The F-35 comes as one-seater only, making the need for simulators even bigger (Image © US Air Force)

The way of the F-35

It’s no surprise to anyone that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II needs every bit of encouraging news it gets. But when that good news immediately raises questions on its effect on the bad news, one wonders. Like when the US Department of Defense said on 19 March overall program cost were reduced by 7.5 billion USD, while at the same time alarming reports about the new 5th generation fighter aircraft keep popping up almost daily. So, what’s the way for the F-35?

Driving down costs by improving efficiency and installing a ‘cost war room’ has been a focus for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) for some time. This Thursday, the results came in: decreased contractor labor rates and lower subcontractor costs lead to a 2 percent saving over  a roughly 400 billion USD overall cost. As a result, the flyaway unit price of an F-35A comes down by 4 million USD to  an average of 104 million USD.

“The F-35 unit recurring flyaway (URF) costs have been going down with each successive lot of aircraft”, the JPO says. “Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney have track records for delivering the airframe and engine below government SAR estimates and we expect this trend to continue in the future. Affordability is the number one priority for the F-35 program and this year’s report reflects another year with significant cost reductions and we’re not stopping there.  We will continue to drive costs out of the program.”

Issues
That’s encouraging to hear, but less so when reports on safety, software, weapons and maintainability issues keep popping up at an alarming rate. Recent reports from the US Department of Defence Inspector General and Director of Operational Test and Evaluation revealed almost two dozen issues that seem unlikely to be resolved in the current testing and delivery schedule. Maybe the recent first offspring of the F-35 assembly line in Italy introduces some room in that schedule.

Deferring tests and solutions – as opponents of the program suggest is happening – surely is not the answer, but perhaps neither is a ‘number one priority’ focused on driving down cost. In the end, the F-35 will of course get where it wants to be, but not by efficiency alone. It requires some ingenious, effective measures, not solely driven by costs.

As the current international turmoil shows, organizing defense assets through economics leads to problems once the urgency shows itself. That’s not the way for the F-35 Lightning II.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A F-35 at Nellis (Image © US Air Force)

F-35B aircraft BF-4, piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Dan Levin, starts down the runway as part of wet runway and crosswind testing at Edwards AFB, California. (Image © Tom Reynolds / Lockheed Martin)
F-35B aircraft BF-4, piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Dan Levin, starts down the runway as part of wet runway and crosswind testing at Edwards AFB, California. (Image © Tom Reynolds / Lockheed Martin)
The first F-35C Lightning II for the US Marine Corps, photo released on 22 December 2014 F-35 highlights 2014 (Image © Lockheed Martin)
The first F-35C Lightning II for the US Marine Corps, photo released on 22 December 2014. (Image © Lockheed Martin)