Skip to content

March 12 2016

March 15, 2016




12 March 2016


Blog URL


Pentagon, Top Lawmakers Craft DoD Reforms

Joe Gould and Aaron Mehta10:40 a.m. EST March 6, 2016

Carter: Goldwater-Nichols Reforms Coming in ‘Weeks’


US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, waits to speak with Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Capitol Hill on June 17, 2015, in Washington. The US House and Senate Armed Services committees are planing to legislate potentially sweeping reforms at the Pentagon.(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)


WASHINGTON and JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — As the chairmen of the US House and Senate Armed Services committees plan to legislate potentially sweeping reforms at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is leaning in with proposals due in “just a few weeks’ time,” he said Friday.

Carter’s announcement comes as Congress begins to draft its vehicle for reforms, the 2017 defense policy bill. At least some of the Pentagon’s proposals, expected to appear piecemeal over the coming weeks, are aimed at improving its use of cyber capabilities and a giving the services more say in the acquisition system — an area in common with lawmakers.

“We’ll propose things as we conclude our studies of them,” Carter said. “Some of these things will require legislation and therefore we will be asking the Congress to consider them. I hope they will be persuasive, and therefore accepted by the Congress. In other cases they will be things that don’t require legislation at all.”

Thirty years after Congress passed its largest reform in Defense Department history, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, Congress has been revisiting the way the military is organized with an aim to streamline.

“There is widespread agreement, including among people who served in the Obama administration, that the Pentagon is too top-heavy,” said House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “I don’t know if it makes sense to make drastic cuts all of a sudden. We made some progress last year, and I’m interested in making more progress, so more taxpayer dollars can go to the front lines and the people defending our freedom.”

Under the umbrella of Goldwater-Nichols reform, SASC held a broad two-month inquiry late last year. That inquiry delved into the acquisitions system, the personnel system and the 1986 law itself. which underpins the roles and responsibilities of the defense secretary, the Joint Chiefs chairman, the service secretaries and service chiefs, as well as DoD’s unified commands around the globe.

Amid the widely shared view that the law unintentionally fueled a runaway, outmoded bureaucracy, Thornberry and his Senate counterpart, John McCain, R-Ariz., have said they want to help the Pentagon keep up with fast-moving powers like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and violent extremist groups.



As Congress Pushes Defense Department Reform, So Does Carter


Arnold Punaro, a former Marine Corps major general and SASC staff director when the law was passed, said it was intended to balance the interests of OSD against the parochially focused armed services. The goal was to ensure civilian control of the military, empower the Joint Chiefs to provide the president with stronger military advice and streamline the chain of command from the president to the combatant commanders.

“Thirty years later, any legislation has to be reviewed,” said Punaro, now a key advocate for reforms. “It’s been very effective, but now its out of balance on the OSD and joint side, whereas before it was out of balance on the service side. So what we need to do now is get it back in balance.”

Punaro, who has testified before the SASC, recommends the role of the ballooning joint and OSD staffs could be pared back to focus on war fighting. He also recommends lengthening and staggering tours for the Senate-approved Joint Chiefs chairman and vice-chairman, from two years to four, to bolster their independence.

Building on a shift of certain acquisition roles to the service chiefs in last year’s defense policy bill, this year’s policy bill should place the chiefs in charge of requirements, with their own acquisitions cells, Punaro said. The 2016 law required the chiefs to report to Congress this month on any additional authorities they think they need, and separately how they would link and streamline the requirements, acquisitions and budget processes.

In contrast to staunch Pentagon opposition in 1986, Carter and other leaders are open-minded on reform efforts. On Friday, Carter reiterated past support for the services to have greater say in the acquisition system.

“In respect to the acquisition system, for example, something I am very much in favor of, we have some ways of doing this and are doing it, which is to involve the armed services more heavily in the acquisition process,” Carter said. “I’m strongly in favor of that.”



Dunford: It’s Time To Shrink, Reform Joint Chiefs Staff


Up next for Congress is a standalone piece of acquisition-reform legislation that Thornberry plans to unveil within weeks. He said he will use the legislation to vet ideas before incorporating them into the 2017 defense policy bill — with the ultimate goal of dismantling bureaucracy, not making more of it.

In the shadow of a 15-year-old F-35 joint strike fighter program that has devoured $400 billion of taxpayer money and is still beset by delays and technical problems, Thornberry’s acquisition reform plans involve promoting experimentation and uncoupling the technology development phase from the production process.

“Programs of record should be for when the technology’s mature, so we know how it will work, we know how much it costs, and then we can go out and buy a thousand or two or three,” he said. “At the same time we need to experiment and prototype, and we don’t do enough of that.”

Thornberry said he plans to examine decision-making and accountability within the acquisition system for both the services and OSD, without adding more bureaucracy.

On the Senate side, McCain brought his reform agenda into greater focus at a Feb. 25 breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C. He plans to examine the makeup of DoD’s geographic combatant commands and whether any of them might be redundant, as well as the roles of the service secretaries and OSD — “and how big it’s grown.”

“Its amazing when you look at the thousands and thousands [of personnel] that have been added onto these bureaucracies,” McCain said. “The DoD cannot tell us how many civilian contractors they employ, no one knows how many people work for the Department of Defense.”

McCain also asked whether the headquarters of US Africa Command is in Stuttgart, Germany, should be relocated. (Liberia was the only African nation willing to host the command at its inception, amid fears on the continent of the militarization of American foreign policy.)

McCain questioned whether US Northern Command and US Southern Command might be consolidated, a view that has been voiced at the SASC reform hearings.

“Why should their be an arbitrary line at the Mexico/Guatemala border?” he said.

Though the SASC’s efforts are largely being driven by McCain, he said he expects them to continue under the SASC’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, should the Republicans lose Congress in this fall’s elections.

“Jack Reed, we work hand-in-glove,” McCain said. “We work very closely together, and I admire him a great deal.”


Defense Industry Warns Pentagon to Protect Supply Lines

By Sandra I. Erwin

March 7, 2016


The relationship between the Pentagon and its suppliers is supported by detailed procurement regulations that touch on every aspect of the defense contracting business. Yet the Defense Department knows little about many of its lower tier suppliers deep down in the value chain. Industry experts warn that the Pentagon’s lax grip on the outer layers of its supply system makes it increasingly vulnerable to intrusions such as malicious hacking.

A defense industry workshop concluded that the Pentagon’s exceedingly complex supplier base is riddled with soft spots, and the potential consequences range from exposing weapons systems to counterfeit electronics, to misdeliveries or losses of equipment.

A group of 70 Pentagon officials and industry executives met last fall at the Washington, D.C., law firm Holland & Knight for the one-day workshop, where they examined several risk scenarios that could disrupt Defense Department programs and operations.


“The issue of cybersecurity in the manufacturing supply chain is just starting to gain more awareness. I see that becoming a bigger element of the discussion,” said Chris Peters, chairman of the supply chain network committee of the National Defense Industrial Association. The movement of products, services, information, cash, all involve thousands of manufacturers, financial institutions and countless contractors that make up the defense supply chain. “We have a very broad focus,” Peters said in an interview. “The government has realized how little of a handle they have on the supply chain.”

