The F-35 Lightning joint strike fighter (JSF) is being developed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the UK Royal Navy. The fighter is described as a "stealthy, supersonic, multirole fighter" which is being built "in three variants: (1) a conventional take-off and landing aircraft (CTOL) for the U.S. Air Force; (2) a carrier variant (CV) for the U.S. Navy; and (3) a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. (American Federation of Scientists, 2010) The concept demonstration phase is reported to have started in November 1996 when contracts were awarded to Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The contracts were made for the construction of demonstrator aircraft for three different configurations of the Joint Strike Fighter.
The research questions in this study include those as follows:
(1) Is this aircraft worth the money?
(2) Will they be able to replace the current war fighters we have in our inventory now?
(3) Is it necessary to replace the current proven inventory?
(4) Will the defense budget be able to support that 13 planes that are in production now?
(5) Will the F-35 be a good fit for all branches of the military?
The Defense Department reported November 22, 2010 that it has reviewed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, stated to be DOD's most expensive weapon. A defense acquisition board (DAB) is reported to have met at the Pentagon for the purpose of examining the project that has had continuous changes in order to meet deadlines and cost estimates. Estimates state that the cost of the F-35 is in excess of $380 billion. (Keyes, 2010, paraphrased) The program has experienced problems and despite "newly discovered issues of concern" it is stated that the program "will be the backbone of…[the] TACAIR (tactical air) for decades to come." (Keyes, 2010) There is stated to be "more software code to be written" that was originally anticipated. (Keyes, 2010)
It is reported by Wolf (2010) that the Pentagon announced that Lockheed Martin will be the producer of 10 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing models for the U.S. Air Force, 16 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants for the U.S. Marine Corps, four F-35C aircraft-carrier variants for the U.S. Navy and one F-35B for the British Navy…" (Wolf, 2010) Lockheed is the top supplier for the Pentagon by sales and previous production contracts are reported to have been "on a cost-plus basis, which lets a contractor shift certain overruns to the government." (Wolf, 2010) The Pentagon's top arms buyer, Ashton Carter along with other colleagues is reported to be preparing to "review the F-35 program as a prelude to determining its fiscal 2012 budget." (Wolf, 2010) The program has been projected at a cost of $382 billion for 2,443 aircraft over the next two decades." (Wolf, 2010) It is reported that Secretary Robert Gates "added 13 months to the program's development phase, withheld $614 million in potential award fees to Lockheed and fired the Marine Corps major general who ran it. " (Wolf, 2010)
It is reported that all versions of the F-35 have the "…same fuselage and internal weapons bay, common outer mold lines with similar structural geometries, identical wing sweeps, and comparable tail shapes. The weapons are stored in two parallel bays located aft of the main landing gear. The canopy, radar, ejection system, subsystems, and avionics are all common among all different version as is the core engine which is based on the F119 by Pratt & Whitney." (Federation of American Scientists, 2010) Additional systems on the F-35 are stated to include: (1) Northrup Grumman advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) multi-function radar; (2) Snader/Litton Amecon electronic countermeasures equipment; (3) Lockheed Martin electro-optical targeting system; (4) Northrup Grumman distributed aperture infrared sensor (DAIRS) thermal imaging system; and (5) Vision Systems International advanced helmet-mounted display. (Federation of American Scientists, 2010) The management structure of the program is shown in the following illustration labeled Figure 1.
JSF Management Program
Source: (JSF PSFD MOU, 2009)
It was recently reported that the Joint Strike Fighter "won't be able to move out of the development phase and into full production until 2016." (JSF PSFD MOU, 2009) The deal is stated to be due to "slower-than-expected progress in flight testing." (JSF PSFD MOU, 2009)
It is reported in the work of Gertler (2010) entitled "F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program: Background and Issues for Congress" states that the Senate Appropriations Committee funded 32 F-35s on September 16, 2010, which is 10 less than had been requested by the administration. (JSF PSFD MOU, 2009) The F-35 was "…conceived as a relatively affordable fifth-generation strike fighter4 that could be procured in three highly common versions for the Air Force, the Marine Corps, and the Navy, so that the three services could avoid the higher costs of developing, procuring, and operating and supporting three separate tactical aircraft designs to meet their similar but not identical operational needs." (Gertler, 2010) The following figure shows the 'FY2011 Funding request for the F-35 Program.
