Due to the concurrency between F-35 production and development, modification requirements for low rate initial production airframes is becoming a “major endeavor” as the Joint Program Office pushes to provide enough Block 3F operational test aircraft for the initial operational test and evaluation phase beginning in 2018, according to the recently released Director, Operational Test, and Evaluation report. Early plans provided to the DOT&E outline the JPOs effort to ensure IOT&E aircraft will be “representative” of the Block 3F configuration, but these plans show the program will probably face the same scheduling and parts shortages that have occurred in preparing Block 2B modification. The depot “flow plan” includes a seven-month placeholder to complete all modifications for each operational test aircraft into a Block 3F aircraft, but the time required for these modifications, which include the next increment of structural changes, known as SLLP Group 2, remains unknown. For example, USAF plans for at least 12 F-35A aircraft to be available for IOC declaration in 2016, the report states, and these aircraft will be in the Block 3i configuration (from production Lot 6 onward). These F-35As may require a postproduction On Board Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS) modification, which could potentially “compete for resources” with aircraft scheduled for IOT&E. (DOT&E full report; Caution, large-sized file.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.