F-35 production freeze … or new ice age?

On 30 September 2008, or nearly three years ago, members of Florida’s Okaloosa County economic development council received a rare treat. Major General Charles Davis, then-programme manager for the Lockheed Martin F-35, briefed the council’s regularly scheduled roundtable sympoisum. Okaloosa County is the proud home of Eglin AFB, the F-35′s centralised training centre, and Davis clearly hoped to impress the local business leaders. Slide 24 surely drew a few smiles in the room.

F-35 production profile.jpg

That was then.

Today, the picture looks vastly different, and not for the better. The US Senate, meanwhile, looks set to make it even worse for the F-35′s supporters.

One year ago, everything still seemed roughly on track. Negotiations over the fourth lot of low rate initial production (LRIP-4) dragged on for several months, but the Fiscal 2010 order for 32 aircraft in total was in line with Davis’ briefing chart.

The 2011 order (LRIP-5), however, was coming apart. It was supposed to be a contract for 47 aircraft, but the Department of Defense already trimmed its request to Congress to 43 aircraft. When Congress finally approved the FY2011 budget seven months late in April, the final number was cut to 32. That froze F-35 production at the FY2010 level.

This year, the DoD didn’t even try. The request sent to Congress in February asked for 32 aircraft in LRIP-6. In 2008, LRIP-6 was supposed to be an order for 118 F-35s, including 82 aircraft for the US services and 36 aircraft for the international partners. Foreign orders have not solidified yet, but the US order for 82 aircraft is out of the question. Anticipating a Senate move to free F-35 production, the DoD asked the Congress for only 32 F-35s in FY2012, a 50-aircraft cut from the 2008 production profile.

The Senate’s appropriations subcommittee now wants to extend the 32-aircraft production plateau into LRIP-7. According to Davis’ chart in 2008, the DoD planned to buy 90 F-35s in FY2013, with the partners chipping in for another 42 aircraft.

If the Senate’s proposal sticks, F-35 production could be frozen at 32 aircraft for four years straight.   

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7 Responses to F-35 production freeze … or new ice age?

  1. Weaponhead 15 September, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    The recent wing spar discovery (or disclosure?) is a great example of why the production rate should be even lower until the the bulk of the SDD testing has actually been completed. The unparalled concurrency in this program is still a major risk that seems to be swept under the carpet and ignored by the acquisition community. How many warning signs are needed that you have a bad plan???

  2. ganzkoerperkostuem 15 September, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    :-)

  3. nico 16 September, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    I keep hearing from the pro F35 crowd that no foreign orders have been cut than why only UK and Netherlands have 1 each on order? What happened to the other 34 that were supposed to be in LRIP6? LRIP7 was supposed to have 42 foreign orders, where are our foreign partners?

  4. alloycowboy 16 September, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Does this mean that the USAF is going to have start to mothballing fighters to extend their useful service life like the Canada did with their F-18′s? Just crunching the numbers at a production rate of 31 aircraft per year its going to take 56.8 years to produce the 1,763 the USAF needs and 21.9 years for the 680 aircraft the USN/USMC need. This makes for a grand total of 78.7 years just for US aircraft alone not including partner nations. If the orginal vision was to ramp up production to 21 aircraft by 2016 then the Pentagon really needs to get going on this or run the risk of having a “fighter gap”. In this case the fighter gap would be caused by more fighters retiring from service then new replacement aircraft entering service.

  5. ELP 16 September, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    Right on! WH.

  6. RunningBear 16 September, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    If we are choosing to hold up the production program for program testing, then commit more resources to SDD testing. With only 4 AF-35, 5 BF-35 and 3 CF-35 as the flight System Development & Demonstration aircraft, more production aircraft should be reassigned to testing. There are 8 “A” and 6 “B” from LRIP 1&2 available from Eglin’s training fleet that could be moved to SDD. That would more than double the aircraft and should significantly impact the testing schedule. Also, SDD testing could be added to the core responsibility of the Eglin training organization and would advance their training and maintenance experience with both pilots and maintenance personnel. Edwards and PAX are both doing a great job but they could be helped greatly by Eglin.

  7. jetcal1 16 September, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    “How many warning signs are needed that you have a bad plan???”

    Only one, it’s called bankruptcy.

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