of that point, especially to America's military.   It is more than a point of pride.  It is a point of critical importance.  What it points to is a military that has been able to establish air dominance and maintain it to the point that enemy aircraft have found it impossible to penetrate our air umbrella and attack our troops on the ground.

That is absolutely critical to victory.  And in modern warfare, the side which is able to do this rarely loses.

Gen. Dempsey understands that point from a very personal perspective.  He's also now convinced that the F-35 is the aircraft of the future that will ensure that record stays intact.


Monday, April 22, 2013

F-35: Will it cost 10% more to operate than an F-16?

The preliminary answer, i.e. the answer using today's figures and for the time being, seems to be "yes".
The single-engine F-35A is expected to cost about 10 percent more to operate than the F-16 it is intended to replace for the U.S. Air Force and other international military services, according to U.S. government officials. USAF

Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer overseeing the F-35 program, told Dutch lawmakers that the cost-per-flying-hour for the F-35A, which The Netherlands intends to buy, is $24,000, according to an Air Force spokeswoman.
So at this moment, we're looking at about $2,400 dollars an hour more.

Will that change?  Well yes, most likely.  And likely for the better.  For instance, we know that we are likely to have a new engine on the horizon for the F-35:
AFRL calculates adaptive technology will improve engine fuel efficiency by 25% over the F135 powering the F-35, increasing aircraft combat radius by 25-30% and persistence by 30-40%.
Obviously, that might save that 10%.  Then there's also this point to be considered:
Company officials had argued the cost of some subsystems, such as the electro-optical target system, or information technology systems used to support the aircraft, should not be included in the F-35 lifecycle estimate because they are not calculated in the price of operating legacy aircraft. 
Of course there are those who would argue that it should be calculated because it is indeed a part of the cost.  True.  But it is also a capability that doesn't exist on the F-16.  So is the addition of that capability worth "10%"?  My guess is it is worth much more.  If it provides an aircraft able to penetrate contested airspace an F-16 can't, then its worth may be incalculable.

Finally,  remember, this establishes a baseline number while the aircraft is still in development and testing.  It gives the manufacturer a target to achieve through efficiencies, etc.  10% isn't a very high percentage at this point when kept in context and compared to the capabilities the aircraft promises.

Be sure to watch how the critics handle the number.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

F-35: Critics pontificate without enough information

I wanted to point you to another great post on "Elements of Power" where SMSgtMac again takes the critics to task, to wit:
I can’t remember when I saw so many media outlets, bloggers, and just general ‘people’ with their panties in a wad over something they didn’t really understand. Honestly, who among those ‘critics’ bemoaning the Sustained G turn requirement changing from 5.3 to 4.6Gs even know everything they need to know as ‘inputs’ before they could even begin to formulate an informed opinion on the topic? There is STILL insufficient information in the public domain to come to any conclusions, but there’s a heck of a lot of presumption and assumption in spite of it. 

The point of course, and this has been a pretty consistent failing on the part of many critics of this program, is they simply don't know what they're talking about when they criticize many times.  And others, it is apparent that they simply don't understand the concept they're trying to criticize.  Yet they still get press.

Some things will never change I suppose.  Meanwhile, take a look at the cited post.  Very technical, very thorough, but in the end you can't help but conclude that at this point, the critics are just criticizing to criticize without understanding what they're criticizing.

If that makes your head feel like it wants to explode, welcome to the club.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Navy lines up behind the F-35

You've heard the old saying "attitude is everything?"  Well, it may not be "everything" but it is vitally important, many times making the difference between success and failure.  Part of a winning attitude is overcoming obstacles and gaining success.

No one denies the F-35 program has faced it's share of obstacles, but as the USMC Commandant said, every new aircraft suffers teething problems.   The F-35 program has progressed well the last two years and now enters it's most important phase of testing. While it obviously "has to work",  a winning attitude sure doesn't hurt.

We've all read any number of articles that have intimated that the Navy isn't behind the program.  Well, if that was true, I don't think it is true anymore.  That is, if you believe the deputy program director for that service:
Rear Adm. Randolph L. Mahr, deputy program executive officer for the F-35, said “ We’re not going to focus on the past. What’s past is done. In 2001, the United States government made a choice on which aircraft to develop and we’re going to bring it across the finish line,” Mahr said.

The Marine Corps will receive an operational aircraft in summer of 2015, Mahr said. “Put it on your calendars,” he said.

