F-35: And the hits keep coming!

Having second thoughts about getting in Mr. MacKay?

We’ve talked about the F-35 program for month after month, yet somehow new flaws in the program just keep coming up.

The U.S. government’s highly respected Government Accountability Office has just released a new report identifying important setbacks and cost overruns in the F-35 program (“Restructuring Added Resources and Reduced Risk, but Concurrency Is Still a Major Concern,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, 20 March 2012):

Cost overruns on the first four annual procurement contracts total more than $1 billion and aircraft deliveries are on average more than one year late. Officials said the government’s share of the cost growth is $672 million; this adds about $11 million on average to the price of each of the 63 aircraft under those contracts. In addition to the overruns, the government also incurred an estimated $373 million in retrofit costs on produced aircraft to correct deficiencies discovered in testing. The manufacturing process is still absorbing a higher than expected number of engineering changes resulting from flight testing, which makes it difficult to achieve efficient production rates. Until engineering changes are reduced, there are risks of additional cost overruns and retrofit costs. The program now estimates that the number of changes will persist at elevated levels through 2019. Even with the substantial reductions in near-term procurement quantities, DOD is still investing billions of dollars on hundreds of aircraft while flight testing has years to go.

In short, an already expensive program is getting even more expensive and more delayed as time goes on.

Meanwhile, here in Canada the red flags that have been flapping over the program for years now appear to have been intentionally ignored by the Department of National Defence in its rush to get the Canadian government to commit to the aircraft. DND prepared power point presentations for the politicians that were almost comically optimistic, describing the F-35 as the “lowest cost for aircraft” and “highlighting the estimated $12 billion in economic benefits Canadian companies would enjoy if the government signed on the dotted line” (Lee Berthiaume, “DND turned deaf ear to warnings on F-35 project, documents show,” Ottawa Citizen, 17 March 2012):

The same messages are repeated in several other presentations, including a package of slides for a technical briefing dated March 17, 2010 – four months before the government announced its decision to buy the F-35.

The March presentation notes that “to date, more than 680 flights (have been) flown by (F-35) aircraft generating some 1,000 flight hours.”

It adds that the stealth fighter program was being continuously reviewed and that a “program restructure” in January 2011 would provide “a solid and realistic foundation for development, production and sustainment.”

Mentioned only in passing, however, was that the F-35 program was already behind schedule – a fact that had been repeatedly highlighted less than a week earlier in a Lockheed Martin presentation to partner nations in Fort Worth, Texas.

Those who want a good laugh (or cry) should check out the original power point document.

And more F-35 trouble is coming DND’s way. The draft version of a report the Auditor-General will release on April 3rd reportedly accuses the department of misleading parliament over the F-35 (Murray Brewster, “Ferguson set to rap DND, Public Works on the knuckles over F-35,” Canadian Press, 20 March 2012):

Canada’s auditor general has both National Defence and Public Works in his sights when it comes to the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program, say senior government sources.

A draft copy of the scathing review, circulating in Ottawa for weeks, suggests the air force didn’t do its pricing homework and government officials failed to follow procurement rules, say those who’ve read it.

It’s not clear whether the language will be toned down in the final report, Michael Ferguson’s first as auditor general, when it’s released April 3. …

Senior officials say the auditor general’s harsh review is behind the Harper government’s change in posture over the last few weeks, where a hard-line message of commitment has softened into skepticism about the international program, which is billions of dollars off target and years behind schedule.”

Stay tuned on that one.

Photo Credit: DND

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