Peters, one of the workshop leaders, worries that the Defense Department takes it for granted that prime contractors have a tight grasp over their subcontractors. “There has always been this question of ownership,” he said. “Government assumes that when they award a contract, the prime owns the supply chain, and that’s not always the case.”

Defense officials are starting to realize they have limited visibility into the supply chain beyond the first tier. “So they don’t know what the potential risks are,” Peters said. “The government has to get more involved, become more aware.”

An issue the government is wrestling with is how it might “take back ownership” of supply chain security. The discussion about who should lead the charge in a crisis often ignores the fact that government officials are the ones ultimately held accountable for supplier failures, Peters said. That happened in the aftermath of major mishaps like space shuttle disasters.

“You could have a small precision machine shop that might have a problem that could impact the delivery of an entire weapon system,” said Peters, but the Pentagon may not have access to that information. “There is a lot of confusion about what data the government can require a supplier to divulge about the supply chain.” Another lingering question is the potential cost of providing tighter supply chain scrutiny and who would bear that expense. “Are primes required to protect the supply chain? Contracts are not consistent, and the regulations are interpreted in different ways,” Peters said.

Agencies like NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office — which builds classified satellites — and the Missile Defense Agency demand prime contractors to disclose everything there is to know about lower tier suppliers. “It proves that if these three agencies can require really in-depth visibility, then surely the Defense Department should be able to require at least some subset of details.”

Many prime contractors don’t want to disclose who their suppliers are because they consider that to be part of their intellectual property, Peters said. The Pentagon is legally allowed to compel a contractor to provide that data but those rules generally are not enforced.

The issue is moving to the forefront as the Pentagon comes to grips with the prospect of foreign nations pirating weapon systems’ digital blueprints by hacking into contractor networks.

Prime contractors in response have beefed up their defenses in recent years, Peters said. “Now people are starting to realize that it’s a very difficult task to break into a prime contractor’s computer system and steal documents. However, that very same technical document makes its way all the way down the supply chain. Subcontractors have at least some piece of the 3D model,” he added. “These small businesses don’t have good means to protect information so they’re easier targets.”

There is growing alarmism about the risk of hackers tampering with microelectronics manufactured around the world that end up in U.S. weapon systems. The Pentagon as a rule keeps close tabs on the components used in weapon systems but monitoring the electronics that go into these systems years later when they are updated with new technology is more difficult, said Catherine J. Ortiz, a security expert at Defined Business Solutions, who also participated in the NDIA workshop.


“The way programs are funded does not allow that kind of consideration in the early stages,” she said. “The sustainment community has a problem: they can’t get microelectronics from the original manufactures so they have a supply chain security issue staring them in the face.”

The threat to microelectronics is real, she said. Components can be tampered with as they move from country to country during the manufacturing process. A microchip, if compromised, could be programmed to send information back to an enemy or give that enemy the ability to sabotage or take control of a weapon system.

Subcontractors in the logistics and cargo distribution business that are way low in the food chain are known to be targets for network intrusions because they hold valuable information about U.S. operations. “Our adversaries can use information about our supply chain to disrupt or get intelligence about our operations,” Ortiz said. “Adversaries are able to obtain data about our operations by figuring out where we are moving goods and equipment.”

Many of the Pentagon’s transportation contracts explicitly set cybersecurity requirements for all suppliers, but the practice is not standard across military organizations.

A central question for the Defense Department is whether it can make a “secure supply chain” a contractual requirement, said Ortiz. The government now leans on the industry to monitor the supply chain, she said, but there is a glaring disconnect between the public and private sectors on what the challenges and potential solutions might be. “Government and industry have different priorities, languages and approaches to attack the same issues,” said Peters. “Until we help them get on the same page it’s going to be very difficult to solve those challenges.”

The Pentagon has taken steps to combat supply vulnerabilities. Procurement policies unveiled last year make cybersecurity a priority in weapon acquisitions. New language in the federal procurement code deals with the protection of uncontrolled technical data. “They’re starting to address parts of this,” Peters said. “Defense is paying more attention.”

In the private sector, information technology giant Cisco is viewed as the gold standard for supply chain security. “Their clients rely on the integrity and security of their products,” Peters said. “They have a chief security officer of the global value chain. It would be a model worthwhile for the government to look at.” The company knows where every manufacturer is located at every level of the supply chain, he noted. If there’s a flood in Thailand or a labor dispute at a plant in the Philippines, does that impact their suppliers? “They have information, plans in place on what to do,” Peters said. “Most large companies monitor the health and viability of their suppliers. There are very sophisticated tools to do that.” Even the financial performance is now quite predictable. “Companies look for early signals,” said Peters. “This whole area of supply chain management is becoming very sophisticated.”

One reason the Pentagon and its contractors have been behind the curve on this is a federal procurement culture that keeps suppliers at arm’s length, Peters said. During the workshop last fall, both sides were “hungry for the opportunity to talk face to face … as the government realizes they’re far behind commercial practices.”

Procurement experts said defense contractors and their subcontractors can expect to see new regulations in response to a recent Government Accountability Office report on the Pentagon’s vulnerabilities to counterfeit parts in its global supply chain. Congress has directed the Defense Department to study the problem and report back next year.

GAO estimated that in fiscal year 2014, the Defense Department managed over 4.7 million parts that are used in communications and weapons systems worth more than $96 billion. “The existence of counterfeit parts in the DoD supply chain can, for example, delay missions, affect the integrity of systems, and ultimately endanger the lives of service members,” GAO said in its report to Congress.

Auditors suspect that cases of counterfeit parts are under-reported and suggested the Defense Department should step up oversight.


The Pentagon’s difficulties tracking and identifying counterfeit electronics are fueling a market for software that promises to solve the problem.

Defense and cybersecurity contractor LGS Innovations, for instance, launched a new product called CodeGuardian, aimed at protecting software of third party network switches and routers.

The demand for these products will rise as government agencies realize that supply chains are global, and they cannot expect software suppliers to develop every component in the United States, said LGS Innovations CEO Kevin Kelly. The product the company developed is an “inspection engine” that checks for vulnerabilities, Kelly said in an interview. “A bad actor in the supply chain replaces the operational code in a device and you end up with a co-opted system in your network. You can’t test every system.”



Here are judges the White House is considering for the Supreme Court

By Amy Goldstein, Jerry Markon and Sari Horwitz March 7


The White House is considering nearly half a dozen relatively new federal judges for President Obama’s nomination to the Supreme Court, focusing on jurists with scant dis­cern­ible ideology and limited judicial records as part of a strategy to surmount fierce Republican opposition.

As Obama prepares for what probably will be his last opportunity to try to shape the high court, after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the president faces an unprecedented hurdle. The Senate’s GOP majority has vowed to ignore any nominee he proposes.

Based on interviews with legal experts and others, including some who have spoken in recent days with Obama administration officials involved in the vetting process, the president is leaning toward a sitting federal judge to fill the vacancy — and probably one the Senate confirmed with bipartisan support during his tenure. These insiders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, noted that the administration is winnowing its list of candidates — but that it could add more.

The candidates under consideration include two judges who joined the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2013, Sri Srinivasan and Patricia A. Millett; Jane L. Kelly, an Iowan appointed that year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit; Paul J. Watford, a judge since 2012 on the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; and a lower-court judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, appointed in 2013 to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Each would offer a distinctive attribute for a president with a penchant for fostering diversity. Srinivasan would be the high court’s first Asian American and first Hindu. Kelly would be the first with a public defender’s background. Watford or Jackson would add a second African American to the court. And as with Obama’s last nominee, Justice Elena Kagan in 2010, Millett would increase the number of women on the nine-member court.

