Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pentagon F-35 program chief lashes Lockheed, Pratt
Wed, Feb 27 19:03 PM EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon program chief for the F-35 warplane slammed the main contractors on the program, Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and Pratt & Whitney, on Wednesday, accusing them of trying to "squeeze every nickel" out of the U.S. government and failing to see the long-term benefits of the project.
U.S. Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan made the comments during a visit to Australia, where he has sought to convince lawmakers and generals to stick to a plan to buy 100 of the jets, an exercise complicated by the second grounding of the plane this year and looming U.S. defense cuts.
Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), is sole supplier of engines to the $396 billion F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed Martin provides the body of the radar-evading jet, the most expensive combat aircraft in history.
"What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine," Bogdan told reporters at the Australian International Airshow in southern Victoria state.
"I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years," he added. "I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I'm not getting all that love yet."
Lockheed Martin said it was "singularly focused" on properly executing its contracts to develop, produce and sustain the new warplane, and insisted it was on track to finish development by 2017.
"We do this in partnership with Lieutenant General Bogdan and the entire JSF Program Office and strive daily to drive costs out of the program," said spokesman Michael Rein.
He said the company had reduced costs by 50 percent since the first production airplanes were built, and remained confident that the sixth and seventh production deals, currently under negotiation, would result in further savings.
Pratt & Whitney had no immediate comment.
Bogdan caused a stir shortly after joining the F-35 program last August when he described the relationship between the government and Lockheed Martin as the worst he'd ever seen. There had been little improvement since then, he said.
"Are they getting better? A little bit," he said. "Are they getting better at a rate I want to see them getting better? No, not yet."
If the project stays on track, Pratt & Whitney will eventually provide 4,000 engines and Lockheed Martin 3,000 planes.
The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 of the warplanes in the coming decades, although many analysts believe U.S. budget constraints and deficits will reduce that number.
Australia, a close American ally, is considering doubling its fleet of 24 Boeing Co (BA.N) F/A-18 Super Hornets amid delays and setbacks in the F-35 project. That means Canberra could buy far fewer F-35s than initially planned.
Bogdan was also critical of what he suggested were leaks from Pratt & Whitney's camp about the engine issue, which led the Pentagon to suspend F-35 flights last Friday.
Two sources told Reuters that Pratt & Whitney is 99 percent sure the fan blade problem that grounded the jets was not caused by high-cycle fatigue, which could force a costly design change, and the aircraft could be flying again within the week.
"Until all those tests are done and I see the results, I don't know what's going on," Bogdan said. "However ... my gut would tell me it's on the spectrum of the minor side - 99 percent is bold, flying next week is bold."
Bogdan also gave the example of taking six months to close a deal with Pratt & Whitney for engines on its fifth bloc of jets, shortly after General Electric Co (GE.N) had been dropped as a second supplier of engines for the program, leaving Pratt & Whitney as sole supplier for the next 40 years.
"Now, you would think a company like Pratt & Whitney that was just given the greatest Christmas gift you could ever, ever get for a company would act a little differently," Bogdan said.
Bogdan is flying back to the United States this weekend, just in time to hear about the future of U.S. military budgets, which are slated to be cut by nearly $500 billion over the next decade, an amount which could double unless Congress acts in the next week to avert spending reductions known as "sequestration".

Saturday, February 23, 2013

U.S. grounds entire F-35 fighter fleet after cracked engine blade found in plane

A U.S. Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II takes off in 2006.
U.S. Navy handout/AFP/Getty ImagesA U.S. Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II takes off in 2006.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane.
The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., of an F-35A, the Air Force version of the sleek new plane. The Navy and the Marine Corps are buying other versions of the F-35, which is intended to replace older fighters like the Air Force F-16 and the Navy F/A-18.
All versions — a total of 51 planes — were grounded Friday pending a more in-depth evaluation of the problem discovered at Edwards. None of the planes have been fielded for combat operations; all are undergoing testing.
In a brief written statement, the Pentagon said it is too early to know the full impact of the newly discovered problem.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program at a total estimated cost of nearly $400 billion. The Pentagon envisions buying more than 2,400 F-35s, but some members of Congress are balking at the price tag.
Friday’s suspension of flight operations will remain in effect until an investigation of the problem’s root cause is determined.
The Pentagon said the engine in which the problem was discovered is being shipped to a Pratt & Whitney facility in Connecticut for more thorough evaluation.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pentagon Downgrades Specs for Its Premier Stealth Jet — Again

