• Friday, December 15, 2017

F-35 Unreliability Risks Strain on Pentagon Budget, Tester Says

Discussion in 'Air Warfare' started by A.P. Richelieu, Jul 7, 2017.

  1. A.P. Richelieu

    A.P. Richelieu SENIOR MEMBER

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    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/arti...train-on-pentagon-budget-tester-says-j4gpnpbg

    Costs to operate and support Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will balloon unless the deteriorating reliability of the Pentagon’s costliest program improves, according to an assessment from the Defense Department’s own testing office.

    The aircraft and its parts aren’t as reliable as expected, and it’s taking longer to repair them than planned, according to the presentation by the director of operational testing for defense officials and congressional aides. About 20 percent of the jets must await spares in depots because suppliers can’t keep up with expanding production while fixing returned parts.

    Past attention focused on costs and delays in what’s now a projected $379 billion program to acquire the planned fleet of 2,443 fighters for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. But operating and maintaining the advanced jets for decades to come presents another set of challenges that may strain Pentagon budgets.

    The availability of spare parts for the 203 F-35s already assigned to bases “is getting worse, affecting fly rates” and pilot training, according to the presentation dated May 8 and obtained by Bloomberg News. Reliability metrics linked to “critical failures have worsened over the last year,” as improvement “has stagnated.”

    Affecting Budgets
    These trends mean long-term “lifecycle costs” of the aircraft are “likely to increase significantly” over the current $1.2 trillion estimate and affect budgets of the services, according to the presentation, which updated the testing office’s annual report released in January.

    Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Defense Department’s F-35 program office, said in an email that since 2015 the office’s estimate of annual operating expenses, including flying-hour costs, have decreased 2.2 percent for the Air Force version, 3.3 percent for the Marine Corps jet and 4.2 percent for the Navy model.

    “These reductions were the result of improved maintainability and sustainability as the weapons systems matures, the design stabilizes and maintenance” becomes more efficient and effective, he said.

    President Donald Trump requested 70 F-35s in his fiscal 2018 budget request, up from 63 last year. The two primary House defense committees signaled this week that they want to add as many as 17 more. Negotiations between Lockheed and the Pentagon are also under way for a “block buy” of 445 of the aircraft for the U.S. and allies.

    The testing office presentation provides a snapshot of the reliability, maintenance and availability trends that will in large part determine whether the services and allies can afford to buy all the planned aircraft because most costs are absorbed by long-term operations and support.

    ‘Notoriously Poor’
    “Even if an F-35 squadron can get to where it is needed, what good is it if it can’t fly them on missions?” analyst Dan Grazier of the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight said in a March 30 review of the test office’s January assessment. “This is one of the most enduring problems of the F-35 program. The fleet has had a notoriously poor reliability track record.”

    The testing office said in its latest assessment that the trend in aircraft availability for flight test or training missions “has been flat over the past two years” because initiatives to improve reliability “are still not translating into improved availability.” Just last week the Marine Corps temporarily grounded operational jets in Yuma, Arizona, over reliability concerns with the program’s key maintenance diagnostic system.

    The fleetwide availability of F-35s to fly when needed is 52 percent, short of an interim goal of 60 percent as well as the 80 percent needed to start combat testing next year.

    DellaVedova didn’t dispute the 52 percent, saying availability rates “are expected to increase as newer F-35s are delivered each month.” The 52 percent rating is the combined number of newer and older aircraft, he said, and newer aircraft are showing “significantly better reliability and aircraft availability rates.”

    The 388th Air Force Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah currently says its aircraft are available 73 percent of the time needed, he said.

    ‘Positive Effect’
    DellaVedova said the program has also improved its forecasting of spare-parts needs and the time needed to repair parts, “all of which are having a positive effect.”

    Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cabiness, spokesman for the testing office, said the issues cited in the May 8 presentation persist, although some of the specific numbers cited have changed “as the program continues to work fixes and discovers new deficiencies” during the $55 billion development phase that’s scheduled to end early next year.

    Cabiness said the newest reliability data, which the test office received after the May 8 briefing, indicates that “overall, the metrics worsened” for Air Force and Marine Corps models while improving for the Navy version. The Air Force is buying the largest number of F-35s.

    One key metric is the average number of flight hours between critical failures, those that could render an aircraft unsafe to fly or unable to complete its mission. The goal for the Air Force’s F-35 is 20 hours between failures after 75,000 hours of flight. As of August, Air Force models were averaging only 7.3 hours between failures after 34,197 hours of flight, according to the testing office presentation.
     
