ORLANDO: It is the most expensive conventional weapon system ever built. At least one government estimate puts the total cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at roughly $1 trillion over the presumed 50-year life of the aircraft.
The three F-35’s variants — one each for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines — have been dogged by technical problems, management problems and cost problems for much of the last five years, as is not uncommon for highly advanced technology programs.
But this year, may — we repeat may — see the F-35 begin the hard climb toward, if not respectability, positive results on cost, schedule and performance. Note that the Air Force’s head of training, Gen. Edward Rice said yesterday that the service’s planes should be cleared for flight within “a matter of weeks.” That doesn’t mean they will actually begin flying right away — that could be months away because the service must ensure that the planes can handle enough sorties — get into the air — often enough to sustain the required training.
As part of that training, the Air Force will test the entire F-35A supply chain, ensuring the highly computerized system works and that the parts suppliers can keep up with the demand and the Air Force can effectively manage the supply chain.
“We have to make sure that the system matures itself such that we can sustain a sortie rate that will allow us to begin training and I don’t know how long that will take. It will take as long as it takes, the good news is that I’m not being pushed by anybody or anything at this point,”
Rice told reporters yesterday afternoon.
Lockheed Martin’s chief test pilot for the F-35 told reporters that the plane should begin weapons release tests by the end of the year. That doesn’t mean they’ll be rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ bombs and missiles but they will be firing and dropping test weapons. And that sort of visible progress can only help improve the F-35’s image and assessment in the eyes of both the Pentagon and the public.