None has carved out a distinct identity in their views on the role of law or their positions on any divisive legal question facing the nation and the courts, according to an examination of the judges’ public statements and writings, their mentors, and their career paths.

In the current climate of acrid partisanship, White House officials regard the opaqueness of their views as a selling point, according to those familiar with the administration’s thinking.

White House officials have declined to discuss details of the president’s decision-making, other than to say that Obama intends to make a timely nomination. A White House spokeswoman, Brandi Hoffine, added, “The list is not closed at this point, and the president continues to review materials on various potential nominees.”

Another name being vetted by the White House is one with a longer judicial record: Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. He is a moderate who has served on the court for nearly two decades and was considered by Obama for a previous Supreme Court vacancy.

According to one person knowledgeable about the vetting process, the White House initially thought about Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch — who would satisfy the eagerness of some civil rights groups for an African American female nominee — but she is no longer under consideration.

Some watchers of previous Supreme Court confirmation fights have speculated that the president might prefer to select a recognized liberal who could excite Democratic voters in an election year.

But those familiar with the thinking of White House officials said Obama is disinclined to name an outspoken progressive as a probable sacrificial lamb. Instead, they said, the White House thinks it may be able to apply the greatest pressure on resistant Republican senators by choosing a highly qualified federal judge regarded as moderate and non-ideological.

Even one of the moderate candidates, administration officials think, could significantly shift the balance of the court after Scalia, the outspoken anchor of the court’s conservative wing for three decades.

The White House’s preference for a nominee with few ideological fingerprints stands in contrast to statements from this year’s presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic alike.

The Republican front-runner, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, has said he would appoint justices with conservative positions, asking potential nominees about their views on abortion and selecting those who support gun-ownership rights and the right of business owners who oppose contraception on religious grounds to not offer such coverage to their employees. The leading Democrat, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has said she would favor nominees who support abortion rights, same-sex marriage, gay rights, voting rights and overturning Citizens United, the court’s 2010 campaign finance decision.

But among the judges Obama is considering, none was asked about any of those issues during their Senate confirmation hearings for lower courts. Nor is there any other public record of their views.


No philosophy on display

During their confirmations over the past few years, the judges under consideration for the high court carefully avoided disclosing their views on the role of law or on specific legal issues.

Such reticence was on display on an uncharacteristically hot April afternoon in 2013, when Srinivasan sat alone at the witness table in a resplendent hearing room, facing Senate Judiciary Committee members weighing his nomination to the D.C. Circuit.

One of the first questions was predictable: Briefly describe your judicial philosophy. “I do not have an overarching, grand, unified judicial philosophy that I would bring with me to the bench if I were lucky enough to be confirmed,” Srinivasan replied.

In a written follow-up, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a new senator and an old friend of Srinivasan’s dating to their days as law clerks, took another stab at the question, asking which Supreme Court justice of the past half-century had a philosophy most akin to Srinivasan’s own.

Although a seasoned Supreme Court practitioner, Srinivasan replied that he could not answer. “I do not have sufficient familiarity with the body of decisions of any particular justice of the Warren, Burger or Rehnquist Courts,” he wrote.

Srinivasan went on to a Senate vote of 97-0 in favor of his confirmation.

Most of the judges being considered by the White House have been on the bench for two to four years — not much time to have amassed records of opinions. In comparison, seven of the eight current justices had previous judicial experience, with an average tenure of 11 years on the bench when they were nominated to the Supreme Court.

The tenures of those the White House is vetting may be brief, but their judicial work undoubtedly will be scrutinized by the White House and its allies and by the administration’s opponents for clues to their leanings. The judges have written relatively few opinions that have attracted much public attention, but several have received notice.

Last year, in a case involving whether the D.C. Department of Corrections had violated the disability rights of a deaf inmate, Jackson excoriated the District and ordered damages to be paid to the inmate, writing that the city had shown a “willful blindness” to the inmate’s need for accommodation and had made a “half-hearted attempt . . . far short of what the law requires.”

In a free-speech case, Srinivasan wrote an opinion last year that protesters outside the Supreme Court building were not entitled to stand closer than the sidewalk. In 2014, Watford voted with the majority in a 9th Circuit ruling striking down an Arizona law that automatically denied bail to people charged with crimes if they were in the United States illegally.

Indistinct ideology has become the norm at judicial confirmation hearings in the past three decades after the unsuccessful nomination by President Ronald Reagan of Robert Bork, who was open about his conservative views. Since then, “people who are outspoken on any discernible point on the spectrum of ideologies are out of the question,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law who was a mentor to Obama when the president was a law student. And, Tribe said, appeals-court judges, some of whom may hold ambitions for a promotion to the high court, “tend to be considerably more careful” than in the past in their opinions.


Bipartisan careers

In addition to having ideological records so faint as to be almost imperceptible, several of the possible nominees have worked in Democratic and Republican administrations and for judges appointed by presidents of both parties.

Srinivasan was a law clerk to two Republican-appointed judges: J. Harvie Wilkinson on the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit — alongside Cruz, a presidential candidate — and former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He was a lawyer in the solicitor general’s office under President George W. Bush and Obama.

Kelly clerked for an appellate judge and a U.S. district court judge — a Democratic and a Republican appointee. Millett, on the D.C. Circuit, worked in the solicitor general’s office under Presidents Bill Clinton and Bush. And Watford, on the 9th Circuit, clerked for a Reagan appointee to that court and then for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Conservative veterans of Supreme Court nomination fights reject the idea that Obama is preparing to nominate someone without ideology. “What Obama is trying to do is find someone he knows will be a very reliable liberal voice on the court. But he’s going to present them as if they were moderate,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal group, which has hired a research firm to help excavate the records of potential nominees. She cited a plea deal that Kelly secured as a public defender for a child predator.

Other nominees were as reticent as Srinivasan during their confirmations. As part of her 2013 confirmation to the 8th Circuit, Kelly was asked on a Senate questionnaire to supply copies of more than 30 talks, mostly on mundane legal topics, she said she had given since 1996. “It is my general practice to speak from rough handwritten notes, which normally are not saved in my files,” she wrote.

Several months later, a Democratic senator asked Millett at her confirmation hearing how her religious faith would shape her conduct as a judge. Replying that “my religious faith is the biggest part of who I am, and I am proud of that,” Millett praised the Constitution as a “very precious system of justice” and said, “I would never betray that incredibly precious system by injecting personal beliefs into decision-making.”

Srinivasan has been perhaps the most difficult to discern. He has represented former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling and was part of the legal team that worked on behalf of Vice President Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election. On his Senate confirmation questionnaire, he listed just two published writings in the previous two decades. At his hearing, he was asked about one of them — an article he co-wrote criticizing Indiana’s voter-identification law.

The article, he replied, “was in our capacity as lawyers representing a client.”



Top Civilian at Wright-Patterson’s Largest Command Named

The Dayton Daily News | Mar 08, 2016 | by Barrie Barber


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — A Wright State University graduate will become the top civilian at the largest command at Wright-Patterson, the Air Force said.

