The Trillion Dollar Price Tag

The F-35 strike fighter program is expected to cost roughly $1 trillion, adjusted for inflation, over its lifetime, said two senior Senators Thursday. "Put simply, the [F-35] is estimated to cost about 80 percent more than when the program started and about 30 percent more than the current baseline set in 2007," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member, in complaining about the cost growth during an oversight hearing. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), SASC chairman, quoted the same figure. According to the Pentagon's most recent notification to Congress, the cost to develop the F-35 and procure 2,443 F-35s for the nation is pegged at $379 billion. That leaves more than $600 billion for operations and sustainment. Christine Fox, who manages the Pentagon's cost estimating office, said the F-35 likely will cost less to operate and sustain than the F-22, about as much as the F-15C/D, but "about 33 percent more" than the F-16 and F/A-18. Pentagon acquisition executive Ash Carter told the lawmakers that the projected sustainment costs are "way too high." He said "now is the time to face that bill and begin to get that under control." (Carter-Van Buren-Venlet joint statement) (Fox prepared remarks)

The Ups and Downs of F-35 Testing

The F-35 strike fighter program is conducting more flight tests per month than scheduled under the program's most recent restructure. But it's still "lagging somewhat" in its mission systems test points, said Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department's director of operational test and evaluation. "Although good progress is being made in the program, there are many challenges that remain," Gilmore told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. For example, there've been problems "flight testing at high angle of attack and high speed between Mach 1.2 and Mach 1.6 and at low altitude in transonic speeds," he noted. More "discoveries" also could arise as tests progress with weapons integration, particularly "multiple releases from both the aircraft's bays." Gilmore said he is concerned that test flights with heavy external stores might undercover additional structural issues. "Continued durability testing of the aircraft's structure must be done," he said. "It was stopped at 2,000 hours of an 8,000-hour life because problems were discovered in some of the structures." But that structural testing will resume shortly, he said. (Gilmore prepared testimony)

Ramping Up Production on F-35

Lockheed Martin should begin producing four F-35 strike fighters a month at its Fort Worth, Tex., facility beginning in 2013, David Van Buren, top Air Force acquisition official, told Senate lawmakers Thursday. The current build rate is one to 1.5...

Heads Up

Technical issues are hampering the performance of the F-35's high-tech Helmet Mounted Display System, said Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's top operational tester, Thursday. The system is designed to provide F-35 pilots with information right on their helmet visor to help them operate the aircraft and prevail in combat. It's meant to replace a cockpit head-up display. So far, engineers have been experiencing difficulties integrating night vision capability into the system, Gilmore told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. It also suffers from symbology jitter and latency. The latter crops up particularly with infrared images at night, he said. To overcome these challenges, the F-35 program is pursuing two paths: pressing ahead with HMDS development and also exploring how to utilize a technically mature, existing helmet display system coupled with night vision goggles. "As a very last resort," Gilmore said engineers could incorporate a HUD, but that "would be a major modification of the aircraft." (Gilmore written statement)

Still Going Strong

The B-52H fleet has surpassed 50 years of continuous service with the Air Force in conventional and nuclear strike roles. “Half a century ago, no one would think this aircraft would be where it is today,” said Maj. Chris Otis,...

Meet the Air Force’s Team of the Year

Air Force first sergeants are the Air Force’s 2011 Team of the Year. “These men and women have showed exceptional professionalism, technical expertise, and leadership skills that have truly warranted this recognition. We commend them for their great commitment and...

Looking Sharp Again

Paint technicians at Robins AFB, Ga., re-sprayed an F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor, serial number 56-1151, in the authentic color scheme that it wore serving with the 95th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in the mid 1950s when it was based at now-JB...

Don’t Walk, Run

Slots are filling up fast for this year’s Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in mid September, according to race organizers. As of Thursday, they said the marathon is 80 percent full and the remaining slots are selling quickly....

New British Reaper Squadron Forming

Britain’s defense ministry announced that the Royal Air Force will establish a second squadron to operate MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. Next year, 13 Squadron, which ceased Tornado GR.4 operations earlier this month, will transfer from RAF Marham to RAF...