For thesmall army of production managers around the world assigned to build F-35 JointStrike Fighters (JSF), no other sequence of numbers can be more important:
This is theprojected rate of F-35 production during the first six years of low rateinitial production phase (LRIP), which actually started in 2007.
My previoustwo posts explored the recent past of the Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing 787 andthe similarities of their darkest moments. This post and a follow-up later thisweek will explore the challenges common to both programs as each seeks toovercome their troubled development phase and dramatically boost productionoutput starting next year.
Here’s ascary thought: the F-35′s production rate listed above is just the baseline.
DanCrowley, Lockheed Martin’s executive vice president for the F-35, told me thereis a lot of “upside” in the last two years in the LRIP phase. The US Air Forcehas recently mused about increasing their order in LRIP-6 from 48 to 110, andthen sustaining that order rate for several years.
If funding andorder profiles hold — and assuming no show-stoppers emerge in flight testphase — full-rate production for F-35 starts in five years. Factory output is currentlyexpected to increase to one aircraft per working day as early as 2016, anastonishing pace for a fighter with low-observable characteristics.
It’s all afamiliar tune to my ears.
Boeing’s787 program, both blessed and cursed by insatiable demand for itsnext-generation airliner, at this time last year planned to be well on its waytoward a “low-rate” output of 10 aircraft per month by 2010, perhaps jumping to16 per month by 2012. No previous commercial widebody was built at a faster monthlyrate than 10 even at its peak.
We know howwell the original plan worked out for the 787. Boeing’s production system breakdownsrevealed over the past year not only delayed first delivery by at least 15months. The production ramp also has been slowed from a sprint to a crawl.
Details aresketchy, but Boeing has disclosed a goal to reach the previous low rate of 10per month in 2012, or two years later. Opening a second production line hasbeen discussed, but it’s not entirely clear if that step would help exceed thelow rate pace or merely reach it.
Commercialprograms certainly face their own set of pressures, but the manufacturer atleast has full control of setting aircraft design requirements and the fundingprofile that dictates the production rate. A defense contractor, by contrast,enjoys some protection from pure market forces, but lacks those two key advantages.
If Boeing’s787 ramp-up proved far beyond the capacity of its chosen industry team, despiteall of the management advantages of a commercially-driven program, how does theF-35 program hope to avoid the same fate?