Patricia M. Young will take over as executive director at the Air Force Materiel Command, the same place she began her career in the logistics directorate in 1985. Currently, the Pentagon senior executive is director of the Washington Headquarters Services.

As AFMC executive director, she will have oversight of small business programs, negotiate with civilian labor unions, and oversee the development of the workforce, according to Air Force. She also will be a chief adviser to AFMC commander Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski.

AFMC has about 80,000 military personnel and civilian employees at eight major bases in the United States and manages a budget of about $60 billion. Seventy percent of AFMC’s workforce are civilian employees, and the command employs 40 percent of the civilians in the Air Force.

Young will replace Michael A. Gill, who retires April 1 after a 34-year Air Force civilian career.

Headquartered at Wright-Patterson, AFMC develops and buys Air Force weapon systems.

In recent years, AFMC has consolidated into six primary centers from 12 — including the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson — and eliminated nearly 600 jobs at its headquarters in cost-cutting moves.

Young was out of the office and unavailable for comment Friday.

The senior executive oversees 4,000 employees and a $1.2 billion budget at Washington Headquarters Services. The agency provides security, information technology, communications, human resources and other services for about 100,000 Defense Department personnel in the Washington, D.C., region, according to WHS.


Young was also a former assistant deputy chief of staff of logistics, installations and missions support at Air Force headquarters and spent 12 years in different roles with the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. She earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Wright State, according to her biography.



The F-35: Still Failing to Impress

By: Dan Grazier & Mandy Smithberger | March 7, 2016


The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) recently released a scathing assessment of the F-35 program as part of his annual report. Buried inside 48 pages of highly technical language is a gripping story of mismanagement, delayed tests, serious safety issues, a software nightmare, and maintenance problems crippling half the fleet at any given time.

The report makes clear just how far the F-35 program still has to go in the development process. Some of the technical challenges facing the program will take years to correct, and as a result, the F-35’s operationally demonstrated suitability for combat will not be known until 2022 at the earliest. While rumors that the program office would ask for a block buy of nearly 500 aircraft in the FY 2017 budget proposal did not pan out, officials have indicated they may make such a request next year. The DOT&E report clearly shows any such block commitments before 2022 are premature.

Download the pdf here.

The report’s candor about the airplane’s problems is unique among the DoD’s other reports about the performance of the F-35. It only exists because Congress created an independent operational testing office in 1983 to report only to the Secretary of Defense and Congress. Without this office, significant F-35 problems might never be revealed until failure in actual combat.

As damning as this report is, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office quickly issued a statement disagreeing with the report’s emphasis—but acknowledging that every word of it is “factually accurate.”


Officials Continue Putting Off Key Tests Needed to Prove Combat Capability

The F-35 program is already years behind schedule: the first plan was to have the initial batch of the aircraft available for combat in 2010 and deployed in 2012. This report shows timelines slipping even more.

Crucial weapons delivery accuracy tests (WDA) serve as a good example. The weapons test events are important because rather than just testing to make sure an individual component functions properly, they test the entire kill chain, “the complete find-fix-identification (ID)-track-target-engage-assess-kill chain for air-to-air and air-to-ground mission success.” This means the tests will see if a pilot can locate and properly identify a target, hit it with the right weapon, and then tell if the target has been destroyed—just the sort of thing a pilot would have to do to be effective in combat.

The Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team (JOTT) identified 15 WDA tests for the Block 2B aircraft that the Marine Corps declared ready for combat last year. Twelve were completed, but 11 of them required the developmental testers to intervene—and in some cases weaken the test rules to “less challenging” ones—to help the plane do things like acquire and identify the target so it could succeed in firing a weapon. Given these heavy interventions, DOT&E found that in its current configuration the combat effectiveness of the Marine Corps’ F-35Bs “will depend in part on the degree to which the enemy’s capabilities exceed the constraints of these narrow scenarios.” So the F-35 will win only if the enemy decides not to exceed the F-35’s limited capabilities.

The remaining three tests were pushed to later versions of the plane due to delays in implementing new software meant to fix mission system sensors and the data fusion problems. All of the deferred tests relate to the AIM-120 missile, the only weapon the F-35 can currently use against enemy planes.

Tests of the F-35’s ability to fire and drop the majority of its planned weapons in a combat-realistic operating environment won’t actually begin until the Block 3F configuration in 2021. Accomplishing those will require a total of 50 test events.

DOT&E believes these more complicated test events “cannot be accomplished within the remaining time planned by the Program Office to complete Block 3F flight test” in May 2017. This would require testing at triple the rate of what is being accomplished now. But the Block 3F tests will be much more complex and realistic than the current simpler engineering tests. It is unlikely more complex tests will be accomplished at the same rate as the simple testing, much less triple the rate. If, to make up the time, the program cancels many of these tests or defers them to the next Block as it has done in the past, “readiness for operational testing and employment in combat [would be] at serious risk.”

Pushing off tests only adds to what has become a compounding problem. The program currently has a 5 percent discovery rate for simpler developmental testing. This means that for every 100 tests, 5 new problems are discovered. These new discoveries then have to be fixed and tested again, which is a costly and time-consuming process. Even more troublesome, engineers are identifying problems faster than they can fix them. Inevitably, as testing continues and becomes more realistic, more and more problems will be identified, which will only draw out the process further. According to DOT&E, recent discoveries that require design changes, modifications, and regression testing (testing of the fixes) “include the ejection seat for safe separation, wing fuel tank over-pressurization, and the life-limitations of the F-35B bulkhead.” The F-35 is already years behind schedule. Issues like these are guaranteed to make the problem even worse.


Flight Controls Impact Maneuverability

The F-35 has had significant trouble with uncommanded “wing drop.” This means flaws in the aircraft’s aerodynamics under heavy maneuvering loads cause the aircraft to occasionally make sudden, uncommanded movements in the air. To fix this, the program made changes to the software, called the control law software, that translates the pilot’s commands into the actual movement of the plane’s flight surfaces. Those changes limit the maneuvers the pilot can command. Even with those changes, the plane is still experiencing excessive “buffeting”—intense shaking during certain fighting maneuvers because the airflow still separates from critical lifting surfaces under those manuevering conditions.

During one test flight of an F-35C, excessive buffeting “adversely affected performance in defensive maneuvering where precise control of bank angles and altitude must be maintained while the F-35C is in a defensive position and the pilot is monitoring an offensive aircraft.” In both defensive and offensive maneuvers, buffeting also made it difficult for the pilot to see the helmet-mounted heads-up display, which could significantly degrade pilot situational awareness and reduce chances of surviving the fight.

Buffeting and the reduced maneuverability caused by the associated control law software “fixes” featured prominently in the now famous example of the F-35 losing 17 dogfights to a 35-year-old, heavily laden F-16. In non-technical terms, the software fixes that provided a smoother ride for the pilot and lessened the uncommanded wing drop also limited his ability to turn hard enough to get away from an enemy plane on his tail. Similarly, when the F-35 finds itself on the enemy’s tail, the same fixes limit his ability to turn hard enough to keep up with an enemy plane trying to get away.

