F-35A Performs First External Weapons Test Mission

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An F-35A Conventional Take-off and Landing aircraft conducted the first F-35 external weapons test mission last week at the Edwards Air Base in California. The mission further push the program’s flight test envelope.

For this mission, the F-35A carried an air-to-air AIM-9X missiles on the outboard wing stations. It also flew with two internal 2,000 pounds guided bombs (GBU-31) and two advanced medium range air-to-air missiles (AIM-120) located in the two internal weapon bays of fighter jet. Four external pylons that can carry 2,000 pounds air-to-ground weapons were additionally mounted to the F-35. However, no weapons were launched during the mission.

The F-35 is a 5th generational multi-role fighter by Lockheed Martin and part of the Joint Strike Fighter family. It is part of the US Air Force most expensive defensive program.

The F-35 was designed to carry up to a maximum of 18,000 pounds load. It has ten weapon stations – four of them are in two internal weapons bay and the other six are located on the wings.

source: www.defensetalk.com, www.dailytech.com

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter debate continues

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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.

-aviationweek.com

-wikipedia.org

Most F-35s cleared for flight

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The U.S. Air Force has lifted a two-week-old flight ban that had grounded the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, following a power problem on a plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California. While the probe continues, engineers determined that it is safe to resume test flights, said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office.

Flight operations will resume for the rest of the planes, which are based at Edwards and at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.However, two F-35s based at Eglin in Florida will remain grounded because they lack the monitoring systems used in developmental test aircraft that can detect any problems in flight.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s biggest procurement program at a planned $382 billion to buy 2,457 of the stealth F-35 jets in different versions for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The F-35 may be a target for budget cuts as the Pentagon is pressed to help lower the federal deficit. The Defense Department will need to find at least $325 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in the first phase of a $2.4 trillion deficit- reduction agreement approved by Congress. Another round of $500 billion in defense cuts may be imposed if Congress fails to approve enough budget savings in other areas.

The Air Force has also grounded Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor, the military’s most advanced fighter, because of reported problems with the plane’s system for supplying oxygen to the pilot. The flight ban on the F-22, in effect since May, remains until an investigation is completed in a few months, said Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes.

Source: Bloomberg

F-35 fleet grounded for dual generator failure

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JSF F-35

The entire F-35 fleet has been grounded pending an investigation into what caused a dual generator failure and an oil leak during flight tests of AF-4 at Edwards Air Force Base.

“The jet returned safely to base. As a routine safety precaution, the Joint Program Office (JPO) has temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations until a team of JPO and LM technical experts determines the root cause of the generator failure and oil leak,” Lockheed Martin F-35 spokesman John Kent said in a press statement.

The aircraft in question arrived at Edwards in late January and was the fifth F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft to ferry there for testing.

The grounding appears to have occurred because of the potential for loss of control posed by such a combination.

The F-35’s flight control surfaces are controlled by electro-hydrostatic actuators made by Moog. If they don’t have power then the pilot can lose control. In this case, the back-up power system — the Integrated Power Package which also serves as the starter and air conditioner — kicked in as designed, allowing the pilot to return to base.

Kent noted that the F-35 has now flown 657 flights and this appears to be the first time a flight has encountered this problem. “Once the cause is known, the appropriate repairs and improvements will be made before flight operations resume,” he said.

- dodbuzz.com

AF-4 Development Jet Arrives at Edwards AFB

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Last Jan. 22, a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter comes in for a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California after a 3.2-hour ferry flight from Fort Worth, Texas. The jet, known as AF-4, is the fifth F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft to ferry to Edwards for testing. To date, the F-35 program has achieved 578 total test flights.

Lockheed Martin Corporation engages in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services in the United States and internationally.

The company operates in four segments: Electronic Systems, Information Systems & Global Services, Aeronautics, and Space Systems. The Electronic Systems segment offers air and missile defense; tactical missiles; weapon fire control systems; surface ship and submarine combat systems; anti-submarine and undersea warfare systems; land, sea-based, and airborne radars; surveillance and reconnaissance systems; simulation and training systems; and integrated logistics and sustainment services.

The Information Systems & Global Services segment provides federal services; information technology solutions; software and systems engineering support services; logistics, mission operations support, peacekeeping, and nation-building services for the various U.S. defense and civil government agencies.

The Aeronautics segment provides military aircraft, air vehicles, and related technologies. This segment’s products and programs include the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter-multi-role coalition fighter, the F-22 Raptor-air dominance attack and multi-mission stealth fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon-multi-role fighter, the C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft, and the C-5M Super Galaxy strategic airlift aircraft. It also supports P-3 maritime patrol aircraft and U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft; produces components for the F-2 fighter; and serves as a co-developer of the T-50 supersonic jet trainer.

-asdnews.com

New Equipment Projects for Australia

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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.

- aviationweek.com