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  2. Gomig-21

    Gomig-21 FULL MEMBER

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    Every time it seems this thing is turning the corner, another plague appears. This part is pretty disturbing, actually.

    "One key metric is the average number of flight hours between critical failures, those that could render an aircraft unsafe to fly or unable to complete its mission. The goal for the Air Force’s F-35 is 20 hours between failures after 75,000 hours of flight. As of August, Air Force models were averaging only 7.3 hours between failures after 34,197 hours of flight, according to the testing office presentation."

    75,000 hours of flight? I wonder how many platforms that average number of flight hours is determined from?
    7.3 hours between failures seems way too frequent, even after 75,000 hours but after 34,000 hours? Still, it would be nice to know what the total number of aircraft that average is determined from. They don't mention that.

    Even out of 500 aircraft, 7.3 hours between failures is still pretty high, I would think.
     
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  3. gambit

    gambit PROFESSIONAL

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    Here we go again...:rolleyes:
     
  4. Gomig-21

    Gomig-21 FULL MEMBER

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    Well, you're a former crew guy, and your understanding of many of the technical intricacies is well founded; so objectively speaking, the F-35 program (and expected unit cost) notwithstanding -- since it is a very complicated and advanced platform, and while many ignore inflation standards and similarities with preceding platforms and their respective challenges -- is actually in line and fairly reasonable when you factor all these aspects. But I don't think the problems that have plagued it (but specifically the ones that still do), to some extent, should be easily dismissed just for the sake that it's a US fighter and the clout that title leverages. So what do you make of these critical failures within 7.3 hours of averaged flight time? Is this not a legitimate issue?
     
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  5. gambit

    gambit PROFESSIONAL

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    The problem with words like 'critical' is that to laypeople, it is misleading since they do not understand aviation in general, let alone the sub specialty of aviation maintenance.

    Take this paragraph, for example...

    One key metric is the average number of flight hours between critical failures, those that could render an aircraft unsafe to fly or unable to complete its mission. The goal for the Air Force’s F-35 is 20 hours between failures after 75,000 hours of flight. As of August, Air Force models were averaging only 7.3 hours between failures after 34,197 hours of flight, according to the testing office presentation.

    In aviation maintenance, you, as a pilot, have three options after a flight: Code One, Code Two, and Code Three.

    - If after a sortie and your write-up is 'Code One', it means the jet have no defects that could or would prevent it from being on the next day's sortie list.

    Lockheed have a magazine called 'Code One'...

    http://lockheedmartin.com/us/news/features/code-one.html

    - If after a sortie and your write-up is 'Code Two', it means the jet have one or more defects that while does not prevent the jet from the next sortie list, the defect(s) should be looked at and fixed.

    - If after a sortie and your write-up is 'Code Three', it means the jet have a defect that would render it unsafe to fly.

    Obviously, there are no magazines calls 'Code Two' and 'Code Three'.

    For the maintainers, literally EVERYTHING they do must be documented in the aircraft's form. For the Air Force, there is the AFTO 781. It stands for Air Force Technical Order no. 781.

    http://www.tinker.af.mil/Portals/106/Documents/AFD-160427-007.pdf

    If you open a panel for maintenance, you must document in the jet's 781 which panel and that would make the jet unsafe to fly. How can you fly with an opened panel, right ? If you removed the control stick, that action must be documented and of course, the jet is unsafe to fly. How can you fly without a control stick in the first place ? Each 'unsafe' item is also a 'Red X' item. See chapter 4 regarding symbols in the above source.

    So now you have two groups that can render a jet unsafe to fly: pilots and maintenance.

    If you -- the pilot -- while flying noticed the back up altimeter needle was fluctuating, is that a 'Red X' item ?

    Of course it is. If your primary altitude indicator is inoperable for any reason, you have to rely on the back up. Even if the back up altimeter is less refined, it shows in tens increment instead of the more accurate single digit, its operation should be steady when your life depends on it. So when you land, you would tell the crew chief that this is a CRITICAL item and your write up would be 'Code Three', disqualifying the jet from flying until the back up altimeter needle fluctuating is repaired.

    When people read incomplete articles -- like this one in this thread -- and see the word 'critical' they immediately thinks of something catastrophic like blowing smoke or snap in half or something to those effects.

