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F-35 Block 3F test schedule slips as Lot 9-10 contracting drags on

The Pentagon appears to be no closer to reaching an agreement with Lockheed Martin on contracts for the production of 151 F-35 Lightning II aircraft as part of low-rate production lots nine and 10.

The F-35 Joint Programme Office (JPO) and the aircraft manufacturer have been trying to come to an agreement on pricing for the 57 total aircraft in Lot 9 and the 94 jets in Lot 10 since wrapping up an agreement for Lot 8 for 43 aircraft in October 2014.

Without giving any reason for the dragged-out negotiation process, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall confirmed during a press briefing on 24 May that no agreement has been reached for those aircraft quantities funded in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. This is despite Lockheed already receiving funding for long-lead parts needed for the on-time production of Lot 11 aircraft (FY2017).

“We haven’t reached an agreement,” Kendall says. “We’re working hard to get the best possible value for the taxpayer and one that we think is fair to the contractors and we’re not in agreement yet. We’re negotiating [Lots 9-10] together.”

In another development, problems incorporating Pratt & Whitney F135 engine data into the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS version 2.0.2) are threatening to delay the US Air Force’s declaration of initial operational capability with the first combat-coded squadron at Hill AFB in Utah, which is meant to occur sometime between August (objective) and December (threshold).

Having recently resolved a software stability problem in Block 3i to the best extent possible within the time constraints, Kendall says ALIS is the primary schedule challenge.

F-35 joint programme director Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan says the deployability features required by the air force for ALIS will likely be delivered in August or early September, but the engine data probably won’t be ready before October or November.

“We presented that information to the air force and we’ll let the air force decide what they choose to do relative to ALIS 2.0.2,” Bogdan says. “It’s entirely possible to deliver all of the deployability capabilities without the engine capability, but that’s a decision that the air force will have to make.”

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US Air Force

Bogdan and Kendall also admitted that the 23 F-35s required for initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) won’t be ready in time to begin weapons testing in late-2017, as planned.

Those aircraft must be upgraded to the “full warfighting capability” known as Block 3F – the final software and hardware iteration required at the end of F-35 development.

Testing had been due to commence by “late summer or early fall of 2017” but that is now looking more likely to start in the “January and February of 2018 timeframe”.

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Fifth-generation Lockheed F-22 and F-35 fighters

US Air Force

Regarding a potential “block buy” of aircraft by the international programme partners, Kendall says most of the partners remain fully committed to that joint purchasing concept, but the Pentagon still isn’t planning to join until one year later. The JPO is said to be fully supporting those discussions between Lockheed and the programme partners and foreign military sales customers.

“We’d like to join that as soon as we can," says Kendall. “We’re not discouraging our partners from starting that and we’re working with industry, and we’ll cooperate with them in that endeavour and try to set it up and join as soon as we’re able to under US law.”

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