November 27, 2010

USAF Chief Considers F-35 And F-22 Replacement

(By David A.- Aviationweek)The U.S. Air Force’s senior officer has acknowledged concern over the Lockheed Martin F-35 program, in particular slow software development that may push the Joint Strike Fighter’s operational debut into 2016.
“There are some issues with respect to timing on software development,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, told a group of defense writers this week in Washington. “We don’t have a complete understanding yet of whether that will affect the new, predicted [initial operating capability] of April 2016. I’m still concerned about the schedule – a little less on technical matters, [but] software appears to be a potential pacing item.”
At the same time, the chief of staff sounded more reassured about other development efforts. “With respect to the A-model aircraft, my assessment is that it is ahead on test points and flying hours, software stability has been good and the structure has experienced no failures or surprises,” Schwartz said.
The chief’s comments come as Pentagon leaders struggle to get a better handle on the three-model, nine-nation U.S.-led program, potentially the largest defense acquisition in history. A defense acquisition board (DAB) meeting on the JSF was convened Nov. 22 and another is due soon. The latest presentation there was by Navy Vice Adm. David Venlet, who became program manager last spring, and entailed a preliminary technical baseline review that involved a look at both production status and schedules, as well as test data and progress on software engineering.
The next DAB, still to be scheduled, will finalize inputs for the Fiscal 2012 defense budget request, expected on Capitol Hill in early February. Also at next DAB, “the resulting program plan will be considered for Milestone B,” Pentagon representatives told reporters separately this week.
In turn, programs delays could ripple throughout the military, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. But the Air Force chief disputes the GAO analysis, saying there are options and workarounds such as structural and avionics upgrades to extend the operational life of Block 40/50 F-16s and thereby ensure the U.S. can execute the national military strategy.
“A-model F-35 performance has indicated it is the best of the lot,” Schwartz says. “[But,] if the aircraft aren’t ready to put on the ramp, we’ll work alternatives. There is a related fighter force structure strategy that will accompany the F-35 production information in the Fiscal 2012 budget plan.”
The JSF’s bumpy path to production has not dampened Schwartz’s enthusiasm for joint aviation programs with the Navy, particularly in relation to a request for information about an F-22 replacement, although he said teamwork would be critical.
“There is little beyond the conceptual,” Schwartz said of news of a future aircraft collaboration. “It’s too early to put a whole lot of stock in a 2030-plus notion. With respect [to] Navy and Air Force cooperation, it seems to me that cooperation between the Air Force and Navy on air platforms and capabilities is absolutely key. The notion that this introduces challenges is true,” he continued.
“Ideally, what you want to do is have the U.S. government together in a way that allows us to get the best capability,” he says. “An example is BAMS and Global Hawk. Why should the Navy and Air Force have two separate depots, ground stations and training pipelines for what is essentially the same airplane with a different sensor? I think there is lots of opportunity for both of us to make better uses of resources.”

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