    See this TIT ?

    [​IMG]

    See those red hash marks on the dial ?

    Quite often those range limit indicators are not hard painted but simple stickers. That is to make the TIT indicator more user friendly to as many aircrafts as possible. It make sense because each jet engine design will have a different inlet temperature than other designs.

    If you -- the pilot -- found the stickers came off in flight or not fully adhered to the dial, believe it or not, that is a critical item and when you land, your write-up would be Code Three. It would take the crew chief five minutes to fix but regs requires that you write the jet up as Code Three.

    So when someone data mined the jet's record and found 10 critical ( Red X ) items in one week, it will go into his report as 10 critical items but without the details of those items.

    Articles like this one are not taken seriously by those 'in-the-know' in aviation, military and civil. These articles are sensationalist and USUALLY misleading.
     
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  6. Gomig-21

    Gomig-21 FULL MEMBER

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    Ok, good stuff and excellent explanation, as usual. So what you're saying, in summary, is that even though many of these "critical items" that are classified as code 3 because they do in fact render the aircraft unsafe to fly BUT, might literally take 5 minutes to fix and in some instances, despite being classified as code 3, they really are not because -- in some instances -- there are backups such as your example of the altimeter but still need to be reported as code 3. Makes sense.

    With the hundreds of thousands of intricate parts in a fighter, I think it's only logical to expect many items breaking down or showing some malfunctioning and many probably fall in the less critical code classifications, and these failures most likely tend to be higher during the early stages of an aircraft's life as the "bugs" are being worked out, and then subside but also tend to increase as the jet gets into it's twilight years and things break down more frequently. Seems logical. They also might increase exponentially and be at their height during a conflict and sorties are at a much higher rate and the planes are being abused to their limits. Completely understandable scenarios. But, are these failures -- no matter what level code or separability -- still way too frequent at this "not so early stage of the development anymore" for this aircraft? Isn't it just a bit more than what should be expected, considering the cost and level and stage of the program? Isn't there some cause for concern or should we just assume this is normal? Especially if they themselves are classifying these failures as critical ones (regardless of level) with only 7.3 hours in between each one.

    Also, what do you make of the bay doors vibrating when they open (I think past mach 1.2 or something like that?) Is that a drag issue? I think that is isolated in the B only, if I'm not mistaken. And isn't that a concern? I know the Lockheed guys downplay it but the Raptor didn't have that issue, as far as I remember, so why shouldn't it be a concern with this aircraft? Does it mean much stiffer hinges on all the bay doors of all the aircraft produced to date?

    Another thing that makes me think of what we might be hearing is once the B and C start really becoming active and fully operational on carriers and are constantly exposed to the harsher elements of not only being at sea, and the nasty weather that will be in their faces a lot of times AND, the pounding of the take offs and landings of the C with cats and hard deck slams. When we constantly hear of these issues plaguing this aircraft, one can't help but think under real conditions if this thing will be ok. The impression is that its delicate. The lightning issue was mind boggling! The irony of an aircraft called the Lightning II and for a while it couldn't fly during lighting storms was pretty embarrassing. I think the B still has taxiing issues during lightning storms.

    It's just hard to ignore, especially the B with its complex STOVL mechanisms. Can't imagine maintenance protocol for that thing! Holy cow lol. Even the C and the pounding that thing will need to endure.
     
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  7. gambit

    gambit PROFESSIONAL

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    In peace time, safety margins are wide. What is 'Critical' in peace time WILL be waived in combat.

    Also a factor is whether the original manufacturer(s) is/are still in business. If a manufacturer for a component is no longer in business, an alternative must be found and sometimes the replacement vendor may not meet certification in time or even failed to meet at all.

    USAF Systems Command -- where all the Air Force geeks resides -- yrs ago did a study on when a platform will reach its peak performance. Defects naturally rises during development and initial deployments, but once feedback from the line squadrons are analyzed and deficiencies remedied, ground aborts and other sortie cancellation items decreases.

    What make the F-35's issues attention getting is simply because of its program cost. Other than that, the jet is suffering no more than the usual growing pains. You can take any single item and if you are a wordsmith like Shakespeare, you can make the jet the worst thing man has yet -- or ever -- created.
     
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  8. dani191

    dani191 FULL MEMBER

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    if they started and pay 400 bilion for the develop they must finish