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DOD and Lockheed Announce Principle Agreement on Purchase of F-35s

The U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin have reached an agreement in principle for the production of 43 F-35 Lightning II aircraft. Officials anticipate the Low-Rate Initial Production lot 8 (LRIP 8) contract to be finalized in the coming weeks. The contract is for fiscal year 2014 with deliveries beginning in 2016.

Cost details will be released once the contract is finalized; however, in general, the average unit price for all three variants of the airframe in LRIP 8 is approximately 3.6 percent lower than the previous contract.

“Today’s agreement is representative of the program’s ongoing maturation,” said F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan. “Once production of LRIP 8 aircraft is completed, more than 200 F-35s will be in operation by eight nations. We are glad the Government and LM are completing a fair and reasonable contract for the 8th lot of aircraft.”

The LRIP 8 contract procures 29 U.S. aircraft including 19 F-35As, six F-35Bs and four F-35Cs. It also provides for the production of the first two F-35As for Israel, the first four F-35As for Japan along with two F-35As for Norway and two F-35As for Italy. The United Kingdom will receive four F-35Bs. The contract also funds manufacturing-support equipment as well as ancillary mission equipment.

“Affordability is a key performance parameter in today’s challenging acquisition environment.” said Lockheed Martin F-35 Program General Manager Lorraine Martin. “Working together with our suppliers, we are making steady progress in reducing F-35 costs. While there will always be room for improvement, the results of the LRIP 8 negotiations and initiatives like the Blueprint for Affordability are indicative of our shared commitment to ensuring affordability.”

Launched earlier this year, Blueprint for Affordability aims to reduce the price of an F-35 5th generation fighter to the equivalent of today’s 4th generation fighters by the end of the decade. The initiative leverages upfront investments from key industry partners Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman to drive down production costs. Cost savings from this initiative will begin in LRIP 9.

The LRIP 8 aircraft join 166 F-35s contracted under LRIPs 1-7. As of October 24, 2014, 115 F-35s, including test aircraft, were delivered from Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The U.S., eight Partner nations, and Foreign Military Sales participants have announced plans to procure more than 3,100 F-35 aircraft over the life of the program.

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Where Are the F-35’s Critics When the F-16 Develops Fuselage Cracks?

Just the other day it was reported that one of the bedrocks of U.S. air power, the F-16 fleet, had a major problem. Apparently, in late July, cracks were discovered on the canopy sill longeron of an F-16D. This is part of the frame of the aircraft that surrounds the cockpit area. The longeron is what the canopy sits on when in the closed position.

The Air Force quickly sent out a directive to inspect all operational F-16s. This inspection discovered that 82 of the service’s 157 F-16D models, more than half, needed to be grounded.

The Air Force also sent out a notice to all the allied and partner countries that fly the aircraft about a potential problem with the F-16 canopy. Because the cause of the problem has yet to be identified and a solution developed, it is possible that these 82 U.S. F-16s or even the entire fleet might be grounded for a protracted period of time. This not only impacts the availability of a significant number of Air Force fighter squadrons at a time of greater global insecurity but has a ripple effect on operations, readiness and training.

The F-16 first flew in 1973 and variants have been in continuous production for some 40 years. The standard two-seat D model and its companion single-seat C model were first flown in 1984 but the current upgraded versions, Block 50D/52D, first entered production in 1990. Not exactly a new airplane, but not all that old given an expected airframe life of 8,000 flying hours or more than 30 years, even without a mid-life upgrade. Most important, it is certainly not an aircraft you would think still needed to have the bugs worked out.

So where are the critics, the ones who have never let a single technical glitch in the F-35 program pass without shouts of glee, an aircraft still in development, mind you, when the F-16 develops a serious problem?

You mean to tell me that a problem with the helmet-mounted display system, delays in delivering software or a single engine fire are reason enough in their minds to cancel the program for the world’s premier fifth-generation tactical fighter, but they are silent on the fact that more than 80 F-16s to date have developed fuselage cracks?

Where was the office of Operational Test and Evaluation when this obviously flawed airplane was tested and certified? Was this another plot by the military-industrial complex to foist an inadequate and too expensive weapons system on the military and the American taxpayer? Perhaps this program was a mistake; maybe the Air Force should have stuck to the old, reliable F-4.

Where are those strategic thinkers who assert that we don’t need the F-35, that our current fleet of tactical fighters (which includes the F-16) is good enough against not just today’s threats but those of the next 20 years?

