GAO Tells Congress: Pentagon Nonetheless Wants a Portfolio Plan for Tactical Aviation

With a flood of recent plane packages taking form, the Pentagon nonetheless doesn’t have a portfolio plan that rationalizes its all-service tactical aviation actions, the Authorities Accountability Workplace instructed the Home Armed Companies Committee this week.

Creating such a plan would assist the Protection Division and Congress alike measurement up the true priorities in TacAir and put funds in opposition to essentially the most urgent wants, the GAO reported. It additionally mentioned the joint-service F-35 continues to lag behind deliberate schedules, and that its engine points are being addressed and not using a enterprise case evaluation in place.  

In March 29 testimony earlier than the Home Armed Companies Committee panel on tactical aviation, GAO’s Jon Ludwigson, director of contracting and nationwide safety acquisition, mentioned the DOD is within the midst of updating nearly all of its TacAir packages, roughly half of which “have been first produced earlier than 2000 and are greater than 25 years previous.”

Whereas the Pentagon is pushing this raft of recent airplanes, it nonetheless “lacks key portfolio-level evaluation to raised inform its choices,” regardless of no fewer than eight TacAir evaluations carried out by the DOD between 2020 and 2022. Ludwigson mentioned the GAO thinks a rationalized portfolio may get monetary savings by decreasing pointless duplication of effort.

The Pentagon has not “carried out an built-in evaluation that gives insights into the interdependencies and dangers throughout all tactical air platforms and all companies,” Ludwigson mentioned, referring to an audit GAO did in December 2022.

“We consider that conducting an built-in portfolio overview would profit DOD and the Congress, as they steadiness these choices,” he mentioned. In fiscal 2023, TacAir modernization packages totaled greater than $20 billion throughout the companies, he famous, and that invoice balloons to over $100 billion throughout the long run years protection plan.

Responding to the GAO in December, the Pentagon mentioned it expects to do a portfolio-wide evaluation of its TacAir plans within the subsequent yr or two.

The Air Drive and Navy each are pursuing Subsequent-Era Air Dominance fighters—which regardless of the similar names are completely different packages with completely different necessities and timelines. They’re likewise individually pursuing uncrewed fight plane packages and new examples of fourth technology fighters, whereas collectively constructing completely different variants of the F-35 as their principal crewed tactical aviation asset.

Providing insights from a not-yet-published report on the F-35, Ludwigson mentioned “challenges proceed to delay completion of the baseline growth” and put F-35 modernization in danger.

“This system has struggled to finish and validate the simulator wanted for remaining testing. As well as, plane and engines have been delivered late and haven’t met reliability/maintainability metrics set for them,” he mentioned.

In the meantime, the Block 4 improve of the F-35 wanted to face trendy threats” has “continued to lag schedule estimates, exceed value estimates” and grown in scope, Ludwigson famous.

The unique engine specs of the F-35 didn’t have in mind “the eventual full cooling and energy wants of the plane, which contributed to accelerated put on and tear on the present engine. Additional, the present cooling system and engine faces limits in supporting new deliberate capabilities,” Ludwigson mentioned, a reference to extra cooling wanted for the brand new hotter-running electronics that will likely be included within the Block 4 model of the fighter.  

The Pentagon is shifting towards an Engine Core Improve of the F135 powerplant, significantly to the F135’s thermal administration system, however “based mostly on our preliminary evaluation, these engine-related efforts lack key parts of a full enterprise case to help choices and are continuing with out necessities,” Ludwigson mentioned, setting the stage for this system to return up quick if there aren’t any agency targets in opposition to want to measure it.

On the very least, the F-35’s “engine is underperforming, leading to … elevated put on and tear” on the powerplant, Ludwigson asserted.

“We’re … involved that this system could search to develop and purchase this advanced, pricey and essential improve” of the F135 “throughout the F-35 program, with out its personal baseline value and schedule,” he mentioned.

The Block 4 improve alone is anticipated to value $16.5 billion, Ludwigson mentioned, and GAO’s observations of the hassle “level to will increase in scope, prices, and delays,” he mentioned.

In the meantime, till DOD verifies that the “simulator can conduct advanced take a look at eventualities that precisely replicate real-world circumstances, the F-35 will likely be unable to finish preliminary operational testing,” Ludwigson mentioned.