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GAO predicts more trouble for JSF program

written by australianaviation.com.au | March 24, 2010
The F-35 is the subject of another critical report. (JSF PO)
The F-35 is the subject of another critical report. (JSF PO)

The JSF program has been on the end of another scathing report, this time from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) which has been reviewing the program on an annual basis since 2005.

The GAO’s latest report, submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on March 19, points out a number of cost increases and development risks that have emerged in the past year.

“Since last year’s report, the JSF program office estimates that total acquisition costs increased by more than (US)$23 billion (A$25bn), primarily because of higher estimated procurement costs,” the report reads. “Two-thirds of budgeted funding for JSF development has been spent, but only about one-half of the work has been completed. The contractor is on its third, soon to be fourth, manufacturing schedule, but test aircraft in manufacturing are still behind, the continuing impacts of late designs, delayed delivery of parts, and manufacturing inefficiencies.”

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The report also raised concerns over whether US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s February ‘midcourse risk reduction plan’ would be sufficient enough to pull the program back on track. “The midcourse plan carries the risk of design and performance problems not being discovered until late in the operational testing and production phases, when it is significantly more costly to address such problems,” it said. “We believe that JSF costs will likely be much higher than reported. In addition, some assumptions are overly optimistic and not well documented. Three independent defense offices separately concluded that program cost estimates are understated by as much as (US) $38 billion (A$41bn)and that the development schedule is likely to slip from 12 to 27 months.”

Other areas of risk identified by the GAO include the addition of US$1.6bn (A$1.74bn) to the program costs for the GE/Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine development; increased costs and poor performance of the primary P&W F135 engine development program; the lack of accreditation of the software test labs used to minimise flight testing; the slipping of software capabilities to later blocks; a need to strengthen and redesign the F-35C’s keel structure for shipboard landings and catapult launches; an over-reliance on orders from foreign customers for the production ramp up phase in 2013 to 2017; and projections that the operating cost of the F-35 will be substantially higher than those of current generation F-16 and F/A-18 aircraft, not less as was a prime goal of the program.

On top of the GAO report, a former director of weapons testing and evaluation for the Bush administration has said in an interview in the National Journal’s Congress Daily on March 22 that the USAF and US Navy should buy more proven A-10s, F-16s and F/A-18E/Fs instead and kill off the JSF program. But Thomas Christie added that “it’s not going to happen,” saying “the kind of politics that wastes taxpayers’ dollars would win out”.

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