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Two jet fighter squadrons with crews of 500 officers and enlisted men and women are in line to move from the East Coast to Lemoore Naval Air Station, probably in spring 2014, the Navy said last Friday, Oct. 21.
An environmental assessment, which was made public Friday, determined that relocating two squadrons from Virginia to Lemoore would have no significant impacts. The assessment removes a major hurdle in possibly relocating the squadrons.
Navy Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., wants to move the two 12-jet squadrons west to be closer to Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, and Lemoore is the best place because of its status as the Navy’s West Coast master jet base, the environmental assessment said.
The Navy also is considering reducing the number of jets assigned to a Lemoore training squadron, which would lead to a slight reduction in fighter jets at the base.
The Navy will make a final decision on the move by 2014, said Ted Brown, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command.
The move would pump $1.9 million in salaries annually into the Valley’s economy, the report said.
Maureen Azevedo, CEO of the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, hailed the potential move as “an awesome thing” for Lemoore, as well as Kings, Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties.
However welcoming the prospect of the relocations might be for Lemoore boosters, the looming question of where the next generation of jet fighters — 100 Navy F-35C Joint Striker Fighter jets — will be based remains up in the air.
An environmental-impact statement is being prepared to evaluate both Lemoore and an air base in El Centro in Imperial County, with a recommendation slated to be released in 2013.
But the announcement that the path is cleared for two new squadrons — which ones haven’t been determined yet — to make Lemoore their home “strengthens the viability of this base,” said John Lehn, president and CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp.
The squadrons would move west from the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia. They would fly F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, said Melinda Larson, Lemoore base spokeswoman.
That’s not the only change the Navy is moving toward. According to the environmental assessment, five squadrons at Lemoore would have their older F/A-18C Hornet jet fighters retired and replaced by Super Hornets, and a squadron assigned to train pilots would lose 30 older Hornets that won’t be replaced.
But the smaller training squadron would be more than offset by the two new squadrons, resulting in 180 more uniformed military at the base, Larson said.
The number of takeoffs and landings and other air operations at the Lemoore base would be cut by about 24% because there would be fewer jets in the training squadron. But the total number of fighter jets at Lemoore will be about the same, dipping from 238 to 234.
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Rolls-Royce will next week deliver the first production-standard F-35B lift fan to be built at its purpose-built lift fan assembly site here.
The $13 million facility was completed in March 2010, but until now has been making components for lift fans as part of the buildup to making the first complete module. The lift fan will be the 12th production unit to be delivered overall.
The site also will supply vane boxes, which form the exit through which air from the lift fan is vectored. As these units are structural parts of the airframe, deliveries run up to 18 months ahead of the lift fan. To date, Rolls has delivered 17 production-standard vane boxes to Northrop Grumman’s fuselage assembly line in Palmdale, Calif. Lift fan modules are sent directly to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 final assembly facility in Fort Worth.
The state-of-the-art lift fan facility is sized for up to seven units per month with one shift, but can provide more in a surge situation. Rolls’ Lift Fan Program Director Gregg Pyers says the company is halfway through deliveries of lift fans ordered for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 3 and has all but one vane box still to deliver under LRIP 4.
Pyers says Rolls is working to meet the cost challenge imposed on the F-35B short take-off-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) effort. These include the probation period on the Stovl jet instigated by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as a result of test issues in 2010, as well as smaller overall production resulting from the U.K.’s switch to conventional takeoff F-35C models. “Reduction on volume creates an additional challenge and we are working to offset that,” Pyers says. “But the bottom line is you have lower economies of scale and that’s a cost to overcome. We are working very aggressively but it will be very challenging to remain cost-neutral.”
Slightly more than 400 F-35Bs are currently listed in the provisional orderbook, with around 340 earmarked for the Marine Corps and the balance for Italy. However, additional countries, including Singapore, are expressing interest in the Stovl version, which may help grow overall numbers.
Improvements to the lift system identified as among the problems that led to the probation are also being introduced. Upgrades to the clutch thermal management and driveshaft spacer redesigns will be the first items through the F-35 engineering control board, Pyers says. Evaluation of improvements to the roll posts will take place in December.
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For the first time in the history of the Joint Strike Fighter program, a senior Pentagon appointee has raised the question of whether one of the three versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 should be canceled to save money. The move comes as program leaders and Pentagon cost experts are trying to prepare for a long-delayed Defense Acquisition Board review of JSF, including a comprehensive effort to establish reliable predictions of acquisition and operating costs.
