Pentagon Defense Acquisitions Board meeting on F-35 progress

Washington DC
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The Pentagon's Defense Acquisitions Board is meeting today, 7 September, to discuss the tri-service Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

"The meeting scheduled for this afternoon is a 'program update' and is not intended to be decisional," the JSF programme office says.

Senior leaders, including the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Frank Kendall, will receive a progress report on various aspects of the $395.7 billion effort after the programme was restructured in March.

 

 ©USAF

The key issues are cost, which the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates to be about $12.5 billion annually through 2037. Perhaps more significantly, the aircraft's life-cycle costs through 2065 are expected to top $1.1 trillion. Pentagon officials are working to reduce that number.

"The Department's restructuring actions have helped reduce near term acquisition risks by lowering annual procurement quantities and allowing more time and resources for flight testing," reads a June report by the GAO. "However, continuing uncertainties about the program and frequently changing prognoses make it difficult for the United States and international partners to confidently commit to future budgets and procurement schedules."

Additionally, top US defence officials have previously voiced concerns over the F-35's 24 million lines of software code--according to the GAO. Lockheed says the F-35 only has 9.2 million lines of code. There are also ongoing technical concerns over the aircraft's critical helmet-mounted display, electronic warfare systems, and stability of the aircraft's design for manufacturing according to the GAO.

The Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), J Michael Gilmore, has also raised questions about the jet's operational test plan-which is likely to be discussed at the meeting. However, a JSF programme official notes that Gilmore does not have a say in approving JSF programmatic decisions.

The JSF programme office notes that testing is moving on a positive trend as "we move into more sophisticated weapons system testing and continue to increase operational envelope." However, the programme office does acknowledge that the aircraft's software and helmet are areas that need more work.