Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR Feb 2014 Contents 24 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter FEB 2014
hy then, does the RAAF continue
to insist that it needs to buy at least
72 fifth generation F-35A Lightning
II multi-role aircraft, in a project
which could cost up to $15 billion? This complete
three squadron capability seems unlikely to eventuate
operationally before the late 2020s.
The best answer has come from USAF General
Mike Hostage, Commander Air Combat Command.
“A fourth generation aircraft meeting a fifth generation
aircraft in combat may be cost effective, but it will be
dead before it ever knows it is in a fight.“
APDR visited the Fort Worth, Texas F-35 production
facility and test flight line, late last year. There was a very
thorough briefing on the F-35 program, including frank
acknowledgement of some past problems, a simulator
demonstration, golf buggy tour of the production line
including seeing the wings of Australia’s first two
aircraft, and a visit to the flight line for a briefing by
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Chief Test Pilot.
Since then, Lockheed Martin’s team have kept
APDR updated with a monthly summary of program
achievements, together with information releases on
testing highlights as they occur.
APDR now possesses the same unclassified F-35
current information as the Australian government.
Was the visit impressive? It certainly was.
The F-35 program has had bad press and many
challenges in recent years, but based on what APDR
saw and heard all three F-35 aircraft variants are
now on track, although there are still some years of
development and testing ahead.
“We were overly optimistic on the design complexity
of the aeroplane and the disruption of doing design
development and flight test at the same time,” Steve
O’Bryan, vice-president F-35 Program Integration and
Business Development, told APDR during the Fort
“We were also overly optimistic on the software
build times, so four years ago we reset it, added
resources to the development program, re-baselined
it, put a new schedule out and basically since that time
we have been on time and on schedule.
“There are still challenges in there. It is a development
program, we find things, we fix them, we move on.
Generally speaking, the challenges we find are rapidly
decreasing in complexity and disruption.”
In a further show of confidence for the F-35 aircraft,
beyond the 71 planes which were contracted in
September 2013 for Low Rate of Initial Production
(LRIP) 6 and 7, the US government is poised for
expanded production in fiscal 2015, according to the
Pentagon’s top weapons buyer.
‘While risks remain, progress on the F-35 program
at this point has been adequate to support a decision
to budget for increased rates,’ Frank Kendall,
Undersecretary for Defense Acquisition, Technology
and Logistics, wrote in a 28th October 2013 decision
memo to the Air Force and Navy Secretaries.
Kendall noted that the award of annual contracts for
increased quantities is contingent on available funding,
improvements in software development and reliability
which he wrote, taking the big stick to Lockheed
Martin, ‘is not growing at an acceptable rate.’
When the 100th F-35 rolled off the production
line in December, 44 had been USAF variants, 42
the US Marine Corps STOVL variant, and 14 the US
Navy strengthened version for carrier landings. They
have been sent to air bases for Operational Test and
Evaluation activities, while a further 20 are at these
bases for Systems Development and Demonstration
(SDD) testing and development. Five of the aircraft
Australia received 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet Block II aircraft during 2010-2011 to equip its first RAAF ‘Rhino’ combat squadron.
A senior RAAF officer told an audience at the Avalon Air Show 2013 that this was probably the smoothest introduction into
RAAF service of any new type of aircraft. 12 E/A-18G electronic warfare Growlers were ordered in May 2013. Now Defence
has a letter of request to US Government FMS seeking pricing and other information for potentially ordering another 24 Super
Hornets, 12 of them in the Growler configuration. They could easily last in service until 2030 and beyond.
F-35 LIGHTNING II PROGRAM
STARTING TO MAKE GOOD PROGRESS
GEOFF SLOCOMBE // FORT WORTH, TX USA
An F-35C Lightning II from the Grim Reapers of Strike
Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 undergoes pre-flight
avionics diagnostics by Lockheed Martin technicians.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist
2nd Class Juan Pinalez/Released)
JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER
28/01/14 3:21 PM
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