One reason for the problems with these F-16s is that we have flown them hard, asking them to perform missions for which they were never designed. They have performed extremely well. But the central point is that times change, threats are becoming more stressing, the flying environments are more complex and there are limits to what you can do with 30-year-old airframes even if some of the internal systems are new. Senior military officers have publicly testified that the current fourth-generation fighter fleet cannot survive in the expected air defense environments of the next decade.

Another point that needs to be made is that the surprise canopy cracks in the F-16 fleet are a problem that senior Air Force leaders have warned about for years. Large portions of their inventory including aerial refueling tankers, ISR platforms, tactical fighters and strategic bombers are old, as a result there is the growing danger of a surprise, catastrophic problem that would require the grounding of an entire fleet. Imagine the impact on U.S. national security if the KC -135s, the E-3 AWACS or B-52 bomber fleets had to be grounded. That is why timely modernization is imperative.

So, talk about a double standard. Worse, the F-35 is being held to a phony standard.

Most of the critics of the program know just how hard it is, how long it takes and how fraught with bumps and potholes the path is to develop and deploy a new, state-of-the-art military aircraft. Even when successful, stuff continues to happen.

So either they should jump on the F-16 with equal vigor or just rethink their critiques of the F-35.

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F-35s Return to Limited Flight Operations

The 26 Air Force F-35s Lightning II joint strike fighters assigned here returned to limited flight operations July 17 with the approval of commanders and Air Force airworthiness authorities.

The decision to return to flight was coordinated between the F-35 Joint Program Office, Air Combat Command, Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Materiel Command to ensure accurate return to flight instructions were delivered to Airmen.

“This is the same process the Air Force uses after any suspension of operations,” said Col. Carl Schaefer, Air Force Joint Strike Fighter Integration Chief. “Safety remains our top priority as the F-35 resumes development and training flights.”

The Navy and Marine Corps variants here also returned to limited flight operations July 17 with the approval of Navy airworthiness authorities.

The return has a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and restricted flight rules according to defense officials. While the safety investigation is not yet complete, recently completed inspections indicate that the aircraft can resume flight under the prescribed flight limitations. The limits will remain in place while the safety investigation continues its analysis to determine root cause.

Under the rules of the flight resumption, the F-35s are limited to a maximum speed of Mach 0.9 and 18 degrees of angle of attack. They can go from minus 1 G to 3 Gs, defense official said. After three hours of flight time, the front fan section of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope.

“In terms of our current training syllabus, we don’t anticipate these flight limitations will slow down our training,” said Navy Capt. Paul Haas, 33rd Fighter Wing vice commander.

Despite the grounding, Air Force, Marine and Navy F-35 maintainers and pilots remained busy completing academic and flight simulator training and conducting additional inspections on the aircraft.

“I definitely wouldn’t call this ‘down time’ here,” said Haas. “There is always more work for our team to do with this program. It’s always moving forward, and this experience drives that point home. There were a lot of valuable lessons learned by our community during this incident, both locally and at the higher F-35 program level.”

While the F-35s have returned to limited flight, it will not be appearing at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference July 15.

“While we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the airshow,” he added, “we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.”

The F-35 fleet was grounded July 3 in the wake of a June 23 engine fire on the runway at Eglin . No one was injured during the incident.

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RAAF F-35s On Track for Delivery

By on Friday, November 15th, 2013

As Australia’s first F-35A – commonly known as the Joint Strike Fighter – rolls along the assembly-line, Air Force’s first F-35A squadron is on track to be operational in 2020, according to New Air Combat Capability Project Manager Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Kym Osley.

AVM Osley was at the F-35A manufacturing plant Fort Worth in Texas recently when the RAAF’s first F-35A came together. “They put the three parts of the fuselage together and installed the wings,” AVM Osley said. “We expect the first Australian F-35A to come off the production line in July 2014 and the second in August 2014.”

After production is complete, the jets will fly to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to be used in the pilot training pool. “They will be integrated into a US Air Force squadron as part of the pilot training continuum,” AVM Osley said. “We expect our first Australian pilot to start training in early 2015. There will be more people training in the years after that and we expect our first aircraft to be in Australia in 2018.”

The first operational squadron of F-35As, which will be No. 3 Squadron, should be up and running by the end of 2020. AVM Osley said the new F-35As came in slightly less than the expected $130 million for each aircraft and future aircraft were expected to reduce further in price. “It is pleasing to see that the program has been able to get the price of the aircraft down, with the aircraft costs in each successive annual production run coming in below the previous year, and below US Government estimated costs,” he said.

