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Lockheed Martin continues to struggle with some parts reliability issues affecting the Harrier replacement so short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) F-35 testing will force slippage in the 2012 in-service date for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president for F-35 program integration, states that 251 Stovl flights are expected by the end of this year. And at the end of August, 122 were executed of 153 that should have been conducted by that time. “Where we are short is in some specific testing, mostly in Stovl vertical landing unique test points,” said Burbage.
During a teleconference this month with investors, Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens to acknowledge a potential “re-phasing” for the Stovl flight-test plan. Acknowledging the restructuring to the program announced this year, Stevens adds that “the early corrective actions . . . are showing some beneficial outcomes [but] my sense is that it is not going to be enough.” The multinational Joint Strike Fighter will eventually comprise the lion’s share of the company’s profits.
The Marine Corps, however, stands by its plans to declare initial operational capability (IOC) with a Block II F-35 in 2012. The U.S. Air Force and Navy are expecting to declare their aircraft operational in 2016.
However, further delays in Stovl testing could have a dangerous ripple effect on the program. There is little margin to ensure that enough of the flight-testing envelope and software work will be ready to allow pilots to begin training in time for a 2012 IOC. Officials at the training center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, say they expect their first Block II aircraft to arrive in spring 2012.
Much of this ongoing delay is a result of parts reliability problems for BF-01, the only Stovl test aircraft instrumented to conduct vertical landing trials. BF-01 is needed to clear the envelope for vertical landing, after which other Stovl aircraft can contribute to more flight testing. Five vertical landings were executed in August. Ten have been done since the first one in March. Also, last month 26 Stovl flights were conducted, the most in any month to date, Burbage says.
F-35B Thrust Vectoring Nozzle and Lift Fan
About 80% of the parts on the aircraft have completed qualification requirements. Of those, 100% passed for safety-of-flight; half were deemed suitable for the life of the aircraft. The remainder must be redesigned.
Burbage says the target-sortie-generation rate for each test aircraft is 13 flights per month. Last month, each aircraft averaged six.
While each parts supplier is responsible for designing parts to withstand the stresses of vertical flight for the life of the aircraft, it is the prime contractor’s responsibility to ensure that the aircraft as a whole meets its requirements. There are “some parts that just fail when you get them on the aircraft until you understand the root cause,” Burbage says, noting that experts are still characterizing the thermal and acoustic environment for these specific items during vertical landings.
Meanwhile, government officials are conducting a thorough independent technical baseline review for the entire program, which includes the conventional-takeoff-and-landing and carrier variant aircraft. This is due to the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board in November.
Burbage says it is likely to include alternate paths for the program depending upon varying levels of funding. Government officials are also building the first cost estimate for the aircraft, including the operating price.
Of 394 flights planned for the three variants for the year, 233 had been flown by the end of August. Burbage says 2,361 test points were complete by that time; a total of 3,772 are expected by the end of the year.
As a result of the restructuring earlier this year, Lockheed Martin is required to stand up an additional facility for testing software to ensure this portion of the F-35 program stays on schedule. Burbage says the equipment for this laboratory will be delivered in mid 2011 and be ready to conduct testing by fourth-quarter 2011.
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Israel is in negotiation to build the wings for the United States’s new F-35 stealth fighter aircraft, an Israeli official said on Monday.
An Israeli official who declined to be named said state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries would build the wings for Lockheed Martin’s 3,200 F-35s costing about $96 million each.
“We are in advanced talks for the IAI to produce around 800 sets of wings,” he told Reuters.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the details of a possible deal involving the aircraft, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Earlier this month Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved in principle the purchase of 20 of the radar-evading fighters, in a deal worth $2.75 billion.
Israel would be the first foreign country to sign an agreement to buy the F-35 outside the eight international partners that have helped to develop the plane.
Israeli and U.S. officials with knowledge of the deal said Israel has an option to buy a further 55 aircraft.
“Israel possibly will end up building a significant portion of the F-35,” said one U.S. official familiar with the deal.
An Israeli official said reciprocal purchase deals worth $4 billion had been secured for Israeli companies for their participation in the plane’s manufacture and might be increased to $5 billion although it would be conditional on Israel exercising its option to buy the additional 55 planes.
The F-35 is designed to avoid detection by radar and could play a role in any Israeli effort to knock out what it regards as the threat to its existence posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran denies Western and Israeli allegations that it is trying to produce atomic weapons.
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A wide-ranging realignment will find the U.S. Air Force retiring 650 planes and shifting the jobs of at least 12,000 airmen.
The shuffle consolidates F-22 Raptor units, assigns up to 350 F-35 Lightning IIs to four bases, retires F-16 Fighting Falcons as F-35s replace them, establishes a home base for the service’s fleet of 37 MC-12W Liberty reconnaissance planes and names the U.S. Air National Guard wings that will be home to 38 C-27J cargo aircraft.
The Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., two of the largest F-16 Fighting Falcon bases will get F-35s to replace the F-16s they’re set to lose.
The first F-35s should arrive at Hill in July 2013 with the initial squadron complete in 2015. Standing up two other squadrons will begin in 2015 and continue through 2019.
On the other hand the Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., has to send its F-22s to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., which also flies the stealth jet. Holloman became a candidate to relinquish its F-22s because its role of training pilots and sensor operators of remote-controlled aircraft grew. Holloman gains an F-16 training mission to replace the F-22s departing. Two F-16 squadrons take the place of the two F-22 squadrons the base loses.
The F-16s no longer needed at the bases will be retired.
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Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party condemned yesterday, a multibillion-dollar government plan to buy a fleet of new F35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp.
Liberal industry spokesman Marc Garneau said there was no need to make an announcement now and questioned why the government would offer a sole-source contract.
The Conservative government said in May 2008 that it planned to buy 65 of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The F-35s would replace Canada’s aging CF-18s, which are scheduled to reach the end of their working lives in 2017-20. In the 1980s, Canada bought 138 CF-18s and has refurbished 80 of them.
“A future Liberal government will put on hold this … contract,” expressed Garneau. “Competition guarantees the best value for Canadians.”
The Joint Strike Fighter program is being funded by the United States, Canada, Turkey, Britain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Australia and the Netherlands.
“Contrary to Liberal myths, this was a competitive process. Canada participated in an extensive and rigorous competitive process where two bidders developed and compete prototype aircraft,” said a spokesman for Defense Minister Peter MacKay.
“Participation in the JSF program has allowed the Department of National Defense and Canadian industry to be part of a cutting-edge international military program.”
The JSF is set to be the world’s costliest arms acquisition program, priced at more than $300 billion for the United States alone. The United States is scheduled to buy more than 2,400 of the planes.
- Yahoo! Finance