Monday, June 22, 2020

F-35 Block 4 Upgrade is Two Years Late, $1.5 Bn More Expensive: GAO

Thanks to Jason for the link!

via Defense Aerospace.
Block 4 capabilities delayed, cost increases by $1.5 billion

In its May 2019 Block 4 report to Congress, DOD reported that the total cost to develop 66 Block 4 capabilities—both hardware and software—would be $10.6 billion for activities planned from fiscal years 2018 to 2024.

The report also included the F-35 program office estimate of an additional $6.4 billion in fiscal year 2018 through 2024 funding to retrofit aircraft from the baseline F-35 configuration to a full Block 4 configuration.

However, GAO “found that reported Block 4 costs did not include all Block 4 costs…and did not include Block 4 costs the program incurred prior to 2018, or that it will incur after 2024,” as the F-35 program office has chosen to exclude the past and future costs in the Block 4 cost estimate it reported to Congress. This decision understates the true cost of Block 4.

The updated cost estimate reflects that the program office will be fielding Block 4 capabilities into fiscal year 2026. This new schedule adds 2 years analysis of DOD’s updated cost estimate indicates the total cost of Block 4 development grew by $1.5 billion to a total of $12.1 billion for activities in fiscal years 2018 through 2026.

Furthermore, in addition to the Block 4 development costs, the program also estimates it will need another $2.9 billion to develop other capabilities, such as upgrades to ALIS.

“Ultimately, without a complete understanding of Block 4 costs, the program could face additional cost growth, which will be hard to track without a complete cost baseline,” GAO says. “The lack of a complete cost baseline hinders insight and oversight into the program’s costs, plans, and progress to date and going forward.”

Block 4 capabilities delivered late

Lockheed Martin only delivered one Block 4 capability (the auto ground-collision avoidance system) in 2019, instead of eight as planned. According to program officials, the development of the other capabilities is taking longer than planned and, as a result, the program pushed their delivery schedule into 2020.

Development and delivery of the capabilities within the Block 4 effort are complex, and the program does not consider development complete until the products for all elements of the F-35 air system are ready.

The program is also discovering issues during Block 4 testing, causing the testing to take longer than anticipated. According to a DOT&E official, Block 4 software changes caused issues with functionality of F-35 baseline aircraft capabilities that worked before the program installed new Block 4 software onto the aircraft.

The program discovered issues with each new software version during flight testing and has been working to fix these issues in subsequent software updates. Testing and DOD officials stated that the contractor had not performed adequate testing of the software before delivering it to the test fleet as the reason for these issues. Contractor representatives acknowledged these issues and stated that they will conduct additional lab testing for future software releases to avoid such problems going forward.

91% of engines delivered late

In 2019, 91 percent of engines delivered were late. In addition, the average number of quality notifications per engine—production defects indicating a quality issue—has increased by 16 percent in 2019, to 1,090 per delivered engine.

Late parts delivery increase ten-fold

According to program officials, some suppliers for the F-35 struggled to meet increased production demands in 2019 and, as a result, the program witnessed increased rates of late deliveries or parts shortages. In particular, the number of parts delivered late to the airframe contractor, as well as parts shortages, have grown steadily over the past 2 years.

Well at least we know why the USAF is buying F-15EXs and the US Navy is all about the Super Hornet Block III.


Have we ever been in this position before?  Have we ever acquired an airplane that appears to be in development hell but because of the acquisition process we have boxed ourselves into a substandard platform for the future?

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