TY2011 Funding Request for F-35 Program
Source: (Gertler, 2010)
Another issue for Congress in regards to the F-35 program is related to the F-35 in terms of its affordability and specifically in regards to the "context of projected shortfalls in both Air Force fighters and Navy and Marine Corps strike fighters." (Gertler, 2010) The F-35 has put a strain on the resources of DOD because as the annual production rate increases "the program will require more than $10 billion per year in acquisition funding at the same time that DOD will face other budgetary challenges." (Gertler, 2010) It is stated that the issue of F-35 affordability is part of a larger and longstanding issue concerning the overall affordability of DOD's tactical aircraft modernization effort, which also includes procurement of F/A-18E/Fs (through FY2012, at least).80 Some observers who are concerned about the affordability of DOD's desired numbers of F-35s have suggested procuring upgraded F-16s as complements or substitutes for F-35As for the Air Force, and F/A-18E/Fs as complements or substitutes for F-35Cs for the Navy.81 F-35 supporters argue that F-16s and F/A-18E/Fs are less capable than the F-35, and that the F-35 is designed to have reduced life-cycle costs." (Gertler, 2010) The House is reported to have stated under Items of Special Interest in Aircraft Procurement that the budget request included $94.2 million for modification to the F-35 and that $86.6 million was for "the procurement of 25 kits to retrofit 25 low-rate initial productions (LRIP) F-35 A aircraft to the block three configuration." (JSF PSFD MOU, 2009) However, the F-35 schedule was recently revised and it is noted by the committee that completion to the development of block three hardware and software components will not be until 2015 therefore it is held that the request to procure kits to retrofit 25 LRIP F-35A aircraft to the block three configuration is premature." (Gertler, 2010) In addition, the recommendations for the committee were for $7.6 million, which is $86.6 million less than previously for funding modification to F35-A JSF.
It is reported that the budget request included the amount of $1,887.0 million in Aircraft Procurement, Navy (APN) to purchase 6 JFS aircraft for the Navy, $2,576.1 million in APN for 13 JSF aircraft for the Marine Corps, and $3,896.2 million in Aircraft Procurement, Air Force (APAF) for 22 JSF for the Air Force. (Gertler, 2010) Additionally, it is reported that the budget request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) includes $204.9 million in APAF for 1 F-35A to replace one legacy aircraft lost in combat operations." (Gertler, 2010) The Department is reported to have discovered significant problems in the F-35 contracting team performance in the areas of system development and the demonstration phase, which resulted in delays in testing development of the aircraft. Gertler, 2010 paraphrased)
Actions taken by the Department in restructuring the program include: (1) extending the development test schedule to March 2015; (2) adding additional research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) funds to pay for mitigating known risks; (3) buying another carrier variant developmental test aircraft and add another software integration line to the program; (4) using up to three aircraft procured under low-rate initial production (LRIP) contracts for developmental testing; (5) reducing procurement quantities over the future-years defense program (FYDP) to slow the planned production ramp up in later years and offset added funding for developmental testing; and (6) installing a new fee structure that would provide incentives for the contractor team to achieve key performance events and cost goals." (Gertler, 2010) Funding was approved by Congress in 2009 for 30 aircraft. The committee however holds that "a more modest ramp up in production to a total of 42 aircraft in the near-term would lessen that concurrently, while increasing the production rate from 30 aircraft to allow the program to demonstrate that the production processes and management system will support growing to higher levels later…