The Pentagon’s Joint Estimate Team (JET) has re-affirmed its previous assessment of the F-35 JSF program, saying “substantially more money and time will be required” to complete development of the aircraft than is currently scheduled.
The assessment suggests the program may even come close to the 25 per cent overrun trigger point which would incur a breach of what is called the Nunn-McCurdy limit, forcing a program review and either a restructure if deemed essential to national security, or possible cancellation.
Lockheed Martin and the JSF Program Office (JPO) have responded, saying the findings weren’t unexpected considering the immaturity of the flight test program and because the JET had based its findings on “legacy” flight test programs. “We disagree with their conclusions, which we believe are driven by legacy based assumptions regarding the time required to deliver the remaining SDD (System Development and Design) aircraft, complete development, and conduct the flight test campaign,” the company said in a statement. “The program is early in the flight test phase, so it is much too soon to conclude that the expected payoffs will not be realised.”
According to the blog ‘DoD Buzz’, one Congressional aide on Capitol Hill has reportedly called for a restructure of the program as soon as possible to avoid a Nunn-McCurdy breach being invoked, while another said the cost increase could be between US$7bn and US$17bn (A$7.6-$18.5bn).
The company had planned to fly nine more flight test aircraft in 2009 to add to the three already flying, but none of these aircraft have flown to date and at least three have slipped to 2010. The delays have been attributed to ‘travelled work’ from suppliers resulting in detailed post production work needing to be performed before the aircraft can be handed over to the flight line.