The F-35A Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters can take to the skies with the Military Flight Release issued last February 28. The multi-million jet fighters has been stuck with test flights until the US Air Force Aeronautical System Center issued MFR. Now, the F-35A JSF can perform initial operations at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Previously, all F-35A flights were limited to the test flights done by a select number of qualified test pilots at the Edwards Air Base in California and Naval Air Station Patuxent River flight test centers. Units of F-35A started arriving at the Eglin AFB in the summer of 2011, but stayed grounded while waiting for the MFR. Qualified Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots can now fly the jet fighters starting with the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) F-35A variant. Before the MFR clearance, these pilots can only perform taxi test and simulator flights, but could not fly the F-35A to the skies.
An airworthiness board assessed and evaluated the potential risks and corresponding remedial action for unmonitored flights of the F-3A, before issuing the MFR. The Air Force looks forward to finally see the F-35A Lightning II in the air. This will increase the pilots and maintenance staff familiarity with the aircraft, exercising the logistics infrastructure as well as develop the continued maturity of the aircraft.
“The Air Force, Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and other stakeholders have painstakingly followed established risk acceptance and mitigation processes to ensure the F-35A is ready. This is an important step for the F-35A and we are confident the team has diligently balanced the scope of initial operations with system maturity,” said General Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the parent organization of ASC.
The Eglin Air Force Bas has two qualified F-35A test pilots. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann will act as the initial trainers for the rest of the pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing.
To avoid creating a hollow force, the Defense Department is not going to protect force structure at the expense of needed training and gear, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
“The military will be smaller and leaner, but it will be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced; it will be cutting edge,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon as he unveiled more details ahead of the fiscal 2013 budget proposal.
Panetta addressed the media along with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman. Together, they unveiled some of the details from the Pentagon’s new five-year spending plan. The full 2013 budget release is planned for Feb. 13, when President Obama sends his budget request to Congress.
DoD’s plans revealed no sacrificial lambs: all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are safe; the Navy will maintain 11 aircraft carriers; and the Army’s major vehicle programs are intact.
Instead, to reduce projected spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years, the Pentagon is eliminating what it describes as “poorly performing programs,” while slowing down the production of others. Panetta also said DoD has identified an additional $60 billion in efficiencies.
The first tranche of the spending cuts — $259 billion — will come over the next five years.
These targets conform to the initial spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act Congress passed by Congress in August.
However, they do not take into account the possibility of sequestration, which would initiate an additional $500 billion cut beginning in January 2013 if Congress does not find an alternative way to reduce the country’s deficit.
Panetta said he hopes that when members of Congress sees what it takes to make this first round of cuts, they will be convinced they need to act in order to avoid sequestration.
Vice Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, who appeared with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after Panetta and Dempsey spoke, said DoD had arrived at its budget in a “very healthy way,” crafting strategy before making spending choices.
“Sequestration would reverse that,” he said.
DoD leaders also emphasized that the spending plan should be viewed as a complete package and that changes in one area could adversely affect others.
There is little room for modification to this plan while maintaining the quality of the force and providing troops with the capabilities they need, Panetta said.
In a message most likely for lawmakers, Carter said, “It is a carefully balanced package and therefore can’t be changed or modified piece by piece.”
The five-year plan reflects the new strategic guidance, released Jan. 5, by shifting focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, while maintaining influence in the Middle East.
In 2013, the Pentagon is requesting $525 billion for its base budget, with an additional $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations. It projects the Defense Department will need $567 billion for its base budget in 2017.
The 2013 base budget represents the first budget to decline in nominal terms since 1998, down from 2012’s $531 billion.
The topline number is directly shaped by the Budget Control Act’s cap on security spending, which is set at $686 billion for 2013. That has to cover funding for the Defense Department as well as the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Veterans Affairs Department.
Panetta reminded reporters that it was a bipartisan Congress that mandated these defense cuts.
The budget document describes the investment choices as “hard but manageable” and places the budget in a historical context, saying that after every major conflict, the U.S. has experienced “significant budget drawdowns.”
The description of reductions, however, had little impact on stock prices, as Wall Street met the news calmly. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics all saw their stock prices decline by less than 1 percent, while Lockheed Martin and Raytheon saw increases of less than 1 percent. Market analysts had predicted that stock pricing had already assumed significant defense cuts.
FORCE SIZE REDUCTIONS
With the end of war in Iraq and the beginning of a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, there will be further reductions to the ground forces.
Panetta announced the Army will be reduced from 547,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000, while the Marine Corps will be cut to 182,000.