Air Force F-35s fly in formation over Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Photo: Air Force
Air Force F-35s fly in formation over Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Photo: Air Force
America’s latest stealth fighter just got heavier, slower and more sluggish.
For the second time in a year, the Pentagon has eased the performance requirements of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The reduced specs — including a slower acceleration and turning rate — lower the bar for the troubled trillion-dollar JSF program, allowing it to proceed toward full-rate production despite ongoing problems with the plane’s complex design. Under the old specs, the stealth fighter, due to enter service in 2018 or 2019, probably wouldn’t pass its Pentagon-mandated final exams.
At the same time, newly identified safety problems could force F-35-smith Lockheed Martin to add fire-suppression gear that will only increase the plane’s weight and further decrease its maneuverability. The JSF is meant to be a jack of all trades, equally capable of dropping bombs and fighting other aircraft — the latter requiring extreme nimbleness in the air.
For the pilots who will eventually take the F-35 into combat, the JSF’s reduced performance means they might not be able to outfly and outfight the latest Russian- and Chinese-made fighters. Even before the downgrades, some analysts questioned the F-35′s ability to defeat newer Sukhoi and Shenyang jets. Despite the JSF’s lower specs, Lockheed bizarrely claims its new plane is now more maneuverable than every other fighters in the world except the company’s own F-22.
In short, the F-35 program is losing altitude as Lockheed’s claims grow loftier. The result is a widening gulf between expectations and reality for a jet that’s supposed to represent the backbone of U.S. air power for the next 50 years.
The latest bad news came in mid-January the form of the annual weapons-testing report (.pdf) overseen by J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. The report revealed that the government’s F-35 program office had changed performance specs for all three JSF variants: the Air Force’s F-35A; the vertical-landing Marine Corps F-35B; and the carrier-launched F-35C flown mainly by the Navy.
“The program announced an intention to change performance specifications for the F-35A, reducing turn performance from 5.3 to 4.6 sustained g’s and extending the time for acceleration from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach by eight seconds,” Gilmore’s report stated. The F-35B and F-35C also had their turn rates and acceleration time eased. The B-model jet’s max turn went from 5.0 to 4.5 g’s and its acceleration time to Mach 1.2 was extended by 16 seconds. The F-35C’s lost 0.1 g off its turn spec and added a whopping 43 seconds to its acceleration.
The changes likely reflect higher-than-expected drag on the JSF’s single-engine airframe, according to Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week. The implications for frontline pilots are pretty serious. Less maneuverability makes the F-35 more vulnerable in a dogfight. And the slower acceleration means the plane can spend less time at top speed. “A long, full-power transonic acceleration burns a lot of fuel,” Sweetman explained.
This is not the first time the Pentagon has altered its standards to give the JSF a pass. In early 2012, the military granted the F-35 a longer takeoff run than originally required and tweaked the plane’s standard flight profile in order to claw back some of the flying range lost to increasing weight and drag.
Despite the F-35 growing heavier, slower and more sluggish by the Pentagon’s own admission, Lockheed insists its product is still the second most maneuverable warplane in existence. Company test pilot Billy Flynn told Flight‘s Dave Majumdar that the JSF accelerates better and flies at higher angles than every other fighter except the Lockheed-made F-22. “The F-35 is comparable or better in every one of those metrics, sometimes by a significant margin,” Flynn said.
Majumdar promptly ran Flynn’s claims past several active-duty military test pilots. The feedback was not surprising in light of Lockheed’s history of overselling the JSF. One Navy aviator called Lockheed’s boasts “fantastical.” An F-22 pilot expressed his doubt that the jet manufacturer has accurate data on the F-35′s flight energy and maneuverability so early in testing. “The reality is that I would be floored if they had accurate E-M diagrams right now,” the F-22 flier said.
In any event, the F-35 is likely to get even less maneuverable as development continues. Gilmore’s report warned that the F-35A’s tightly-packed airframe has essentially zero room for weight growth without losing nimbleness. “The program will need to continue rigorous weight management through the end of [development] to avoid performance degradation and operational impacts.”
But in the same report, the Pentagon admitted to a chain of safety problems that could force Lockheed to add weight to the radar-evading plane. Extra mass doesn’t necessarily affect the JSF’s ability to avoid detection, but it does impact maneuverability. Several years ago, to save around 50 pounds, the F-35′s designers removed some fuel safety valves. As a result, the JSF is now 25 percent more likely to burn if struck by enemy weapons, making it “overall more vulnerable [to fire] than most” older warplanes, Jennifer Elzea, a DOT&E spokesperson, told Bloomberg.
The Pentagon should tell Lockheed to “immediately reinstall” the valves, Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, wrote in a letter to the Defense Department dated Feb. 5.
If and when that happens, expect yet another downward revision of the F-35′s performance specs, as America’s future jet fighter grows steadily more disappointing.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lockheed F-35 general manager retiring

16 hours ago 
Lockheed Martin's F-35 general manager Tom Burbage is retiring after 13 years on the job.
"After 32 years of working with Lockheed Martin and legacy divisions, Tom Burbage has decided to retire," Lockheed says. "His impact to the F-35 program and other areas of aeronautics is immeasurable."
Burbage will continue to work on the F-35 programme until the end of March until the company picks a successor. "We will finalize our plans on how to backfill his role as his retirement date gets closer," Lockheed says.
Burbage joined Lockheed in 1980 after 11 years as a naval aviator. After working in business development, he eventually came to manage the F-22 Raptor programme in 1995. In 1999 he became president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta, Georgia.
Burbage was later appointed executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 programme in August 2000, where he currently remains. His main role in recent years has been to manage relations with the eight F-35 foreign partners.
A number of Lockheed executives have announced their retirements in recent weeks after the ascension of Maryllin Hewson as the company's chief executive officer on 1 Jan.