In an attempt to find a less compromising buffet fix, spoilers were fitted to test F-35s. These spoilers somewhat reduce the separation of airflow from the wing to lessen the shaking of the airplane during heavy maneuvering, and test pilots have reported some improvement in the buffeting as a result. But installing spoilers adds weight and increases drag, which only adds to problems the F-35 faces from using up almost all of its weight management safety margins. DOT&E questioned the net effect of the changes saying, “due to the transient nature of buffet, the operational significance may be low.”



Serious Safety Concerns Remain

Lt. Gen. Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, found himself hauled before a congressional subcommittee hearing in October 2015 after it emerged that he had grounded pilots weighing less than 136 pounds because mannequin tests showed that the ejection seat would kill them—and that no mannequin testing at all had been done for pilots weighing 137 to 244 pounds. The problem was a result of a number of faults in the seat design, exacerbated by the extra weight of the high-tech helmet.

This was far from the only F-35 safety issue engineers grappled with during the past year. For example, the F-35 Block 2B aircraft the Marine Corps claimed in July 2015 to be ready for combat had 27 serious safety deficiencies as of the end of October 2015. When DOT&E recognizes an issue, it is assigned to one of two categories based on severity and whether it threatens the safe operation of the plane. Category I is the most severe, being “those which may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restrict the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or result in a production line stoppage.” The report lists a total of 91 current deficiencies, 27of which are Category I.

In a bit of good news, the Program Office was able to lift the restriction banning the F-35B from flying within 25 miles of known lightning strikes. The planes had been barred from doing so because the On-Board Inert Gas Generation System to add nitrogen and displace oxygen from the empty vapor spaces in the fuel tanks could not work fast enough to prevent an explosive mixture of fuel vapor and oxygen from collecting. The system has been fixed to the point now where the plane can fly in such conditions.

But it still can’t taxi or take off when there is lightning in the area. A problem with the software that controls the plane’s siphon tanks, which sit between the main tanks to keep the plane balanced as fuel is consumed, can cause too much pressure to build up and possibly cause a lightning-induced fire and explosion.


Significant Logistics Software Problems

Although there are numerous hardware and structural issues remaining, problems with the software are much more likely to be the JSF Program’s undoing. Designers and engineers continue struggling through problems with the F-35’s approximately 8 million lines of onboard software code. Software remaining on the ground created even more headaches in 2015. The 24 million lines of complicated computer code running the maintenance and logistics program known called the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) has only lately garnered the serious attention required to make the system work. The DOT&E report provides details of a cascading problem of incremental software updates—or what Defense One dubbed a “terrifying bug list.” To cite just one of the many issues, the software can’t tell the difference between good parts and broken ones when it “incorrectly authorizes older/inappropriate replacement parts.”

This effectively grounds the plane until the health report problem is diagnosed and repaired or, in the case of a falsely reported health problem, a supervisor overrides the system.

The ALIS software went through four different versions in 2015: ALIS 1.0.3, ALIS 2.0.0, ALIS 2.0.1, and ALIS While evaluating the software, personnel identified 2 Category I deficiencies and 56 Category II deficiencies in ALIS 1.0.3. One of the Category I deficiencies, for example, could prevent aircraft from taking off. The ALIS program keeps track of the maintenance status of planes in the fleet by generating a Health Reporting Code (HRC) for each plane. Should the software detect a technical problem in a plane, it creates a negative health report and depending on its severity, categorizes the plane as Non-Mission Capable. This effectively grounds the plane until the health report problem is diagnosed and repaired or, in the case of a falsely reported health problem, a supervisor overrides the system. These false positive health reports are not rare. Field reports say that 80 percent of ALIS-reported problems turn out to be false. This places a massive extra burden on the F-35’s already over-worked maintenance force.

Unfortunately, ALIS makes supervisor overrides to prevent grounding very difficult. Two modules in the ALIS system prevent overrides, even after a recent ALIS software update. The aircraft computer generates the health reports, which are downloaded into an ALIS module called the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). Another module, the Squadron Health Management Module, makes a mission-ready determination based on Mission Essential Function List. One module might declare an aircraft mission ready while the other asserts the opposite. In those cases a maintenance supervisor who has determined that the aircraft is ready should have the ability to override the system in order to clear the plane to fly. Unfortunately a software problem in the Squadron module prevented this from happening.


The test team noted this problem remained in ALIS 2.0.0 (in addition to finding five more Category I deficiencies) and still remained in ALIS 2.0.1. Developers finally fixed the problem with a “patch” in ALIS, yet five more major problems were discovered.

The report also notes that all versions of the ALIS software have problems with data quality and integrity. This is particularly true with the system’s Electronic Equipment Logbooks (EELs), a system for tracking aircraft parts. This system frequently fails to create accurate entries or to transfer data properly, forcing maintenance crews to waste time with manual workarounds. According to the report: “Without accurate EELs data, ALIS can improperly ground an aircraft or permit an aircraft to fly when it should not.”

History and experience suggests the problems with ALIS are only beginning. The more complex and lengthy a software program is, the better the chance coding errors will plague the system. According to one IT consultant, even in well-written programs, developers find bugs at a rate of 1 per every 1,000 lines of code. In fixing the one problem, software patches tend to introduce new bugs and security vulnerabilities at a rate of 10 to 15 percent. The DOT&E report certainly appears to confirm this in the case of ALIS.


Deferring Cyber Security Testing Leaves F-35 Vulnerable

Nearly all of the promised capabilities of the F-35 rely on its sophisticated network of computer-based systems, both on the ground and in the plane itself. The sensors to locate and identify enemy targets, guidance systems to direct missiles and bombs, diagnostic tools to isolate defective parts and order spares, the pilot’s helmet-mounted display, and even the mission order packages all operate on computers and complicated software. As has been repeatedly proven over the years, systems like these are tempting targets for hackers. Pentagon officials have already acknowledged the F-35 program suffered a major breach when a foreign power, presumably China, hacked into an unclassified F-35 contractor computer network and stole massive technical data files.

But despite these risks, the Joint Program Office has refused to subject the program to the kind of cyber testing necessary to identify and fix vulnerabilities. As we previously reported, the JOTT created a two-part test plan to evaluate the program. The first, an internal assessment to comb through the system’s designs to identify potential problems, was only partially completed on isolated modules at Edwards Air Force Base. Even these limited tests revealed “significant deficiencies,” although the DOT&E report did not provide any details as to their nature.


…the F-35 program management cancelled tests of a combat-critical computer system because they thought the tests might break the computer system.

The second crucial phase of testing, which unleashes DoD “Red teams” of hackers to break into the system, did not happen at all. General Bogdan refused to grant permission for the Red Team tests “due to insufficient understanding of risks posed to the operational ALIS systems by cybersecurity testing.” Put in less obscure terms, the F-35 program management cancelled tests of a combat-critical computer system because they thought the tests might break the computer system.

The reason testing takes place is to ensure the programs and systems the services are buying work properly in peacetime and war. The program office validated the strong need for F-35 cyber testing in the reasoning they gave for cancelling it. The computer glitch that allows ALIS to ground an aircraft would be an obvious target for an enemy cyber warrior. Even more tempting would be stealing mission order packages or planting false ones. If peacetime cyber testing can damage the ALIS system, what could a determined enemy do?