“I’m confident 490,000 is the right number for 2017,” Dempsey said, reminding reporters that this was the number for active duty soldiers and does not include the National Guard and Reserve.
However, “it might not be the right number for 2020,” he added.
The Army also plans to remove at least eight brigade combat teams from its existing force structure.
“Even with these reductions, the Army and Marine Corps will be larger than they were in 2001,” according to the document titled “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” which outlines the investment decisions discussed by Panetta and Dempsey.
These reductions in force size do require a corresponding reduction in the military’s facilities resources.
Therefore, the president will request that Congress authorize use of the Base Realignment and Closure process with a goal of identifying savings “that can be reinvested in higher priorities as soon as possible.”
“The best approach to reducing that infrastructure politically on Capitol Hill is to work it through the BRAC process,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon did not tie any savings to potential base closures, because those require congressional authorization.
“If we tied savings to it before Congress authorized it, and they didn’t authorize it, it would undermine our whole budget,” Panetta said.
As for overseas basing, the Pentagon says the Army and Marine Corps will sustain force structure in the Pacific, while “maintaining persistent presence” in the Middle East.
MILITARY SERVICE PLANS
The Pentagon has budgeted to forward station littoral combat ships in Singapore and patrol craft in Bahrain.
It has also provided funding for a new “afloat forward staging base that can be dedicated to support missions in areas where ground-based access is not available, such as counter-mine operations.”
The Army will reduce its current footprint in Europe by two heavy brigades, while establishing and maintaining a new rotational presence in Europe.
With the Defense Department shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the Air Force will maintain the current strategic bomber fleet and will also fund a new bomber program, according to the document.
By doing so, the Pentagon has decided to protect all three legs of the nuclear triad. However, the Navy will have to delay its Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement by two years.
Carter described the submarine’s original schedule as “aggressive, bordering on optimistic.”
The Navy and Marines will also retain their air-power assets, with the sea services retaining all 11 aircraft carriers, 10 carrier air wings, and all of the amphibious assault ships.
All three F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants are safe, but the Pentagon has decided to slow down procurement to allow for more testing.
Panetta said the Air Force would also continue with its plans to purchase next generation KC-46 tanker aircraft.
DoD will also invest in new air-to-air missiles, new radars for tactical aircraft and ships, more electronic warfare and communications capabilities.
The Navy will build a new “prompt strike option” from submarines and will add cruise missile capacity to its Virginia-class boats.
The Air Force will lose six tactical fighter squadrons and a training squadron, while the Navy loses seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers, one of which has missile defense capability, but which needs a lot of repairs, the budget document says.
One big-deck amphibious ship and a submarine will be delayed. Two smaller amphibious dock landing ships will be decommissioned and their replacements delayed.
The Navy also loses eight joint high speed vessels and two littoral combat ships.
The Air Force is losing the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk, but other variants, namely the Navy’s RQ-4N and Air Force’s Block 40, are safe.
Carter explained that the Block 30 version was supposed to replace Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane but it priced itself out of the niche for taking pictures in the air, Carter said.
“That’s a disappointment for us, but that’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment,” he added.
Air mobility takes a hit with 27 C-5A Galaxy airlifters being retired along with 65 older C-130s. The entire C-27 fleet of 38 cargo aircraft is also being scrapped by the Air Force.
However, there will also be investment in advance unmanned aircraft, and the Air Force will gain the capability to operate 65 Predator/Reaper patrols and surge to 85 when needed. Today, the Air Force can fly 61 orbits continuously.
For the Army, the Pentagon has curtailed the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, a floating missile defense sensor.
The Joint-Air-to-Ground-Missile’s funding has been reduced, with money kept in the budget to find a lower cost alternative.
The Army will cancel its effort to recapitalize its Humvee fleet and will instead focus resources on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
Australia is pressing ahead with the acquisition of an air traffic management (ATM) and control system and Anzac frigate communications upgrade, but the government also restructured an F/A-18C/D upgrade project to reduce costs.
The work to refurbish the Boeing F/A-18s is expected to cost A$250-300 million ($246-296 million). The goal is to keep them flying until the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrives. The defense ministry says the deal saves A$500 million over an earlier approach that saw the program broken into parts.
The F-35 is due to reach initial operational capability in the 2017-18 or 2020-21 timeframe, says the government’s latest defense capability plan. The first Australian F-35s are due for delivery in 2014. A decision is due between 2015 and 2018 on whether to buy aircraft for a fourth squadron.
