Sunday, 10 April 2011

U.S. budget watchdog issues new warning about F-35 design and cost

U.S. budget watchdog issues new warning about F-35 design and cost
A U.S. budget watchdog is worried the manufacturer of the F-35 stealth fighter keeps making too many late design changes and that Lockheed Martin seems unable to control skyrocketing costs.

The Government Accountability Office released a new assessment Thursday, a follow-up to a report issued last month which showed the purchase price for the ultra high-tech fighter-bomber would be substantially more than the Harper government has estimated.

Most of the public debate in Canada has focused on the eye-popping cost and completely overshadowed the more basic question of whether the highly automated aircraft can fly and live up to its billing.

"After more than nine years in development and four in production, the program has not fully demonstrated that the aircraft design is stable, manufacturing processes are mature, and the system is reliable," said the report.

... The report warns that as many as 10,000 more design changes are expected between now and 2016, the year Canada expects to sign a contract for the 65 aircraft it wants to buy.

The accountability office said the number of changes is alarming because it will take years for those individual modifications to make their way into the manufacturing progress and aircraft already on the flight line will have to refitted.

It said the risk to the program is significant. The numerous design changes indicate a "lack of understanding about the design" and could lead to parts shortages and a messed-up supply chain.

"Some level of design change is expected during the production cycle of any new and highly technical product, but excessive changes raises questions about the (fighter's) design maturity and its readiness for high rates of production," said the report.

... Defence experts expressed frustration last winter that Lockheed Martin was way behind in software development for the highly automated plane. Only four million lines of code out of a anticipated eight million lines have been written.

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