On the same day Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the world he was
putting the Marines F-35B short-takeoff-vertical-landing model on
probation for lack of progress, a small bit of progress was made.
Lockheed Martin said flight test airplane BF-2 made its first
vertical landing on Thursday at the Navy's Patuxent River, Md. test
center. It is the second F-35B test aircraft to accomplish a vertical
landing. BF-1 (pictured above) did it in March.
Piloted by Marine Lt. Col. Fred Schenk, the aircraft made a one hour
flight that included: one conventional takeoff; three short takeoffs;
three slow landings; two hovers and the vertical landing.
Lockheed spokesman John Kent said Schenk indicated that BF-2 handled
very much like BF-1. A good thing, one would think. A second flight was
scheduled for Friday.
The initial operational capability date for the U.S. Air Force
version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is likely to slip due to
recent program changes to help right the troubled tri-service effort,
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said during an Air Force
Association-sponsored breakfast with reporters Jan. 12.
think that's implied with the additional dollars and time required in
system development," Donley said when asked whether the recent
restructuring would delay the in-service date.
Donley did not elaborate, but said additional details would follow.
F-35 program was recently restructured after a detailed Technical
Baseline Review (TBR) by Defense Department procurement chief Ashton
Carter and new JSF program manager Vice Adm. David Venlet concluded that
additional time and funding is required to complete development.
review's most significant decision was to put the U.S. Marine Corps
vertical landing F-35B variant, which is the most technically challenged
version, on a two-year probationary period, Donley said.
A series of five vertical landings over eight days shows that the
troubled F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is getting back on track, analysts
The tests, performed between Jan. 6 and 13, are among the 42
that must be completed before the aircraft can be tested at sea onboard
an amphibious assault ship.
The 2011 schedule for F-35 flight
testing has yet to be finalized, said John Kent, a spokesman for F-35
prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
Prior to Jan. 6, short take-off
and vertical-landing operations had been suspended due to problems with
doors located on the upper surface of the aircraft.
? Lockheed says it?s fixed key F-35B issue
Analysts agreed that this series of vertical landings signals the
problematic vertical landing variant is starting to recover from a
series of technical glitches that resulted in schedule slips and the
redesigns of some ancillary equipment and structural elements of the
aircraft. These elements include components in the propulsion system, an
insufficiently robust structural bulkhead and hinges on some doors on
the top surface of the aircraft.
?I think it does [signal that the
program is getting back on track]. This program has never been quite as
troubled as many critics thought. I think it?s probably progressed more
smoothly than other fighter development program with the possible
exception of the F-16,? said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington
Institute, Arlington, Va. The F-16?s development proceeded so smoothly
because of the simple nature of the original version of that aircraft,
Comparatively, the earlier development of Lockheed
Martin?s other fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, faced far
greater difficulties, Thompson said. He said that the challenges faced
by the F-35 are common teething problems encountered in most
?Lockheed Martin, they definitely learned
from the F-22 experience. The Air Force is sort of vindicated in taking
an F-35 design that based in large part on the F-22 system,? Thompson
Analyst Richard Aboulafia at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va.,
said that the technical challenges facing the F-35 can be turned around
within the two-year probationary span allotted by Defense Secretary
Robert Gates to fix the program.
?The problem with this program, given two years of leeway, is not technological. It?s budgetary and political,? he said.
Air Force conventional take-off version and Navy carrier variant are
doing well in testing, both Aboulafia and Thompson said. Both variants
are ahead of schedule in their flight tests.
fighter jet, set to replace a large part of the US warplane fleet, has
become the most expensive weapons program ever, drawing increased
scrutiny at a time of tight public finances.
Following a series of
cost overruns and delays, the program is now expected to cost a
whopping 382 billion dollars, for 2,443 aircraft.
5th generation fighter was built with features designed to help avoid
enemy radar and ensure American supremacy in the skies for decades.
there is now the potential for competition from China, which this week
unveiled its first radar-evading combat aircraft and fueled a sense of a
military rivalry between the two powers.
At home, the Lockheed Martin F-35 is getting increased criticism even from some at the Pentagon.
Defense officials say the original cost estimates have now doubled to make each plane's price tag reach some 92 million dollars.
the same time, the contract awarded in 2001 had been planned to last 10
years, but has been extended to 2016 because of testing and design
Lockheed Martin, which is working with Northrop Grumman
and BAE Systems, is developing three versions of the aircraft, which are
being designed for ground attack as well as reconnaissance missions.
The F-35A is designed to replace the F-16 and A-10 of the US Air Force,
while the F-35C is designed for deployment on aircraft carriers to
supplant to F-18, and the F-35B would have a vertical takeoff capacity
and replace Harrier aircraft.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates
has warned the cost overruns cannot continue and expressed particular
concern over the short take-off and vertical landing variant.
"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint," he said recently.
the short-takeoff version, Gates has ordered "the equivalent of a
two-year probation," adding that "if we cannot fix this variant during
this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost
and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled."
As part of a
cost-saving drive, the Pentagon chief has decided to delay the purchase
of 124 of the 449 units of this version until 2016.
of contention is a second engine being developed for the fighter by
General Electric and Rolls Royce in case the Pratt & Whitney engine
is not up to par. Gates contends this second engine is "unneeded."
Private analysts say the whole F-35 program is becoming a money pit.
incredibly unfortunate phrase 'too big to fail' applies to this
aircraft more than any other defense program," said Richard Aboulafia,
an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group.
to think of a civil or military program in the past decade that hasn't
experienced similar delays and cost overruns."
Still, it may be
hard to make many changes to the F-35 program because Britain and seven
other countries have been closely involved in its development.
United States is covering 90 percent of the cost of the development but
has participation from Britain, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada,
Denmark, Norway and Australia.
Other nations, including Israel and Singapore, have signed contracts to buy the plane.
"The US wants a globalized JSF program for a combination of strategic and economic reasons," said Aboulafia.
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