The cost for AIR 5431, the ATM effort, is estimated at A$650-900 million, with the initial phase to cost A$100-150 million. Further program reviews are expected in 2012-13 and 2014-15.
The frigate program, called SEA 1442 Phase 4, should increase the communications speed available to the ships and cost A$300-500 million.
The latest update to the capability plan, which charts project goals for the next 10 years, also highlights a Wedgetail fleet upgrade, with a go-ahead decision due in 2020-21 and fielding around 2026-27. The plan also states that the long-range maritime surveillance unmanned aircraft program is now due for approval around 2017-18, with fielding envisioned during 2024.
The document also reveals Australian plans to acquire a maritime strike missile for the F-35, with the weapon to become operational early in the next decade.
Pratt & Whitney accepted a government request to negotiate a fixed-price incentive contract instead of the originally planned cost-plus deal and hopes to sign for a fourth batch of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engines within weeks.
F-35 prime Lockheed Martin signed a fixed-price incentive contract for the $3.9 billion low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 4 of the fighter on Nov. 19.
This covers 31 F-35s powered by Pratt F135 engines to be procured under a separate contract.
Bennett Croswell, vice president of F135/F119 programs, says that Pratt proposed LRIP 4 prices based on a cost-reduction plan targeted on getting the F135 down to the same cost as the F-22’s F119 engine by the 250th delivery.
“We developed a ‘should-cost’ curve that was independently validated by the [Pentagon’s] Joint Assessment Team and [consulting firm] A.T. Kearney,” Croswell says. “We are now talking to the JSF program office about our ability to go below the should-cost curve.”
LRIP 4 is the first batch to be priced based on the should-cost curve, but Croswell says the 20 flight-test and production F135s delivered so far have tracked the curve required to achieve the cost target by the 250th engine.
Lot 4 will cover 18 conventional-takeoff-and-landing/carrier-variant (CTOL/CV) and 19 short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) engines. It will include fixed prices on lift-system components for the Stovl engines, costs for which are less mature.
Croswell says, “We’re just starting down the curve on Stovl.” The first production Stovl engine, and first production lift-fan from Rolls-Royce, will be delivered soon, he adds, acknowledging the higher risk in agreeing to fixed prices for the lift system.
Pratt expects initial service release (ISR) for the Stovl engine in December, essentially completing development of the F135 except for continuing support of F-35 flight testing. ISR for the CTOL/CV engine was achieved in January, launching production.
Meanwhile, Lockheed has resumed Stovl flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Md., after a hiatus, but has yet to restart vertical landings. Because of the delays, development of the F-35B Stovl variant looks likely to be stretched out, and could be canceled.
“If Stovl slips to the right, there would not be much impact on engine cost because of the commonality between the variants. But the lift system would be impacted,” Croswell says, adding, “I would be surprised to see the Stovl variant go away.”
The first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, the U.S. Navy’s first stealth fighter, arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md., on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 2:37 p.m.
The aircraft, piloted by David “Doc” Nelson, departed NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 11:31 a.m. (Eastern) and achieved successful air refuels at a maximum load of 19,800 pounds during the flight. At Patuxent River, the F-35C will conduct air-to-air refueling and performance testing.
The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), integrates advanced very low observable stealth into a supersonic, highly agile 5th generation fighter. The capabilities built into the F-35 Lightning II provide the pilot with unprecedented situational awareness and unmatched lethality and survivability.
While each variant (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C) is uniquely designed to operate from different bases, all three variants set new standards in network-enabled mission systems, sensor fusion, supportability and maintainability.
Flashback:At the King Fahd International Airport, Saudi Arabia, 1991, an A-10 “Warthog” performs a high speed taxi as it returns to its parking spot, fuel and munitions expended in combat. As the aircraft receives fuel, the weapons load crew rushes to load munitions for the threat that still exists. Within minutes the aircraft taxis out for the next mission in the Gulf War.
It is as true today as it was almost 20 years ago that the ability to rapidly load weapons on an aircraft is critical in combat. The specific function of the weapons crew is to load the aircraft in the fastest method possible while ensuring the reliability of the munitions.
The best load crews at Edwards held their first Weapons Load Crew of the Quarter competition; proving which load crew was the best on base. Not only was this the first loading competition in over a year, but it was the first competition in which two 5th generation fighters, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor, competed head-to-head.
“The competition sharpens their loading skills, improves their combat readiness, and serves as a morale booster as the crews represent their unit against other aircraft maintenance units for top honors,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christine Beaudion, 412th Maintenance Group Weapons Standardization superintendent.
