F-35 Program Supervisor: Full-Price Determination Now Anticipated in Early 2024, However Might Be Moot

Milestone C for the F-35 fighter—the purpose at which operational testing is full and the Pentagon’s acquisition chief can greenlight “full price” manufacturing—is prone to are available in early 2024, Air Drive Lt. Gen. Michael J. Schmidt, F-35 program govt officer, informed Air & House Forces Journal in a latest interview.

However in some ways, “full price” is moot, as this system is already producing at close to its most capability.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to get by it … early subsequent 12 months,” Schmidt mentioned. “I had mentioned I needed it achieved by December. I feel the [Initial Operational Test and Evaluation] shall be achieved by then.”

However “there’s lots of price estimating” that additionally has to occur, he added.

A serious hangup in ending IOT&E—and the System Design and Growth part, which has been underway for greater than 20 years—is integrating the F-35 with the Joint Simulation Setting. That effort is progressing apace, Schmidt mentioned, and he provided reward to Naval Air Methods Command, which is accountable for it.

The JSE is a form of wargaming mannequin that calculates how a selected platform—on this case, the F-35—will fare in an all-up battle in opposition to a peer adversary, and the way tweaking the numbers of platforms will have an effect on the end result of a marketing campaign, looking for a “candy spot” mixture of platforms, munitions, and different capabilities. The JSE was recognized because the final large hurdle to realize Milestone C—and was a late add to this system—a number of years in the past.  

The JSE integration “goes rather well, thus far,” he mentioned.

Moreover, there must be new price estimates, Schmidt mentioned. Producing a brand new program price estimate is a problem as a result of the JPO has to foretell “improvement, manufacturing, sustainment throughout the board by 2088,” he mentioned; the F-35 is the one program out of “lots of” he’s ever labored on that has to foretell upgrades, inflation, and working prices by the final merchandise’s retirement date.

Included are “estimates for improvement within the 2050s and … all this sustainment” and “belongings you haven’t considered but—future applications that haven’t but been appropriated or began,” he mentioned.

That price estimate shall be accessible when the Pentagon releases its program Chosen Acquisition Stories this fall.

“When individuals speak in regards to the very large numbers on this program, these are the large numbers that they’re speaking about,” Schmidt mentioned, and why the F-35 is derided as being so pricey. No different program has needed to challenge lifecycle prices that far into the long run, which is inherently unsure.

Schmidt noticed that in making an attempt to complete the System Design and Growth part, the F-35 program workplace has been “spending human sources—tons of human sources—wanting backwards, specializing in that course of to shut out SDD, versus wanting ahead to all the issues that we have to do on this program.”

That, he mentioned, imposes a requirement on restricted numbers of personnel, who must look “within the incorrect path. It’s not that it’s not necessary that we shut it out; we do have to shut it out. Nevertheless it … doesn’t add rather a lot for this program,” mentioned Schmidt

As soon as SDD is wrapped up, it’s going to unlock individuals and sources, Schmidt famous. The JSE is “working at an previous model of our operational flight program software program, as a result of it has to satisfy the factors for IOT&E,” Schmidt mentioned. “As quickly as we get achieved with the IOT&E testing in assist of Milestone C, we’re going to focus Lockheed and the JSE staff on getting that software program as much as the most recent software program that the jet has. So that’s one big benefit of getting by Milestone C and, and the complete price manufacturing resolution.”

The software program being evaluated for Milestone C “doesn’t keep in mind the present model of software program that’s flying within the jets all over the world in the present day. However the sooner we get to that, the higher,” Schmidt mentioned.

Requested if declaring the F-35 prepared for full-rate manufacturing is successfully moot, for the reason that fighter is already being produced at close to its most price, Schmidt acknowledged that “we’re already at a price of 156-ish a 12 months. We haven’t constructed that many but [in a year], however that’s the speed that we’re at contractually.

“So I agree.”

An Airman guides in an F-35 flown by 325th Fighter Wing commander Col. George Watkins shortly after touchdown at Tyndall Air Drive Base, Fla. Aug. 1, 2023. Air & House Forces Journal picture by David Roza

The aim for the approaching years is to maintain annual portions “just like the place we’re at. The utmost manufacturing price is about 156 a 12 months. That’s precise deliveries in a calendar 12 months,” however will fluctuate lot by lot, he mentioned.

Negotiations are underway for Tons 18 and 19. There’s no time restrict looming to conclude these negotiations, Schmidt mentioned, and he declined to foretell when the JPO and Lockheed will attain a “handshake” deal.

“We’re in the course of negotiations with Lockheed proper now, working by an infinite variety of issues in in these conversations,” he mentioned.

For the Air Drive, F-35s have are available in at about $80 million per tail in recent times. Requested if the times of low-cost F-35s are over—given the consequences of inflation and the truth that the Block 4 provides some 80 new capabilities, Schmidt declined to supply a prediction.

“As you may think about, we’ve a finances and you already know, we are able to solely afford what we are able to negotiate. So, these issues all play into the dialog,” he mentioned. “Definitely … the world wherein we’re residing is unquestionably charged with inflation from earlier years.”

After full-rate manufacturing is said, Lot 20 often is the first official multi-year contract for the F-35.

“We’re having these discussions and whether or not it’s a multi-year or a multi-lot purchase, I’m wanting ahead to speaking with the Division about that,” Schmidt mentioned.

“We’ve a great mannequin to indicate this—it is extremely necessary for the U.S. and our companions to spend money on what we name Financial Order Amount funding,” mentioned Schmidt. “So, funding upfront to permit our business staff to make good choices in shopping for ahead or locking-in” costs on supplies or labor.

“So to me, whether or not it’s a multi-year contract or a multi-lot contract, the large good thing about that’s in our skill to garner assist for EOQ funding upfront, which might enable probably the most vital financial savings related to that,” Schmidt mentioned. “With out the EOQ funding, it’s not fairly as advantageous to have a multi-year” contract.

Greg Ulmer, head of Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics applications, informed reporters in the course of the Paris Air Present that it’s affordable to imagine the F-35 is not going to merely undergo a Block 4 improve, however many extra after that, saying there could possibly be a Block 8. Schmidt agreed, however mentioned that these upgrades received’t rely on having a brand new engine for the F-35, within the type of an Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) powerplant from GE Aerospace or Pratt & Whitney.

“Oh, completely, there are extra blocks forward,” Schmidt mentioned.

“However the choice of the engine isn’t the motive force. The motive force to supporting Blocks 5 and past is {the electrical} and cooling capability, which is pushed by the ability and thermal administration system (PTMS). Of which, each the [Pratt-offered Engine Core Upgrade] and the AETP might deal with,” he mentioned.

Of the competitors between GE Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney over whether or not the F-35 wants an AETP engine or a much less superior Engine Core Improve, Schmidt famous that sure fashions of the F-35 wouldn’t have been in a position to take the AETP engine, probably “bifurcating” the fleet.

As a substitute, he targeted on the significance of a brand new PTMS to controlling the F-35’s rising energy wants.

“What we find yourself with” in that system “will drive … the place we are able to go relative to electrical energy going ahead.”