House committee blocks programme office from proceeding with revised schedule

A revamped Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) development schedule that some US lawmakers criticise as highly risky has been approved by the US Department of Defense.

Michael Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, announced on 1 June that he has cleared the JSF Joint Programme Office (JPO) to proceed with a revised timeline and updated acquisition strategy, but Pentagon officials decline to elaborate.

Wynne's approval allows the JPO to begin negotiations with Lockheed about revising the original $18 billion contract awarded in 2001, which covered a 10-year-long system development and demonstration (SDD) phase, excluding engine development. The new contract is expected to add at least two years to the SDD plan and raise costs by $4-5 billion.

As chairman of the Defense Ac­quisition Board, Wynne cleared the JPO in October to start developing a plan for revamping the development schedule. This was to accommodate design changes forced by unexpected weight gains, particularly for the US Marine Corps and UK F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant.

Details of the new schedule are still being guarded as contract negotiations begin, but the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has already taken action to block the JPO from proceeding with the revamped strategy. The HASC argues the JPO now wrongly plans to launch low-rate initial production (LRIP) in 2007, the same year in which the inaugural "weight-optimised" JSF aircraft is now scheduled to reach first flight. The HASC inserted a provision that would force the JPO to delay LRIP launch until 2008.

The HASC provision, however, would probably delay the programme by another one or two years, which could add billions more in costs. Programme insiders also point out that the JSF design has been under development since 1995, so there is little risk of any major surprises surfacing after first flight in 2007. Further, the LRIP aircraft are needed to deliver to US military customers as training aircraft, and are not required to be in the weight-optimised design configuration.


Source: Flight International