Tuesday, November 02, 2010

F-35 cost overruns in the spotlight again

More cost overruns and schedule delays are in the news today (h/t) on the F-35's development. With this news coming in the heat of election day in the U.S., it will fly somewhat under the radar (pardon the pun). It shouldn't for us though:
Pentagon experts conducting an in-depth review of Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter are predicting further cost increases and delays getting the airplanes tested and into service.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to be briefed today on the latest cost and schedule assessments, said two government officials, who requested anonymity because details aren't public. Delays in writing and testing millions of lines of intricate software code and continuing problems and delays with testing the especially complex Marines version of the aircraft are driving costs higher.

The latest projections are based on a preliminary analysis of test and production data from a comprehensive "technical baseline review" of the F-35, the officials said. The review of the $382 billion program is to be presented Nov. 22 to the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board.

The $50 billion development cost estimate for the F-35 could rise as much as $5 billion more, and Pentagon analysts now estimate that the aircraft may be as much as 11/2 times more expensive to maintain than the warplanes it will replace, the officials said. The F-35 has been billed as being less costly to maintain and operate than existing planes.

Air Force and Navy versions of the plane could be delayed another year and the Marines version by two to three years, the officials said.
Note the estimate that maintenance costs may be one and a half times more expensive than the planes being replaced. Sounds uncertain and costly. How our government can then credibly provide assurances that costs for this purchase can remain under control, in terms of both purchase price and maintenance, remains an unanswered question.

Elsewhere, the testimony offered by ADM Dan Ross at the Commons committee on National Defence on October 19th has come under criticism by aerospace journalist Bill Sweetman who takes issue with a number of Ross' statements. This one, for example: "The US Government does not participate in RFP competitions." Writes Sweetman: "The last statement would be news in India, Singapore and Korea, to name but three." His entire item is well worth a read and seems to raise many questions about Ross' testimony.

This large proposed expenditure is happening at a time not so far removed from a major financial crisis that the world went through. Out of that experience and at a very basic level, we were supposed to have gained a sense that the concept of "too big to fail" is just not true. Further, that we would prefer if those institutions who could do us harm, private or public, be vigilant and ask tough questions on issues and decisions that pose a high degree of risk. This proposed purchase falls under that type of umbrella. As the facts come to light it's hard to view it any other way. It remains remarkable then that a "just trust me" type of attitude, manifested in the sole-source route they wish to take, is the one that the Harper government has chosen here.