Manufacturer fights to protect three-variant strategy and long-lead funding

Lockheed Martin is rebutting claims made to justify a new attempt within the US Department of Defense to eliminate one of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) variants and is countering concerns in Congress that the stealth fighter’s revised development schedule is too aggressive.

Dan Crowley, the company’s executive vice-president and general manager for the F-35 programme, plays down an “on the table” proposal to convert the US Air Force’s purchase largely to the F-35C carrier variant and cancel its planned F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version.

“This is not the first time they’ve brought up eliminating one of the variants” in seeking a short-term budget windfall, Crowley says. The US military has not asked Lockheed to respond to the proposal, but he says the company’s internal analysis shows that the proposed strategy “doesn’t save as much [money] as one might expect”.

The CTOL F-35A is the least expensive of the three JSF variants and the programme’s emphasis on commonality means that much of the development funding benefits more than a single aircraft. “By cancelling one of the three variants, you don’t save one-third of the development cost,” Crowley says.

Questioning the Pentagon’s portfolio of tactical aircraft programmes has emerged as one of the key themes of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, the results of which will be reported to Congress – which has serious concerns about the JSF programme – by late next month. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that supporters say is intended to safeguard the JSF’s development schedule, but Crowley argues that the provision, if also approved by the Senate, could delay the programme’s low-rate initial production (LRIP) phase by months or even years. The House provision criticises the Pentagon for requesting funds for long-lead procurement items one year earlier than necessary, and instructs the JSF programme to instead focus on meeting its “aggressive” development schedule.

Crowley argues that the loss of long-lead funding worth $152 million would have a dramatic effect on the LRIP schedule, with the disruption to potentially cause a break on the production line between the programme’s development and LRIP phases. Lockheed officials have briefed congressional staffers on the potential consequences.

Source: Flight International