Maintenance Problems Keep F-35s Grounded

All of the time and money expended on the F-35 will have been for naught if the plane can’t get off the ground when it is most needed. Unless the program improves dramatically in basic availability, nearly half of the F-35s in the fleet will not be able to fly at any given time due to a variety of persistent maintenance issues. Maintenance crews have had so much trouble keeping the aircraft flight-worthy that most planes fly less than twice in a typical work week.

During 2015, 10-20 percent of all F-35’s in service were undergoing major overhauls, according to the report. Of those that remained, only “half were available to fly all missions of even a limited capability set.” The program had set a goal of 60 percent availability to fly for 2015, but the entire fleet only averaged 51 percent. This actually represented a marked improvement”over the 37 percent availability reported in both of the previous two DOT&E Annual Reports from FY13 and FY14.” However, it still falls far below the 80 percent availability rate generally considered minimally adequate for any military aircraft on a real combat deployment.

Evaluators are actually prevented from accessing the database from government networks because Lockheed Martin’s database does not meet U.S. Cyber Command cybersecurity standards.

The DOT&E report reviews a number of maintenance metrics, but those metrics are suspect because they are stored by the contractor in an unsecured database and, according to the report, is neither current nor validated by government oversight. Evaluators are actually prevented from accessing the database from government networks because Lockheed Martin’s database does not meet U.S. Cyber Command cybersecurity standards. The evaluators have received hard copies of some of the data but have been unable to review and validate all of the contractor maintenance records including availability rates and reliability numbers.

While the program’s specific maintenance numbers remain obscure, the sortie rate is not. The test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base were only able to fly once every 5 days (6 flights per month). Operational units at other bases reported similar numbers: Luke AFB F-35s averaged 1 flight every 5 days, and F-35s at Nellis AFB averaged 1 flight every 4.75 days.

The report lists a few of the “High Driver Components Affecting Low Availability and Reliability,” or the most common broken parts affecting the fleet in general. Computer components on all variants failed at a high rate, as did fuel pumps and main landing gear tires. Crews also had to work hard to fix problems with the plane’s stealth coatings. Low Observable Maintenance, or fixing stealth components, is time consuming in part because the necessary skin panels, sealants, and paints to make the plane harder to track with radar are delicate, have long cure times, and are potentially highly toxic. “From July 2014 to June 2015, program records show that maintenance on ‘attaching hardware,’ such as nutplates and heat blankets, absorbed approximately 20 percent of all unscheduled maintenance time, while low observable repairs accounted for 15 percent,” according to the report.

In a combat situation or for large training exercises, units operate at what is known as a surge rate and, to meet short-term demands, must generate more flights per day than the sustained rate. To do so, crews work overtime beforehand to ensure a maximum number of aircraft are prepared to fly and then afterwards to repair the extra maintenance issues put off during the surge period.

The Marine Corps surged F-35 operations to support Operation Steel Knight, a large-scale air-ground exercise at Twentynine Palms, California, in December 2015. They planned to use 8 F-35Bs to fly close air support missions for the ground units over the course of 8 days. The schedule called for each aircraft to fly approximately 1 sortie per day. But even under short-term surge conditions, the squadron could only manage 1 sortie every 2.3 days. According to the report, “while deployed, and in support of the exercise, the Marine Corps flew approximately 46 percent of the planned sorties (28 sorties flown versus 61 sorties planned), not including the deployment, redeployment, and local familiarization sorties.”

An F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, performs a conventional take-off at the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field during Exercise Steel Knight 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Dec. 11, 2015. Photo By: Lance Cpl. Levi Schultz

Operation Steel Knight is an annual event for the Marine Corps. Detailed planning for it begins at least six months before the first units move out to the field. Maintenance crews had months to prepare the necessary aircraft to support this exercise and they still barely managed to get the planes to fly once every 3 days. A future enemy will likely not be so considerate as to provide advanced notice.


Simulation Facility Failure Threatens Testing Program

The only way to test many of the F-35’s capabilities is in a virtual simulated environment because the test ranges cannot accurately replicate the full spectrum and quantity of threats the jets would confront. Contractor engineers have been tasked since 2001 with creating a testing facility called the Verification Simulator (VSim). It was intended to be an ultra-realistic, thoroughly test-validated “man-in-the-loop, mission systems software in-the-loop simulation developed to meet the operational test requirements for Block 3F IOT&E.” The final decision Congress makes to go into full-rate production will be based on tests conducted in facility like this. A similar system, the Air Combat Simulation (ACS), was used by the F-22 program to fly scenarios not possible in open-air range tests using realistic threat numbers and tactics. According to the report, the facility fell hopelessly behind and has now been reassigned to a government agency.

For over five years, DOT&E has raised concerns about the failure of the project and its dire consequences for completing adequate operational testing. In 2010 DOT&E, faulting the JSF Program Office for assigning low priority to and shortchanging the project, bluntly “identified funding shortfalls for the Verification Simulation (VSIM) to meet OT&E needs, primarily in the battlespace environment, and provided data for an independent cost assessment leading to inclusion of VSIM costs in the program baseline.”

Following the 2010 Nunn-McCurdy restructuring of the JSF program, $250 million in funding was added to the F-35 budget for the Verification Simulation Facility. Despite the potential for conflicts of interest, the program office rejected a plan for the government to build the simulator in 2011 and decided to leave the contract with Lockheed Martin, but then, in August 2015, the Verification Simulation project was transferred to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) because so little progress had been made, Fifteen years after the project began, it is now beginning all over again from scratch.

To create and validate this high-fidelity virtual world suitable for combat test missions, the simulation designers will need to conduct many actual F-35 flights to gather onboard data on maneuvering performance, handling qualities, flight controls, radar, infrared imagery, weapons trajectories, and homing behavior in the presence of representative terrain and realistic ground and air threats. This is intended to be the basis for digitally recreating “the F-35 and other supporting aircraft, and models of airborne and ground-based threats.” These models are to be combined with information about the projected threats to build a full Battlespace Environment capable of realistically simulating large arrays of friendly and enemy forces to test the F-35’s combat effectiveness in the complexity of real combat.

As an example of the difficulty and scope of the needed validation effort, a test pilot will fly a mission over a range set up with multiple enemy radar and missile systems. The real F-35’s sensors, electronic warfare system, and intelligence links detect this threat and respond accordingly, providing pilot warnings, signal jamming, defense suppression missile firings, or any number of other responses. All the data, massive amounts from all the instruments, from the real-world test flight is gathered and then compared against the data from the Verification Simulation’s recreation of exactly the same flight test scenario. When such measured outcome comparisons show reasonably similar behavior over many test flight scenarios, then the Verification Simulation can be declared valid. This process takes years, and the fact that it hasn’t been diligently pursued since its inception 15 years ago puts the entire effort even further behind.

The actual simulation facility was intended to have four high fidelity F-35 cockpits and eight additional threat and friendly aircraft control stations to allow real people to “fly” complex missions with and against the F-35s. This was to conduct tests of large multi-ship flights of F-35s against dense air and ground threats. These are the hardest, most expensive, but most important operational tests to conduct with real airplanes and threat simulators.

The Verification Simulation facility was also intended to test the networking of onboard and offboard sensor and intelligence data between all F-35s in a formation. This networking capability remains one of the biggest selling points of the plane. Called data fusion, it is supposed to create an identical operating picture for all the pilots during a mission. So far, the program has encountered major deficiencies in data fusion in even the most basic engineering flight tests. Specifically, the onboard computers have been unable to usefully merge the target data from fourF-35s flying in an area free of enemy interference. Using the Verification Simulation facility in more realistic and complicated combat test scenarios would likely uncover even more problems. If the F-35 program proves unable to deliver this capability, the entire reasoning behind the program would be questioned.