He said the program had undergone significant testing but about 60 per cent was still to be completed. “In terms of testing there are no show stoppers at this point in time,” he said. “Now they’re up to dropping air-to-air and air-to-ground telemetry weapons. Later this year they will be seeing the first live ‘all up’ missiles and bombs to test end-to-end performance and accuracy.”

With system development and testing of the aircraft being done by the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin in the US, the main job of the RAAF was to prepare for the integration of the F-35A into RAAF service, according to AVM Osley.

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F-35s cleared to resume flight

By on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

F-35 Lightning IIs were cleared for flight Feb. 28 following a temporary suspension after a cracked engine blade was found in a test aircraft earlier in the month.

A .06-inch crack was discovered in a third-stage turbine blade in a test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 19. Third-stage blades are located deep inside the engine.

A thorough series of tests on the blade concluded prolonged exposure to high-heat levels and other operational stressors on the engine were contributing factors. Edwards AFB is home of the service’s major flight test wing, where aircraft undergo rigorous testing.

“As with any new weapons system, we expect to learn things about the aircraft and the system over time and we are doing just that,” said Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander at Eglin AFB, Fla., where F-35 pilot and maintenance training began in January.

After the crack was found, all F-35 engines were inspected and no additional cracks or signs of similar engine stress were found.

Despite not being able to fly during the recent suspension, teams at Eglin AFB continued training in a state-of-the-art training center.

“Due to the fidelity of the simulators, approximately 50 percent of the core syllabus flights for the F-35 training program are accomplished virtually,” Toth said. “Any additional time in the simulator gives pilots an opportunity to practice more emergency procedures and improve their capabilities.”

The training center has electronic classrooms for maintainers, actual-size, mock-up cockpits and weapons bays. On the flightline, maintainers continued to hone their skills on the advanced, stealth fighter.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc explained why the F-35, which will be built for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines, and eight allies, is needed.

“Enemy threats are evolving. Their surface-to-air missile technology is evolving,” he said. “So that’s why fifth-generation technology is such a thing and that’s the promise of the F-35.”

Gorenc said aircraft like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II are far more vulnerable in “contested environments” because they are not stealth aircraft.

The general also explained the advantage of going to war with coalition partners that train with and fly the same aircraft.

“The ability to deal with coalition partners that operate the same equipment, that will probably adopt the same tactics, techniques, procedures, that will be involved in the same logistics concept,” Gorenc said, “That’s very important because when you have a coalition partner that is operating the same equipment, there are so many things in the joint fight that become much easier to do than you would expect.”

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said July 18, the F-35 is critical to a future defense strategy that depends on agility, flexibility and the ability to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

“We’re committed to all three (F-35) variants,” Panetta said, “because we think each of the forces will be able to use that kind of weaponry for the future so that we can effectively control the skies as we confront the enemies of tomorrow.”

(Chrissy Cuttita at Eglin AFB and Cheryl Pellerin with American Forces Press Service contributed to this report.)

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Lockheed Martin Delivers Four F-35s To USAF And Marine Corps

By on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

With the delivery of four Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft since June 29, an important milestone was achieved as the Department of Defense now possesses more operational-coded F-35s than test aircraft. A total of nine F-35s have been delivered for the year, giving the DOD a total of 30 aircraft fleet-wide. Of these, 16 are operational aircraft and 14 are test planes.

“To date, the F-35 program has focused on system development and flight testing while most recently transitioning to low rate initial production,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager, F-35 program.

“We’ve crossed a critical threshold as we begin delivering our LRIP 3 aircraft. We’re increasingly becoming more operationally focused. These deliveries illustrate the program’s natural progression and maturation that is taking place on a daily basis.”

The four aircraft, which were formally accepted by the Defense Contract Management Agency with the signing of Department of Defense Form 250 (DD-250), are the first jets manufactured as part of Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 3.

They will begin ferrying to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in the coming days, bringing the total there to 16. The DOD has eight test aircraft at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and six test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Three of the jets are F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variants and will be assigned to the U.S. Air Force’s 33d Fighter Wing.

One F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft will be assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501. Once at Eglin, the 5th Generation fighters will be used for pilot and maintainer training at the base’s F-35 Integrated Training Center.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.

Three distinct variants of the F-35 will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV8-B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps, and a variety of fighters for at least nine other countries.

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