The US Air Force and the Pentagon's Joint Program Office are working to bridge the gap between their estimates of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's cost per flight hour and those of the manufacturer.
"I asked our acquisition workforce and our program office to get with the Lockheed Martin team and put these numbers side by side and figure out exactly what the differences were between the number we had thought and the number they had, to try and get at that problem," says Gen Mark Welsh, the USAF's new chief of staff.
"I think the folks in the programme office and the folks at Lockheed Martin are getting to a point where they understand exactly what the numbers are," Welsh says. "What number we're going to use, I don't know yet."
Welsh, though he did not have numbers on hand, says that the USAF is makes good progress. "We're getting to a point where we have a pretty good understanding of the cost per flying hour as we will define it in the air force," he says. "The numbers are going to be a little bit different for the Marines and the navy, and we're trying to kind of resolve all that, too, so we're comparing apples to apples."
Welsh adds that the service has also started to gather real world data on F-35 sustainment costs from training operations at Eglin AFB, Florida. "We are now getting actual data that we can track and add into this equation, which will be very helpful for us, I think," he says. "And that will get more and more definitive as we fly more and more aircraft."
US Air Force Secretary Michael Donley adds the simulation technology might be able to reduce the number of flight hours needed by F-35 pilots, which could further decrease costs. "The F-35 simulator is the most sophisticated simulator that we have in the fighter world now," he says. "So it provides a great opportunity to look more carefully at how we divide actual flying hours from sim time. In some other areas this can be more challenging if the simulators have not kept up or the ranges have not kept up with modern technologies. In this case, we have a very modern simulator so there is some advantages we'll need to take advantage of there."