Lockheed Martin has warned that it faces having to disband its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) team after a US Senate vote to cut funding and defer the start of the engineering manufacturing and development (EMD) phase.

The Senate has approved a $288.5 billion defence budget for 2001 that withholds initial EMD funding for the JSF until high-risk technology can be fully demonstrated. The on-going concept demonstration phase, due to conclude next April, will be extended by at least three months. An EMD contract is not expected to be awarded before October next year.

There will be a net reduction in funding of around $150 million. This leaves Lockheed Martin and partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems with the choice of either paying around $10 million a month to sustain their 850-strong JSF team, or transferring staff to other programmes.

"If there is no money in EMD, I've got to find jobs for all these people and reconstitute the team later, which will be difficult to do," says Frank Cappuccio, Lockheed Martin JSF programme manager. The other JSF contender, Boeing, could be similarly affected unless funding can be restored before the appropriation bill becomes law.

Delays in starting flight testing of the Boeing X-32 and Lockheed Martin X-35 concept demonstrators has generated calls for EMD to be pushed back. The two conventional take-off and landing versions are to make first flights shortly, but the technically higher risk short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variants will not now fly until later in the year or early 2001.

"If everyone was flying when they should have been flying, we would now have a warm fuzzy feeling," says Cappuccio. The latest technical hitch to affect the X-35 STOVL version is an overheating pinion bearing in the bevel gear of the shaft driven fan assembly.

Source: Flight International