Competing for the 411th Aircraft Maintenance Unit on the F-22 was crew R-3, led by Staff Sgt. Alexe Perez. His team members were Staff Sgt. Marcel Ford and Senior Airman Douglas Covey. Competing for the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Unit on the F-35 was crew JSF-1, consisting of Staff Sgt. Lauren Cantu, Senior Airman Corey Thomas, and Senior Airman Coty Perez.
“Each unit has their own method for selecting their team members; however, certain criteria, such as monthly loading statistics and flight line evaluations weigh heavily on team selection. The crew with the best monthly loading stats is usually selected to represent their unit,” said Sergeant Beaudion.
All AMUs are eligible but bombers and F-16 could not provide an aircraft this quarter.
Both crews performed outstanding loads according to the evaluators. Each achieved load times well below the standard in a nearly flawless display of loading prowess. Loading in front of a crowd of more than 100, the crews provided excitement, drama, and an appreciation as they brought weapons loading into the next century.
However, in a competition there can only be one winner. Staff Sgt Alexe Perez led his team to victory, proving at least for the day, the superiority of the 411th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the F-22 loaders.
In February, he will lead his team to compete in a true wild-west Loadeo as they vie for the coveted Load Crew of the Year. These load crew competitions serve to sharpen the tip of the spear and ensure the combat readiness of the nation.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flight tests have been suspended following the discovery of issues with fuel-system software on all variants and with a door hinge on the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version.
Flights are suspended temporarily pending modification of software that controls the engine’s three fuel boost pumps according to the Defense Department. Incorrect signal sequencing that could trigger a shut-down of all three pumps was discovered in the laboratory.
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin originally said flights were restricted to below 10,000 ft., the altitude below which boost pumps are not required, but the Pentagon says all flights were suspended earlier this week as a “routine” safety precaution.
Late September, flights in Stovl mode were suspended after post-flight inspection revealed an issue with the auxiliary-inlet door hinge on test aircraft BF-1. Efforts to find the root cause of the hinge problem and identify a solution continue.
A fix for the fuel-pump issue has been identified and is being tested. Software modified to correctly align the pump sequencing is to be loaded on to aircraft at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base, California, test centers beginning Oct. 5.
Lockheed spokesman John Kent said that “The impact to the flight test schedule is unknown at this time.” While testing of the conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) F-35A and F-35C carrier variant (CV) remain ahead of plan for the year, Stovl testing is significantly behind schedule.
Four Stovl F-35Bs at Patuxent River completed only 19 flights in September against a plan of 28, for a year-to-date total of 141 compared with 181 envisioned.
Testing of two CTOL F-35As at Edwards is ahead of schedule, with 17 flights in September against a plan of 18, for a year-to-date total of 114 compared with 53 envisioned.
Kent says that the F-35C did not log any of the five planned flights in September as aircraft CF-1 remains in final finishing, but CV testing is ahead of schedule for the year with 14 flights logged against nine planned.
Overall, the F-35 test program has logged 269 flights so far this year, against a planned 243, but September was the first month this year that the program did not meet or exceed its goal, with 36 flights compared with 45 planned.
Kent also says that testing remains on track to achieve the 2010 goal of 394 flights, but Lockheed already has acknowledged that Stovl testing will not meet its targets for the year, and initial at-sea testing planned for March 2011 will be delayed.
Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center officials here stood up Det. 1 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 2 to lead the operational test and evaluation of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.
Det. 1 will bring an additional 581 personnel to Edwards AFB for joint strike fighter initial operational test and evaluation.
“AFOTEC Det. 1 will conduct operational test and evaluation on the JSF with three services and two international partners,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Sargeant, the AFOTEC commander. “The F-35 joint strike fighter will deliver joint and coalition multirole capabilities. AFOTEC will serve as the lead operational test agency for this the multi-service and multi-national initial operational test and evaluation, and we are already conducting operational assessments.”
According to General Sargeant, “The stand-up of this detachment is in line with our role to be in the right place at the right time to provide the right information to senior acquisition decision makers and the warfighter. AFOTEC is actively supporting the chief of staff of the Air Force goal of acquisition excellence by continuing to improve acquisition processes and skills.”
The F-35 is projected to be operationally capable by 2013.
“We are getting involved early in this program because we believe this approach to testing influences a program in a relevant, operational, and testable manner,” General Sargeant said. “Early influence allows us to maintain an operational focus to ensure our combatant commanders have the right tools to win today’s and tomorrow’s battles.”