“The United States Marine Corps is holding us to that date. The United States Air Force is right behind them. Our partner nations are right behind them.”That's the sort of attitude that will put the aircraft in the field on time.  And Mahr isn't the only Navy officer saying that sort of thing:
He's not the only officer saying those sorts of things. Recently the CNO said the Navy was "all in" for the F-35. And the commander of Naval Air Systems Command had this to say:
“We are now in the meat of this program,” said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, commander of Naval Air Systems Command, said April 10 at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space symposium at National Harbor, Md. “We’ve come a long way to get here. We’re now to the part that is really important. This is where the rubber is going to meet the road and we’re going to succeed or we’re going to fail.” 
And, unspoken but true, failure is not an option.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

F-35: Israel's "pack of leopards"

If you can beat your way through all the negativity the author of this article tries to lay on the F-35, you'll see that Israel is a country that "gets it" when it comes to the JSF and it's capabilities:
The Jerusalem Post reports that the technological revolution is based on creating a "digital network in the skies" that integrates strike jets, electronic warfare aircraft, in-flight refueling tankers and helicopters into a multitude of real-time data sources that include ground forces, the navy and the intelligence services.

It's called network-centric warfare, and the program's run by the air force's Information Communication Technology branch.

This will give combat pilots an unprecedented view of the battlespace and allow their controllers to direct a variety of combat platforms to the most important strategic and tactical targets.

"We can communicate directly with other platforms," a senior air force officer told the Post. "This acts as a force multiplier...

"It's like a pack of leopards on a hunt. They work together in a network, not as individuals."

The source noted that this move toward wiring the air force into a single digital network was a primary reason for selecting the F-35. The Israeli version is known as the F-35I.

"The F-35I was chosen not because it was the fastest, or because it can carry the most munitions, but because of its network capabilities," the senior officer explained. "All of the information is available to it. It knows what threatens it, its situation at any given moment, and the status of fellow aircraft. It's a network entity."
Those capabilities make it more than an evolution in fighter aircraft.  The F-35 is a revolutionary aircraft.

The quote above, as acknowledged by the author of the article, comes from the Jerusalem Post.  The negativity it is wrapped in is all the authors.  How clueless is this person?  This should help you make that determination:
The aircraft, for now the world's only fifth-generation fighter, is intended to ensure Israel's military supremacy in the Middle East, underwritten by the United States, through the first quarter of the century.
Really?  I'm sure that will come as a complete surprise to F-22 pilots as well as the Chinese and Russians.  He or she goes on to compound their problem by quoting well known anti-JSF windbag Winslow Wheeler.

The point for this post, however, is to give you an idea of why the Israeli's are so high on the F-35.  Unlike most of the critics, they "get it" and they don't talk in 4th generation terms about "dogfights" and other capabilities of that era which will be less and less important in the 5th generation.  They understand what the F-35's capabilities mean.   They see the vast potential this will bring to the skies over Israel and how it will give them the ability to get inside the enemy's decision cycle, see them first and shoot them first.

The network, the sensor fusion, the low observability all will combine to give them one of the most capable fighters in the world as well as one of the most deadly air forces in the world.

A pack of hunting leopards.


Monday, April 15, 2013

F-35: Tailhook assembly re-design ready for testing

As we're reported here, the tailhook problem appears to have been solved and the entire tailhook assembly is being readied for testing.  The latest news:
“Our original design was not performing as expected,” said Lorraine Martin, Lockheed Martin’s executive vice president for the F35 Lightning II program. Martin said the “toe” of the tailhook, the part that grabs the wire, had been re-designed along with the “hold down damper” gear that forces the tailhook down on the deck.

“It’s now in line with what the legacy aircraft uses,” Martin said of the new F-35 tailhook. She said the new assembly will be tested this summer at the Navy’s Lakehurst, N.J., facility and carrier tests were expected later this year.

 [Head of the Naval Air Systems Command,Vice Adm. David]Dunaway said he believed Lockheed Martin had found the right tailhook fix before he back pedaled and said: “I will be a trust but verify person.” Rear Adm. Randollph Mahr, the deputy Program Executive Officer for the F-35, said “I have high confidence that that tailhook will be catching wires at Lakehurst.” 
The new tailhook design has been in testing for a while.  The other part of the system that was causing problems was the "hold down damper".  They were getting a bounce and a skip when the hook hit causing it to miss wires.  With the redesign of the hook complete as well as the redesigned hold down damper, the entire assembly will now go through testing at Lakehurst.

Another teething problem apparently solved, assuming the testing goes well and, continuing with that assumption, air to ship integration isn't that far off at all.