DOT&E reserved some of its harshest criticism for failures in the Verification Simulation project. “Due to inadequate leadership and management on the part of both the Program Office and the contractor, the program has failed to develop and deliver an adequate Verification Simulation (VSim) for use by either the developmental test team or the JSF Operational Test Team (JOTT), as has been planned for the past eight years and is required in the approved TEMP.”


Without a validated simulation facility the F-35 program would have to conduct “a significant number of additional open-air flights during IOT&E, in addition to those previously planned” in order to complete testing on time. Since the plane already can’t fly often enough for the current developmental testing schedule, expecting to be able to stuff in the necessary additional flights is unreasonable.

DOT&E does not have much confidence in NAVAIR’s ability to construct the necessary facility to fully test the F-35 in time to meet the current test schedule. “It is also clear that both NAVAIR and the Program Office significantly underestimated the scope of work, the cost, and the time required to replace Lockheed Martin’s proprietary BSE (Battle Space Environment) with the JSE (Joint Simulation Environment) while integrating and validating the required high-fidelity models for the F-35, threats, friendly forces, and other elements of the combat environment.”

Without a validated simulation facility the F-35 program would have to conduct “a significant number of additional open-air flights during IOT&E, in addition to those previously planned” in order to complete testing on time. Since the plane already can’t fly often enough for the current developmental testing schedule, expecting to be able to stuff in the necessary additional flights is unreasonable.

At best the Program Office merely dropped the ball in failing to devote the proper amount of effort to establish a needed facility. Congress should audit what happened in the VSim program to determine why it failed and whether taxpayers deserve a refund. The program office’s failure increases the risk that shortcomings with the F-35 program may only be revealed in actual combat. This would likely result in failed missions and needless casualties.


Impending Air Force IOC: Aircraft Would Be Combat-Ready in Name Only

The DOT&E report also provides further proof that the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) declaration by the Marine Corps last summer was nothing more than a public relations stunt and that the Air Force’s planned declaration later this year will be as well. Then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford (now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced on July 31, 2015, that the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at Yuma, Arizona, “has ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship.” In other words, the Marine Corps claimed to have 10 F-35s ready for combat and enough spare parts and maintenance personnel to support the squadron.

But DOT&E found that significant combat deficiencies remain. “If used in combat, the Block 2B F-35 will need support from command and control elements to avoid threats, assist in target acquisition, and control weapons employment for the limited weapons carriage available (i.e., two bombs, two air-to-air missiles),” wrote Dr. Gilmore. The report also states, “If in an opposed combat scenario, the F-35 Block 2B aircraft would need to avoid threat engagement and would require augmentation by other friendly forces.” This means the F-35Bs the Marine Corps said are ready for combat would need to run away from enemy planes while other aircraft would be needed to come to their rescue.

Air Force officials have repeatedly stated their plans to declare Block 3i of the F-35A—the conventional take-off model—combat ready in August (with a December fail-safe date), as scheduled. Block 3i configuration has a newer computer but the same extremely limited weapons and combat capabilities as the 2B. On the current schedule, the Air Force will declare initial combat capability with planes that, like the Marines’ variant, will have to run from enemy fighters, need other airplanes to help find targets and avoid threats, and carry only two air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

Testing has actually revealed that the newer hardware and software used by the Air Force is sometimes in worse shape that the earlier Block 2B used by the Marines. This is especially troubling because officials had written the Block 3i testing plan simply “to confirm Block 3i had equivalent capabilities to those demonstrated in Block 2A (for 3iR1) and Block 2B.” The testing office originally planned for 514 baseline testing points. During the baseline testing, another 364 additional “discovery” testing points were identified. This means that during testing, 364 additional tests had to be added to try to fix newly discovered problems in a system that was already supposed to work and only had added a new computer. For example, DOT&E reported the unacceptable “instability” (that is, frequent crashing) of the Block 2B computer-based radar. In fact, Block 3i radar performance was found to be “less stable” than Block 2B. The 3i radar now crashes 7.5 times more often than the earlier version.

An F-35 Lightning II endures freezing temperatures in the 96th Test Wing’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory Jan. 27, 2015, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The joint strike fighter has undergone four months of climate testing in the lab to certify the fleet to deploy to any corner of the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

The F-35A will be hampered with limitations on both basic flight and weapons employment. The same problem preventing F-35s from taking off in a lightning storm also prevents them from performing hard maneuvers with full fuel tanks. Fully fueled F-35’s are limited to only 3 g’s because harder maneuvering could increase the pressure in the siphon tanks beyond their limits. The plane is also limited from opening its weapons doors to fire at speeds above Mach 1.2 due to concerns about structural vibrations called “flutter.” This is less than the plane’s maximum allowable speed of Mach 1.6. Since the F-35 was sold as a supersonic fighter, this restriction negates one of the major capabilities used to justify the massive bill to the American people.

In a congressionally mandated 2013 report, the Department of Defense set the dates and criteria for IOC. In the case of the Air Force, “F-35A IOC shall be declared when Airmen are trained, manned and equipped to conduct basic CAS, Interdiction, and limited SEAD/DEAD operations in a contested environment.” The Air Force set its target IOC date as August 2016 with December 2016 as a backup. The report also states, “Should capability delivery experience additional changes, this estimate will be revised appropriately.”

As is clearly evident in the DOT&E report, the criteria necessary for the Air Force to declare IOC have yet to be met. The aircraft will have little, if any real combat capability for years to come. And with as much trouble as the services have had keeping their planes flightworthy, it is nearly impossible for all the pilots to have acquired enough real flying hours to develop the combat skills they need. Despite these issues the Air Force is widely expected to make its declaration on time in August. Like the Marine Corps’ declaration last year, it will be nothing more than a PR stunt meant to keep money flowing into the program.


Concurrency Tax: Extra Costs for Few Aircraft

As part of the efforts to reform how the Pentagon buys equipment, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Frank Kendall has urged the Pentagon “fly before you buy.” The F-35 program has done the opposite. Current purchase plans would see the services with approximately 340 F-35s by the end of the next fiscal year, long before IOT&E is complete. Instead, the F-35 program has experienced an unprecedented level of concurrency, approving increasing levels of production years before development and testing can possibly be completed.

The GAO estimates concurrency in the F-35 program will cost $1.7 billion to “rework and retrofit aircraft with design changes needed as a result of test discoveries.” As planes continue to come off the production line long before testing has uncovered all the design defects, much less their fixes, that figure will dramatically increase.

The level of concurrency in the F-35 program causes it “to expend resources to send aircraft for major re-work, often multiple times, to keep up with the aircraft design as it progresses.” (Emphasis added) Some retrofits are a normal part of the acquisition process. But the level of production and rate of newly emerging design failures mean there are an unprecedented number of planes that must be altered at significant expense. For example, by the end of 2017 the program will have delivered nearly 200 aircraft that almost certainly will not be in the 3F configuration necessary for IOT&E.

These concurrency orphans would likely serve as little more than costly sources of spare parts or un-representative test beds.