Navy Undersecretary Robert Work told the Navy and Marine Corps in July to provide lower-cost alternatives to the Navy’s current tactical aviation plan, and to examine the consequences of terminating either the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version or the carrier-compatible F-35C. Work is seeking decisions in time for the 2013 budget submission.
He also directed service leaders to study whether the Navy and Marines could operate fewer than the 40 squadrons of JSFs currently planned (supported by 680 aircraft, divided equally between Bs and Cs) and to look at the possibility of accelerating development of unmanned alternative systems.
The instructions were included in a July 7 memo from Work to Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Work told the leaders to form a team to develop three alternative tactical aviation force structures, respectively representing cost savings of $5 billion, $7.5 billion and $10 billion across the future-years defense plan. Ultimately, Work expects to determine “the best value alternative, factoring in both cost and capability.”
“This relook must consider every plan and program,” Work wrote. “Even cuts to long-planned buys of JSF must be on the table.” The team was also tasked to define “the key performance differences between the Block II F/A-18E/F with all planned upgrades, F-35B and F-35C.”
The quick-look analysis was due to be completed three weeks after the memo date; that is, by July 28. That was also the date on which Marine leadership organized a high-profile demonstration of the F-35B’s Stovl capability at the Navy’s Patuxent River, Md., flight test center.
Under Work’s leadership, the Marines and the Navy signed an agreement in March under which the Marines would operate 80 F-35Cs and 340 F-35Bs. Earlier, the Marines had argued that all 420 of their JSFs should be F-35Bs.
Work did not direct the team to assess the economic or operational impact of F-35 program changes on the Air Force or international partners. A reduction in Navy Department orders for both the F-35B and F-35C would increase unit costs. Canceling either version would eliminate some remaining development costs, mostly in flight test, and could lead to increased production of the surviving variant.
The largest international JSF partner, the U.K., changed its plans in October 2010, switching from the B to the C model. If the F-35C were to be canceled, the U.K. would withdraw from the program and “look for a European solution” to its requirement for a carrier fighter, a senior U.K. official said in Washington earlier this month. Italy is the only international partner that plans to operate the F-35B.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the memo, saying that it was an internal Navy document. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) had no immediate comment.
As an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Work coauthored studies that supported the case for early development of a carrier-based unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with greater range and better stealth characteristics than the F-35.
Currently, there is a debate in Washington about the characteristics of a future Navy UCAV system. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. is still proposing the 15,000-lb. weight class, moderately stealthy Avenger design, while Northrop Grumman confirmed earlier this month that it would be proposing a design similar to its larger and stealthier X-47B. The latter would potentially fill some of the deep-penetration missions that the F-35C is intended to perform.
Boeing, meanwhile, is continuing to work on an improved version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which would reduce capability and performance gaps between it and the F-35C. The company plans to conduct wind-tunnel tests, late this year or early next, of the conformal tanks, which add 3,000 lb. of fuel, and a centerline weapons pod. General Electric is also offering an Enhanced Performance Engine variant of the Super Hornet’s F414, increasing thrust by as much as 25%.
The F-35B variant remains on probation, under a decree issued by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. Gates said at the time that problems affecting the aircraft—including the need for a redesigned lift-fan door, driveshaft and clutch mechanisms—would have to be solved without increases in cost or weight. The U.K. government said, in switching from the B to the C variant, that the Stovl aircraft cost more than either the F-35A or F-35C, and U.K. government reports repeatedly described the F-35B’s “bring-back” performance—its ability to land vertically with fuel reserves and unused weapons—as marginal.
Last year, Work suggested in remarks to a Washington forum that forward basing and refueling on improvised airstrips—one of two pillars of the Marine case for the F-35B—would become much more hazardous in the presence of G-RAMM (guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles) threats.
The F-35B’s basing flexibility is also being called into question by unresolved issues about the effects of the fighter’s hot, high-velocity exhaust on ground and deck surfaces. Lockheed Martin and senior Marine leaders have downplayed these issues, stated that the environment under a landing F-35B is almost identical to that of an AV-8B Harrier, and claimed that early 2010 tests confirmed these characteristics.
Navy construction specifications continue to warn that the F-35B will impose temperatures as high as 1700F (several hundred degrees higher than a Harrier exhaust) on vertical-landing pads, with a transonic exhaust velocity. This is enough to cause standard concrete to “spall”—that is, shed surface flakes in a near-explosive manner—with a 50% chance of damage on the first landing.
Navy standards require F-35B landing pads to comprise 100 X 100-ft. slabs of special heat-resistant concrete, poured in one piece and continuously reinforced in two directions. At least one contract has been issued to these specifications since early 2010, when Lockheed Martin asserted that such measures were not necessary.
The Office of Naval Research still has an active program to develop a cooling system for the decks of LHD- and LHA-class ships that will carry F-35Bs, reflecting concerns that thermal expansion and contraction and consequent buckling will cause fatigue and premature failure.
The JPO has not responded to repeated inquiries about the discrepancies between Lockheed Martin’s statements and Navy specifications. Navy engineering organizations have referred all queries to the JPO.
The Defense Acquisition Board review is required in order to renew Milestone B approval of the JSF development and low-rate initial production program—granted in 2001 but rescinded automatically after last year’s critical breach of Nunn-McCurdy cost limits. In May, the review was expected in June, but it was abruptly delayed into the fall.
Any changes in the Navy’s plans will also factor into the board’s review. Among other factors being considered is a trend among international partners to delay deliveries, driven by last year’s slip in the completion of development testing, which will have an impact on production rates, ramp-up plans and costs.
JSF test aircraft were cleared to return to flight on Aug. 18, after a two-week grounding caused by a failure in the integrated power pack (IPP). Production aircraft, including two at Eglin AFB, Fla., and F-35s being prepared for delivery at Fort Worth, remain grounded and restricted from engine and IPP runs.
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The F-35 integrated test force completed jet blast deflector (JBD) testing at the NAVAIR facility in Lakehurst, N.J. Aug. 13 with a round of two-aircraft testing.F-35C test aircraft CF-1 along with an F/A-18E tested a combined JBD cooling panel configuration to assess the integration of F-35s in aircraft carrier launch operations.
“We completed all of our JBD test points efficiently,” said Andrew Maack, government chief test engineer. “It was a great collaborative effort by all parties.”
The government and industry team completed tests that measured temperatures, pressures, sound levels, velocities, and other environmental data. The combined JBD model will enable carrier deck crews to operate all air wing aircraft, now including the F-35C, as operational tempo requires.
Future carrier suitability testing is scheduled throughout this year, including ongoing catapult testing and the start of arrestment testing in preparation for initial ship trials in 2013.
With this, the F-35C is another step closer to initial ship trials on an aircraft carrier at sea.
The F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants with its larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for catapult launch, slower landing approach speeds, and deck impacts associated with the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment.
Story and Photo: NAVAIR
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The entire fleet of 20 F-35s have been grounded following the failure of the integrated power package (IPP) on AF-4 at Edwards Air Force Base on Tuesday. The Joint Programme Office (JPO) investigates the cause of a failure in the aircraft’s electrical system during ground tests.
According to a statement from JPO, the failure occurred on an F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) test aircraft, numbered AF-4, but the precautionary grounding applies to all 20 F-35s that had reached flying status.
“Once the facts are understood, a determination will be made when to lift the suspension and begin ground and flight operations,” the JPO said.
In this case, the Honeywell-built integrated power package (IPP) failed during a standard engine test following a maintenance check at 08:30 on 2 August, the JPO said.
The IPP is primarily used as both a starter for the engine and a back-up electrical system, supporting the two main generators. In March, the IPP proved its worth by activating after both generators shut-down with the AF-4 still in flight. The power generated by the IPP allowed the flight control system to keep operating until the pilot landed.
The incident marks the third grounding order for the F-35 fleet since last October, and the second in five months involving the AF-4 test aircraft.
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The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office deputy director expressed confidence in the progress of the JSF program at an Air Force Association breakfast program last week. The upgrades and acquisitions, particularly the completion of the new Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., training facility, helps to advance the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II program, said Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore.
“The F-35 is at the nexus of concurrency where we are building production aircraft, conducting developmental tests, and starting to build a cadre of future Joint Strike Fighter maintainers and pilots,” Moore said.
Moore described plans for Pilot Training Center-1, a future facility where the services and their international partners will be able to train and interact. The location of the center has not been determined.
The general reported that F-35 flight science testing is making good progress at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The program is building mission avionics confidence with Block 1 software. Also, AF-6 and AF-7 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft are completing maturity flights to strengthen and verify the training syllabus that will be used at Eglin AFB.
Building momentum and maintaining affordability will ensure the JSF program’s longevity into 2035 and beyond, he said.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office is the Department of Defense’s agency responsible for developing and acquiring the F-35A/B/C, the next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and many allied nations.
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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is becoming a popular subject on Twitter, thanks in part to a tweet from Sen. John McCain.
“Congress notified that first F-35 jets have cost overruns of $771M. Outrageous! Pentagon asking for $264M down payment now. Disgraceful”, says a post of Sen. McCain sounded on Tuesday.
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. took to Twitter Wednesday in defense of the program. “The F-35 team is focused on reducing costs of the jets and is showing significant improvement in key areas,” the company said in a post Wednesday afternoon. The tweet included a link to recent Senate testimony by Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s F-35 program manager.
In reply, Sen. McCain wrote: “To most observers, a $771M cost overrun for 28 F-35s doesn’t qualify as ‘significant improvement.’ Taxpayers deserve better.”
A defense official said Congress was informed about the request to shift funds to cover F-35 cost overruns back in May. Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said cost increases on early production models were due in part to design changes that had to be incorporated after early testing of the aircraft.
This, incidentally, isn’t the first time the F-35 has come under fire from Sen. McCain. In a May hearing, the senator complained about the “jaw-dropping” price tag for sustaining the fleet of stealthy aircraft over several decades.The company is currently in negotiations with the government over the price for a batch of 35 of the airplanes.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
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The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was not supposed to live this long. But with the latest slippages in the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and aging fighter forces worldwide, Boeing talks about stretching production to 1,000 aircraft and keeping the line open to the end of the decade, despite the recent loss in India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition. The program is close to 700 aircraft, including 41 additional U.S. Navy aircraft announced this year to mitigate JSF delays.
Active campaigns include Brazil and Denmark. A Middle Eastern customer—possibly Kuwait—has expressed interest. The Super Hornet is Boeing’s candidate for the next Japanese fighter order, competing with the Eurofighter Typhoon and JSF. The idea of another Super Hornet buy is being mooted in Australia, which could face a front-line fighter gap if the JSF slips further. Boeing says a number of JSF partners have asked for information on the Super Hornet.
Boeing’s strategy is not to initiate comparisons with JSF, although Boeing Military Aircraft President Chris Chadwick called Lockheed Martin on the mat in May for what he termed “fundamentally untrue” statements about the Super Hornet’s price. However, Boeing never talks about its product without pointing out that it offers “date and cost-certain” capabilities and that all Super Hornets and Growlers have been delivered on cost, and on or ahead of schedule. Recently, Chadwick suggested that the JSF “might become a niche fighter” on the international market because of its cost.
More details have emerged about the “international roadmap” features that have been disclosed piece-by-piece over the past year. The most visible are the conformal fuel tanks (CFT) above the body and the low-radar-cross-section (RCS) centerline weapons pod. Those are to be wind tunnel-tested this year, with a decision on a flight-test program to follow.
The CFTs carry 3,200 lb. of fuel. Boeing says they have no net drag at cruising speed, because they reduce trim drag enough to offset their added frontal area. As a result, a configuration with CFTs and a centerline tank delivers as much range as a three-tank configuration today. The weapon pod carries four AIM-120 missiles, a 2,000-lb. bomb or two 500-lb.-class weapons.
Transonic acceleration and specific excess power, particularly when temperatures at altitude are high, were criticized on the Super Hornet when it entered service. A roadmap option is an enhanced-performance engine (EPE) variant of the General Electric F414, offering up to a 20% thrust boost. That would take the EPE to 26,500 lb. of thrust, giving it the best thrust/weight ratio of any fighter engine—almost 11:1. It has a new core, based on demonstrations conducted with U.S. government funds in 2004 and 2006, and a redesigned fan and compressor. A third test engine was run in 2010.
GE says that it has developed 17 new or derivative engines successfully from the same technology readiness level. Unfortunately, India did not accept that argument.
Also on the roadmap menu is a spherical-coverage missile-approach warning system and an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system in a chin pod. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are working on a repackaged, updated version of the AAS-42 IRST (originally developed in the 1980s for the Grumman F-14D) for the Navy’s Hornet fleet, carried in a modified fuel tank. Boeing is open to other options for the international aircraft. (Japan, for instance, has its own domestic IRST technology on the F-15J Kai upgrade.)
Inside the cockpit, a new option is a big-screen display comprising an 11 X 19-in. panel, which could be flight-tested next year. Based on commercial technology, the panel is a hedge against obsolescence and a potential cost-saver as well as offering options for new display formats. A low-profile head-up display using digital LCD projection eliminates the big optical box that previously ruled out a panoramic display.
Boeing has been taking a working model of the big-screen cockpit to trade shows and bases worldwide, both to promote it and to get pilot reactions to conceptual display formats.
Although Boeing is careful to keep the “international” label attached to the new options, they are all designed for retrofit to Block 2 aircraft, all but 24 of which belong to the U.S. Navy. And while the modified aircraft will not directly match the F-35C in signatures, it closes the gap in RCS and range (with the CFTs), is lighter and more powerful, and current estimates say it will be less expensive to buy and operate.
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Seven airmen from the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing are at Naval Air Station Patuxent River for 75 days to gain first-hand experience maintaining the F-35B and F-35C variants, while those aircraft continue flight test and evaluation. They are the second group from the Wing to visit the F-35 test facility at Pax River.
Lockheed Martin is scheduled to deliver the F-35A aircraft AF-8 to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and the first joint training squadron later this year.
“It is beneficial working around the F-35B and F35-C variants,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Weaver, crew chief, and member of the 33rd Fighter Wing. “With this being a joint program, we learn a lot about how each branch handles maintenance. We are learning how the Marines operate, how the Navy operates, and sharing how we operate.”
“The C and A variants have a lot of the same systems, but some of the parts are in different locations,” said Weaver. He serves as the lead Air Force maintainer and production supervisor over the day-to-day activities on a flight line. He was also instrumental in the stand-up of the training wing at Eglin.
Eager to know what to expect before AF-8 arrives at Eglin, the maintainers volunteered for this assignment.
Tech. Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, armament specialist, and a quality assurance specialist, is here to gain knowledge of how the Lockheed Martin team performs maintenance. He will be responsible for overseeing the contractor-performed maintenance for AF-8 at Eglin. While there are no weapons being tested yet, Aguirre is the only armament specialist in the Air Force to work directly on the F-35.
“We are the eyes and ears for the group,” said Aguirre. And from what he has seen so far, “from a maintenance perspective, the JSF is user-friendly.”
“Procedures require that we start small,” said Tech. Sgt. Lucas Delk, crew chief, who performs similar duties to the Navy’s plane captain. “It is real exciting to see the F-35, and get hands-on experience.”
Delk noted minor differences between the Air Force and Navy’s carrier variants, but said “the meat and the potatoes are the same.”
Weaver’s team looks for any opportunity to get their hands dirty, and when they cannot, they are watching and gaining knowledge. “There is always work going on,” he said.
The AF-8 test asset is currently in Fort Worth, Texas, undergoing airworthiness testing prior to transfer to Eglin. The F-35A conventional take-off and landing model is undergoing testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Source: U.S. Navy
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The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strike fighter picture will become clearer under an updated inter-service agreement set to be signed March 14, according to a senior defense official.
The Tactical Air memorandum of understanding ratifies the Navy Department’s plan to buy 680 F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters (JSF), and details the exact mix of variants and who will fly them. Of the total, 260 will be Navy F-35C carrier-based aircraft, 80 will be Marine F-35Cs, and 340 will be Marine F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) planes.
The agreement also reaffirms that Marine F-35Bs and F-35Cs will continue to rotate in and out of deploying carrier air wings, sharing commitments with Navy F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and F-35Cs.
The agreement formalizes an earlier decision not to deploy F-35Bs from carriers, but rather to have all Marine squadrons deploying on carriers flying the same C version as their Navy compatriots. The STOVLs will operate from land bases and amphibious ships.
The first Navy F-35C carrier squadron is set to stand up in December 2015, with the first Marine F-35C squadron following a year later.
By the mid-2020s, according to Navy planners, each carrier air wing will include two Super Hornet squadrons and two Lightning II squadrons. Every fourth F-35C squadron will be a Marine unit.
The Navy continues to plan for a fleet of 10 carrier air wings, with 44 strike fighters per wing, organized into 10- and 12-plane squadrons. The Navy will field 35 strike fighter squadrons composed of Super Hornets or F-35Cs, and the Marines will field five F-35C squadrons.