Friday, April 12, 2013

F-35 emerges as a "winner" in the latest budget announcements

That is, at least, according to Politico's "Morning Defense" which said this yesterday while speaking of Lockheed Martin in general:
The company's flagship F-35 Lightning II was a clear early winner in the administration's spending plan, which requests 29 aircraft and does not resort to the postponements or "probation" the Pentagon has previously tried with the controversial program. 
That's good news for the program because it keeps production moving, will build on the efficiencies it has already amassed and, as it continues, mean less costly aircraft.

Of course, the program isn't 'controversial' to the warfighters who will benefit from it's advanced capabilities.  It is only 'controversial' to the media, which should come as no real surprise.  The reason the Pentagon didn't "resort" to "postponements or 'probation'" was because there is no reason to do so.



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

F-35: CNO and USMC Commandant express support for F-35 but say procurement system is broken

I don't think this comes as a surprise to anyone:
The top officers in the Navy and Marine Corps defended their most expensive program, Lockheed Martin's troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, while acknowledging the way the Pentagon buys such weapons is not merely broken but "constipated."
General Amos said of the F-35B:
"There's no alternative for the United States Marine Corps to the F-35B," Commandant Gen. James Amos said at the opening session of the Navy League's annual Sea-Air-Space conference. "I want to make that crystal clear to everybody in the audience." All the great aircraft of the past have gone through teething troubles in development, said Amos, a pilot himself. 
His last statement seems to be lost on certain critics who almost seem to be gleeful anytime the program encounters problems.

Adm. Greenert said:
"Speaking for the Navy," added the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, "I need the fifth-generation fighter, and that [F-35] provides it, so we're all in -- but it has to perform. It has problems; it is making progress." 
The article goes on to say Greenert has "damned" the JSF in the past with "faint praise". I'm not sure what passes for solid praise in the author's world, but "we're all in" does so in most other people's. And the caveat "it has to perform" is an obvious one which clearly is true. All indications are the F-35 will do just fine.

The procurement process, however, is another matter.  Here in a nutshell is a description of the problem:
After years of acquisition "reforms" that have empowered the civilian Department of Defense bureaucracy at the expense of the uniformed services, "the service chiefs need to get back in," said Amos. "Congress doesn't give the program manager a dime, they give the service chiefs the money... It's our money, these are our programs."

Agreed Greenert, "I as a service chief would like to have more authority and more accountability in acquisitions." There are far too many different bureaucratic entities with input into the "requirements" for new systems, but none of them is held accountable for the delay and expense produced by the waffling back and forth over an ever-longer wish list. The buck should stop with service chiefs like himself and Amos, Greenert argued -- which may well require Congress to reexamine the landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act "and consider altering it."
Give the responsibility and accountability to the service chiefs and let them handle the programs.  That would eliminate the ability of "different bureaucratic entities" from inserting requirements into the system that the services don't want and aren't demanding.  That would also help cut the time necessary to field new weapons.


Monday, April 8, 2013

South Korea indicates it is down to two fighters, F-35 included

Yet another Asian ally is showing indications that its choice for its future fighter might be the F-35:
The US Department of Defense formally notified the US Congress of potential sales of the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to South Korea on 29 March. The two aircraft are on offer to the Asian nation as part of South Korea's F-X III fighter competition. The Eurofighter Typhoon is a third contender for the 60 aircraft tender.

For the potential F-35 sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) says that South Korea could order 60 conventional A-model aircraft and associated support equipment for $10.8 billion. There would also be provisions for spares including nine additional Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofans. The package would also encompass training-including simulators.
If I had to guess, and that's all this is, I could see South Korea opting for both.  The F-15SE would fulfill it's near future needs, give it a 4th generation plus capability and allow it to begin it's phase out of older fighters.  It might also buy some F-35s which would then give them 5th generation capabilities that go far beyond the F-15SE's and would allow much better joint interoperability among their allies.

To be on the safe side the Flight Global argument includes this caveat:
Lockheed Martin says that it is pleased that the formal Congressional notification process is now under way, but notes that the competing bids are still being evaluated by Korea and price discussions are "on-going".
That said:
While he does not rule out the possibility that South Korea will opt for the Typhoon, Raymond Jaworowski, an analyst with Forecast International, says the contest will most like come down to a battle between the F-35 and the Silent Eagle. "The F-15 and the F-35 are the frontrunners," he says. "South Korea has previously bought US fighter aircraft and it seems likely that's the way they'll go for this buy."

In the Silent Eagle's favour is the fact that South Korea already has the older F-15K Slam Eagle in service. "The commonality factor will come into play," Jaworowski says. "On the other hand, the F-35 is more and more becoming the dominant fighter on the market."

Other factors that play in the F-35's favour are the fact that Japan has already ordered the stealthy fifth-generation jet and growing threats in the region. But given the state of the South Korean tender, "I think at this point it's too early to predict between the F-35 and the F-15," Jaworowski says.
As we've seen with Singapore and Japan, the F-35 ended up being the aircraft of choice.  Don't rule out a mix which includes some F-15SE's but look for the F-35 to go to South Korea in the end.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

F-35: The metrics have changed? Sorry, but that's not a bad thing

Over the past few weeks, you've seen various critics get the vapors as they attempt to claim that the changes made in the metrics for the F-35 point to a failing aircraft and a failing program.

Not really.  In fact, not really at all.  But you have to know something about how aircraft (or any other program for that matter) are developed to understand that.   Someone who does, SMSgt Mac over at "Elements of Power", shines some welcome light on the subject.  It is a very technical discussion, however, he sets it up with this perspective:
1. Performance metrics are used as PROXIES for what is important in a Weapon System under acquisition or already fielded. The metrics are NOT important in and of themselves. They are only as important as the degree to which they inform developers and operators on the system’s true versus desired capabilities.


2. Weapon system specifications are initially established based upon what is believed to be needed and what is believed to be feasible within the projected budget and schedule before the development is given the ‘go-ahead’. There are only varying degrees of assumed confidence in the ability to achieve what is seen as feasible, and this depends much on perceived technology maturity. Only after the project is underway will the need and/or feasibility, given the actual maturity and budget, begin to be revealed, and it may be only truly knowable towards the end of development. Adjusting the specifications as new information is acquired, while still meeting Warfighter needs is sound engineering and management. It is NOT (as someone in the POGO crowd or ‘low information media’ might claim) “cheating” or a sign of “failure”. 
With that in mind, go read the whole thing.  It does a great job of explaining why what SMSgt Mac calls the low information media, are in a low hover over the information.  They don't know any better and make no attempt to find out.  And, they're gassed up by the usual suspects among the critics who know about as much as the media they feed.

Of course, in terms of perspective or accuracy and this program, the critics and media have never tried very hard to provide it.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

F-35 called "best choice" by Chief of Japanese Defense Forces

Again I want to point out something that flies in the face of what some critics claim would be sufficient for our future - 4th generation plus aircraft.  Why is it that nations whose future may depend on their aircraft choice of the future - such as Israel, Singapore and Japan - have chosen the F-35?  
Japan's highest-ranking uniformed officer said on Wednesday that Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighters were the best choice for the nation's future operational needs as Tokyo wrestles with tensions with China and increasingly belligerent North Korea.

The vote of confidence in the state-of-the-art U.S. warplane comes amid reports that some nations that have placed orders for the F-35s are reconsidering their plans.

Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces' Joint Staff, also said advancement of North Korea's arms technology in a series of nuclear and missile tests posed a serious threat to Japan, but its missile defense system should provide the country with sufficient protection.

"When I was the head of the air force, I spearheaded the decision (to procure F-35s). Or, rather, we drew up a plan, which was then approved by defense minister," said Iwasaki, a veteran fighter pilot who used to fly F-15s, Japan's current mainstay combat aeroplane. "There were various candidates. But I still believe the F-35 is the best fighter, when we think about Japan's future national security," he said in an interview with Reuters.
So evaluating the "various candidates", Japan's highest ranking officer and former F-15 pilot finds the F-35 the fighter of choice.

Again,  putting this in the context of my question above, why, if what the critics claim is true, wouldn't these nations opt for the critic's choice?

I pointed out one reason on Monday.  The other reason is they seem to "get it" when it comes to what the advanced capabilities the F-35 will bring to their defense forces and how those capabilities will be a game changer.

The critics?  Not so much.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

F-35: Manufacturing costs dropping, efficiencies increasing

Another part of the GAO report that I wanted to highlight isn't very sexy, in terms of discussions of fighter jets, but it is very important because of the criticism the F-35 program routinely incurs when it comes to discussions of cost.   One of the points made repeatedly by the manufacturer is as the program matures and as the learning curve became less steep, we'll see efficiencies develop that would help bring down those costs.  That's exactly what the GAO found: 

Manufacturing Is Becoming More Efficient: Analyses of labor, parts, and quality data, observations on the manufacturing floor, and discussions with defense and contracting officials provide signs that F-35 manufacturing and supply processes are improving. The aircraft contractor is moving down a steep learning curve, which is a measure that the work force is gaining important experience and that processes are maturing as more aircraft are built. Other indicators of improvement include the following:

* The decrease in labor hours needed to complete aircraft at the prime contractor's plant as the labor force gains experience. For example, the first Air Force production jet was delivered in May 2011 and required about 149,000 labor hours at the prime's plant to build, while an Air Force jet delivered in December 2012 only required about 94,000 labor hours. Overall, the contractor reported a 37 percent reduction in direct labor during 2012.

* The improvement in the contractor's labor efficiency rate, a measure of how long it is taking to complete certain work tasks against engineering standards. Labor efficiency on the first production aircraft was 6 percent and improved to 13 percent for the 31st production aircraft. While still low, Defense Contract Management Agency officials stated that the rate should continue to improve with increased production due to work force learning and factory line enhancements. * The decrease in span times--the number of calendar days to manufacture aircraft in total and in specific work staging areas. The aircraft contractor is altering assembly line processes to streamline factory flow. As a result, for example, span time in the final assembly area declined by about one-third in 2012 compared to 2011.

* The increase in factory throughput as the contractor delivered 30 production aircraft in 2012 compared to 9 in 2011. During our plant visit in 2012, we observed an increased level of activity on the manufacturing floor as compared to 2011. The contractor had more tooling in place, had altered and streamlined processes, and had factory expansion plans underway. * The decrease in traveled work (work done out of sequence or incomplete items moving to the next work station), parts shortages on the line, and product defects. For example, traveled work declined 90 percent and the defect rate declined almost 80 percent in 2012 compared to 2011. Other quality indicators such as scrap rates and non- conformances also improved from prior years and are trending in a positive direction. These have all been major contributors to past cost increases and schedule delays. * The accomplishment of a schedule risk analysis to improve the contractor's master schedule and related schedules. A schedule risk analysis is a comprehensive evaluation that uses statistical techniques to examine the fidelity of schedule estimates and the likelihood of accomplishing work as scheduled. It provides better and timelier insight into program performance to help identify and resolve schedule roadblocks.

 * The improvement in aircraft contractor manufacturing processes, although not fully mature compared to best practice standards. The aircraft contractor is using statistical process control to bring critical manufacturing processes under control so they are repeatable, sustainable, and consistently producing parts within quality tolerances and standards. The best practice standard is to have all critical manufacturing processes in control by the start of production. Just over one-third of manufacturing processes are currently judged to be capable of consistently producing quality parts at the best practice standard. The contractor has a plan in place to achieve the best practice standard by the start of full-rate production in 2019. We have observed this quality practice on only a few DOD programs.

So as the program and production matures, we should continue to see increased efficiencies and decreased costs.  Just as promised.  Caveat: that assumes that the total buy promised is fulfilled.  Otherwise, we'll end up with much more expensive aircraft just like we did with the F-22 and B-2 and we'll be well short of the capability we need for the future.


Monday, April 1, 2013

F-35: Reality drives Pacific allies to F-35

That reality is posed in a quote at an Australian news site:
China is also flight testing two stealth fighters, the J-20 and the J-31, although they are not expected to enter service until the end of the decade at the earliest, military aviation experts said.

"It's an open question as to how advanced and sophisticated they actually are," said Andrew Davies, a senior strategy analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, referring to the Chinese fighters.

"But having said that, they make life more difficult for existing types, so the F-35 becomes more important." 
It is indeed "an open question" as to how advanced and sophisticated the Chinese 5th generation stealth aircraft are, but the bottom line is they not only exist, but are being developed for production.  Keep in mind this is China's first generation of stealth aircraft while the US is working on it's 3rd generation.

However the old military dictum comes to mind - one should always prepare for the worst case scenario.  In this case, the worst case scenario is China successfully develops sophisticated and advanced stealthy aircraft. 

Obviously, then, as Davies points out, "the F-35 becomes more important" than it was previously because of what our allied nations could conceivably face.

What should be just as obvious, but apparently isn't, is the F-35 is an aircraft designed with advanced capabilities in both the tactical and strategic sense.  It is designed to be extremely capable in a scenario that would include Chinese 5th gen fighters (i.e. "worst case") and to give us a clear advantage if facing 4th generation opposition.

Our Pacific allies and potential allies seem to hae figured this out.  Japan has committed to the F-35 as has Singapore and Australia.  South Korea, especially given what is going on now, will likely do so too.  They see the handwriting on the wall and realized the best option to counter the worst-case threat is the F-35.

Perhaps some day the critics here at home will come to that realization as well.