Tuesday, June 27, 2017

F-35 LIGHTNING II: STILL TROUBLED AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Still not ready for primetime...
Fans of the F-35 have had to put up with a deluge of good news and bad news stories the last few months.

First, the good news:

After a troubled development, the JSF has now considered to be in operational service with the USAF declaring its initial operating capability (IOC) in August of last year.  The F-35 can no longer be in "development hell"...  Sort of. 

Costs have gone down as well, with the latest batch of F-35s bringing the unit cost of the CTOL F-35A down to a reasonable $95 million*.  (More on the "*" later.)

As if to perform a mic drop on all this, an aerobatic performance at the Paris air show put to rest any criticisms that the F-35 cannot maneuver, accelerate, or climb.  Piloted by Lockheed Martin test pilot (and former RCAF CF-18 pilot) Billie Flynn, the JSF performed a flawless routine.  It even attracted the attention of zee Germans, who have thus far declined any participation in the JSF program.

Not bad.


Watch the vid...  It syncs up.  Just like Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon
  

So...  I guess that settles it then.  The F-35 has finally redeemed itself, silenced its haters, and is well on its way to being the uberfighter it was intended to be.  Right?

There is some bad news.

While the JSF may have entered IOC, it is still far from being ready for primetime.  Over the last month, the F-35 has been grounded not once, but twice.

F-35 operations were halted at Luke Air Force base due to pilots suffering from oxygen deprivation.  Unfortunately, the JSF is not alone having issues with its OBOGS (onboard oxygen generating system).  Similar issues have plagued the F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and even the humble T-45 Goshawk trainer.

(What is it with American fighter aircraft and oxygen systems?)

If that was not enough, shortly after returning to service, the F-35 was grounded again.  This time, the grounding only affected USMC F-35Bs stationed in Yuma, Arizona. This latest issue was due to a problem with the JSF's Automated Logistics Information System (ALIS).  This problem was resolved rather quickly but it is still problematic that an entire squadron was rendered inoperable thanks to little more than a software glitch.

But what about that lower price tag?

While the plan to lower the F-35's procurement cost down to $85 million per unit may finally seem achievable, this does not include the added costs to develop, test it, and maintain it.  Nor does that price tag include any needed modifications to fix current issues.

Then there is the real kicker.  Procurement costs are only the tip of the iceberg.  The real expense is invoked in the cost to operate.  This includes long-term maintenance, fuel, and other consumables.  Latest (2016) estimates place the F-35A's cost per flight hour at nearly triple that of the Super Hornet.

Buy the razor for $15...  Then buy 4 replacement cartridges for $25.

Lockheed Martin may be on track to replicate the business strategy of Gillette.  In this well-known business strategy, a low entry price (i.e. the razor handle and a couple of blades) entices buyers.  Those buyers are then forced to purchase proprietary (and highly marked up) blade cartridges.

Like your typical five-bladed razor, the JSF utilizes proprietary hardware (and software).  This ensures that all future maintenance and upgrades need to go through them.  F-35 users will be beholden to the brand with little choice once they commit.

Surely it is all worth it to be on the forefront of fighter technology?  Right?

It turns out that all that tech is not all it has been promised to be.  In its latest report, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) cited multiple issues with the F-35's EOTS, DAS, MADL, and just about anything else with a fancy acronym.

At least the F-35 is finally capable of performing in front of a show crowd.  At least there is that.  For comparison, here is a demonstration performed by a Dassault Rafale at the same show.


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