There is a very real danger some of the problems can’t be fixed within affordable budgets. During static strength and fatigue testing there have been large numbers of demonstrated structural flaws, including cracking and metal fatigue in the wing structure, fuselage bulkheads, and almost every door on the airplane. DOT&E cautions the services may be stuck with numerous left-behind aircraft they can’t afford to upgrade: “these modifications may be unaffordable for the Services as they consider the cost of upgrading these early lots of aircraft while the program continues to increase production rates in a fiscally-constrained environment.” These concurrency orphans would likely serve as little more than costly sources of spare parts or un-representative test beds.

The cost to implement retrofits and the purchase price of planes made obsolete because they never are fixed add up to the program’s “concurrency tax.” With several years of development and testing still to come, the amount of this tax will continue to spiral ever upwards.


Block Buy Purchase Discussions Are Wildly Premature

JSF Program officials both inside the government and Lockheed Martin have repeatedly expressed their desire to move beyond low rate initial production. They want Congress to authorize a block buy for 465 planes—with commensurate large pre-payment—for the United States and foreign military partners beginning in 2018. General Bogdan claims such a move would save “billions of dollars.” The DOT&E report not only pokes holes in the cost-saving claims, but more importantly questions the legality of such a commitment. It is perhaps telling that officials are seeking a block buy at this point rather than a multi-year purchase contract.

Federal law allows multiple year contracts to purchase government property so long as certain criteria have been met. Congress typically authorizes most weapons buying programs on a year-by-year basis to ensure proper oversight of the program and to maintain incentives for the contractor to satisfactorily perform. According to Title 10 U.S.C., Section 2306b, for a program to be eligible for multiyear procurement, the contract must promote national security, should result in substantial savings, have little chance of being reduced, and have a stable design. The F-35 seems to be failing at least two of the first three criteria and is most certainly is failing the fourth.

Multi-year contracts afford some protections to the taxpayers. But the program office is proposing a block buy, which provides significantly fewer protections for taxpayers.

As the DOT&E report shows, the operational testing that needs to take place in order for an informed final production decision will not be completed until 2021.

Multi-year contracts afford some protections to the taxpayers. But the program office is proposing a block buy, which provides significantly fewer protections for taxpayers. As a Congressional Research Service report points out, block buy contract savings can be lower than those promised under multiyear procurement, and are not governed by any precautionary statutory requirements.



The JSF Program has already been in development for more than twenty years. The plane is still years away from being capable of providing any real contribution to the national defense if, in fact, it ever will be. The issues raised with this program are important for everyone, citizens and decision-makers alike to understand. There is already discussion in the halls of the Capitol and the corridors of the Pentagon about the next fighter plane program beyond the F-35. Unless everyone learns from their mistakes with this program, history will be repeated. The United States can ill-afford another $1.4 trillion mistake that will do more to harm our national security than it does to secure it.

The DOT&E report makes perfectly clear that any further F-35 production at this point is unwise. The plane has yet to prove itself capable of performing even the basic combat tasks used to originally sell the program to the American people. Congress should scrutinize carefully any further production proposal, as only the contractors will benefit from turning out airplanes that can’t fight and that will carry a crushing retrofit bill. The rest of us—particularly those who fight our wars—will be left to bear the cost.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Despite secret plotting by some Republican leaders with the publisher of the pro-Hillary Clinton New York Times and others to stop Donald Trump, the Trump phenomenon rolls on. 

Rasmussen Reports’ latest Trump Change survey shows that belief Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee remains near record highs.

Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee in 2012, has come out swinging against Trump and has even indicated he might accept the GOP nomination this year at a brokered national convention. But Romney’s endorsement doesn’t mean much to voters nor are they likely to vote for him in the fall.

Some in the Republican establishment are pushing the phrase “Never Trump” on social media as an expression of opposition to his success in the primaries. When asked which phrase best represents their opinion of Trump, 54% of voters say “Never Trump,” while just 23% say “Always Trump,” a phrase pushed by his most ardent supporters. GOP voters, however, are evenly divided.

Next Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Illinois and Ohio could go a long way toward determining whether the stop Trump forces can blunt his march to the GOP national convention in July.

Only 31% of Republicans think candidates who don’t win the party’s presidential nomination should be required to publicly support the person who is nominated.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of GOP voters – and 24% of all voters – say they are likely to vote for Trump if he fails to win the Republican nomination and runs as a third-party candidate. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Democrats say they are likely to support a third-party bid by Bernie Sanders if he loses their party’s nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Clinton didn’t answer during the latest Democratic debate this past week when asked if she would quit the presidential race if indicted over trafficking in classified information on a private e-mail server. Most voters still consider it likely Clinton broke the law, but they agree with her that an indictment is unlikely.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of Democrats don’t think a candidate should quit campaigning even if indicted but should keep running until a court determines their guilt or innocence.

While record numbers of voters have been showing up for the GOP primaries and caucuses to date, thanks primarily to Trump, Democrats have been underperforming. But Democrats say they are more excited about a Clinton-Trump presidential matchup than Republicans are.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg now says he will not run for president this year for fear his candidacy would guarantee a Trump victory. Our polling agrees: A Bloomberg candidacy would be good for Trump and bad for Clinton.

Americans are very angry this election cycle as the surprising success of Trump and Sanders clearly demonstrates, but fortunately they’re not taking that anger out on their family and friends.

President Obama at a press conference this week insisted that he’s not to blame for the anger voters feel, but it’s not clear voters agree. 
The president’s daily job approval ratings remain slightly better than they have been for much of the past year.

Many hoped the election of the first black president in 2008 would help heal the racial division that has plagued this country for much of its history, but nearly half (47%) of voters think Obama has driven the races further apart.

Three-out-of-four voters (73%) continue to think most politicians raise racial issues just to get elected. Only 14% believe they’re interested in solving real problems.

Americans strongly believe the public outcry by prominent officials like the president and Hillary Clinton over the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, a majority black city, is more about politics than a solution to the problem.

Despite the continuing controversy over police shootings of black men in this country, it’s much better for a political candidate to be pro-police than anti-police as far as voters are concerned. 

Seventy-two percent (72%) of Americans have a favorable view of the police in the area where they live.  Just 13% think most deaths that involve the police are the fault of the policeman. 

A proposal has been made in New York City to allow illegal immigrants to vote for mayor and other top city officials. But voters continue to strongly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to vote at all and adamantly reject a plan like the one in New York City for their hometown.

Most voters still think their fellow Americans need to prove their identity before voting and don’t believe photo ID laws discriminate against some voters.

Twenty percent (20%) of Americans say they or someone in their immediate family has given money to political parties or candidates in the last six months.

In other surveys last week:

— Just 29% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

— Will voters punish senators who refuse to consider Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court?

— Following a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision this week to uphold an adoption by a lesbian couple in Georgia, just over half of Americans say they support same-sex couples adopting children.

— Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was laid to rest on Friday at the Reagan Presidential Library in California alongside her husband Ronald Reagan. She is best remembered by many for her loyalty and devotion to the man Americans consider the most influential U.S. president in modern times.

— Sir George Martin, the producer who guided the Beatles through nearly all of their recordings, died this week. Sixty-three percent (63%) of Americans say they have seen the Beatles’ American debut on CBS-TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show
that aired in February 1964.


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: