Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace and defense company and is the world’s largest defense contractor based on revenue. Lockheed’s largest project of the 21st century is the F-35 Lightning II, a fifth generation combat aircraft. In 1993, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin entered the Joint Strike Fighter competition. The goal of the competition was to replace various aircraft used by the military including the F-16. Lockheed’s entry into the competition, the X-35, was based on the advanced F-22 Raptor and had several variants including the Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL). Lockheed would go on to win the competition in 2001, with a predicted production contract worth over $200 billion.
The X-35 design used to with the Joint Strike Fighter competition was transformed and developed into the F-35 aircraft. The F-35 is by far the most advanced manned stealth aircraft ever designed and is intended to provide the majority of the manned tactical airpower for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The program has encountered several problems and delays over the course of its development and the total program cost is expected to be $1.508 trillion by 2070. Despite the cost overruns and delays, the F-35 is still on track to reach the targeted full rate production goals by 2020. 3.0 Design Phase
3.1 Design Overview
In order to keep costs down, three variants of the F-35 were planned, the Conventional Take-off Landing (CTOL), Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL), and the Carrier Variant (CV). All three variants were designed with the most advanced stealth, speed, and sensor technology available. The CTOL was designed for U.S. Air Force and is the smallest and lightest variant of the F-35. This variant, also referred as the A variant, was primarily intended to replace the current F-16.
The STOVL variant, or B variant, was intended to be used by the Marines and is the world’s first supersonic short take off vertical landing stealth aircraft. It includes a rotating engine that allows the plane to take off vertically. The CV, or C variant, was designed for the Navy and is the largest variant of the F-35. The CV includes larger, foldable wings so that it can be easily stored and has a stronger landing gear so that it can land on aircraft carriers. The majority of the parts used to create the F-35 are common across all three variants. All three variants were planned to be manufactured in a single assembly bay in Lockheed’s 4.9 million square foot facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
3.2 Project Questions
This section includes questions that can be used to evaluate the F-35 project. The questions listed focus on the management, production, and problems associated with the F-35 and Joint Strike Fighter program. Several sources were used to generate the questions and research about the program that are listed in the Works Cited section. The Congressional Research Service generated a comprehensive report in 2014 over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program that includes information about the program management and costs associated with the program.
1. Why was the initial X-35 design selected over Boeing’s X-32 aircraft in the Joint Strike Fighter program? 2. How is the Joint Strike program managed? 3. What new and innovative technology is included in the F-35? 4. How is the F-35 assembled and who are the suppliers for the aircraft? 5. What are the production and procurement costs for the F-35? 6. Who is funding the F-35 project? Who are the global partners? 7. What are the development costs for the project to date? 8. What is the production plan for the F-35? How many planes does Lockheed plan to build? 9. What contributed to the program cost overruns and delays? 10. What are some of the performance problems and issues that the F-35 has encountered? 4.0 Performance Phase
4.1 Project Performance Overview
In 2003, manufacturing of parts for the first F-35 prototype began. The first flight of the A variant plane occurred 3 years later in December 2006 and the plane has been in production since that time. As of November 2016, just over 180 F-35s have been built and sent to customers. The F-35 B variant was the first to enter service in the Marine Corps in 2015. In August of 2016, the F-35 A was introduced in the Air Force and the C variant is planned to be introduced in the Navy by 2018. The F-35 is currently in Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and is incrementally transitioning to full rate production by 2020. The program has been under scrutiny for several cost overruns and delays that have occurred throughout the course of the program. However, as Lockheed transitions to full rate production, the unit costs for the planes will begin to decrease.
4.2 Project Question Answers
1. Why was the initial X-35 design selected over Boeing’s X-32 aircraft in the Joint Strike Fighter program?
The X-32 was a radical design that caused several problems in the initial design phases. While the X-35 was a more conventional plane, it was different than any plane produced before because of the three different variants included in the plane. The X-35 consistently outperformed the X-32 in many different categories. In the end, the short takeoff/vertical landing capabilities of Lockheed’s X-35 made it the clear winner in the design competition.
2. How is the Joint Strike program managed?
The Joint Strike program is managed jointly by the Navy and Air Force. F-35 program managers currently serve for 2 years and can come from both the Navy and Air Force. However, the Department of Defense has been looking into removing the term limits for the F-35 program manager. In 2012, when the Air Force Major General Christopher Bogdan was named the new manager, he called “the relationship between contractor Lockheed Martin and the program office the worst I have ever seen.”
3. What new and innovative technology is included in the F-35?
The F-35 has a variety of sensors and technologies that make it the most advanced manned fighter ever created. The F-35’s shape and antennas allow it to have Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth capability. The aircraft is also extremely agile, giving it a tactical advantage over other aircraft in the sky. The F-35 includes a helmet mounted display system that uses sensors to allow the pilot have a 360 field of view. Additionally, the network capabilities within the plane allow sensor information to be transmitted to military commanders and controllers.
4. How is the F-35 assembled and who are the suppliers for the aircraft?
There are over 110 different companies contracted for the F-35 that each supply a different component for the plane. Pratt & Whitney builds the engine for all three variants of the F-35. All planes are assembled in the mile-long assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.
5. What are the production and procurement costs for the F-35?
Each variant of the F-35 has different production costs. During low rate initial production and not including the cost of the engine, the A variant costs $98 million, B variant costs $104 million, and the C variant costs $116 million. Unit costs for the plane are expected to decrease as Lockheed transitions into full rate production. Overall, the program is estimated to cost $1.508 trillion through 2070.
6. Who is funding the F-35 project? Who are the global partners?
The Department of Defense is in charge of funding for the project domestically. There are eight global partners in the F-35 program: the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Turkey, and Australia. The UK is the largest international partner of the F-35 program and has the largest financial commitment of the eight countries.
7. What are the development costs for the project to date?
As of 2013, the total cost of the F-35 production in 2012 dollars was $325 billion. $59 billion has gone to research and development and $339 billion has been spent on procurement.
8. What is the production plan for the F-35? How many planes does Lockheed plan to build?
The F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C were originally scheduled to be operable in 2013, 2012, and 2015. Each variant actually went into operation two to three years after originally scheduled. Currently, 2,457 aircraft are planned to be built for the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. 2,443 planes were built for production and 14 planes were built for research and development. Eight allied countries are also a part of the F-35 program and foreign sales are projected to reach 3,000 aircrafts.
9. What contributed to the program cost overruns and delays?
The testing of aircraft was overlapped with the initial production of the planes. Adjustments were required after problems with some initial aircraft produced, which increased costs and caused the initial operating capability to be pushed back. There were also several problems with the software used in the planes. In general, affordability of the project was not a main concern by the team at Lockheed, which is why they have received criticism from the government.
10. What are some of the performance problems and issues that the F-35 has encountered?
The F-35 has encountered many issues throughout its development and production. A Pentagon report in 2015 found that the F-35 has a significant fire risk due to the fuel tanks. One investigation found serious deficiencies within the software used in all three variants. Problems that are found result in retrofits of the planes that could add billions of dollars to the total project cost.