Man kan som skatteyder ikke undgå at få en anelse nervøse trækninger, når man læser den seneste evalueringsrapport af F-35 projektet, der som bekendt er favorit til at blive Danmarks nye jagerfly. Det er Pentagons særlige Director for Operational Test and Evaluation, Michael Gilmore, der i mandags barslede med sin årlige statusrapport om en lang række af det amerikanske forsvars udviklingsprojekter. Stort som småt. Fly, skibe, land, cyber. Alt muligt.

Mest opmærksomhed samler der sig ikke uventet om de 47 sider, som Gilmore bruger på F-35. Rapporten tegner et klart billede af et fly, der stadig har mange kvaler og usikkerheder forbundet med sig. Et fly med meget ringe driftsstabilitet og store vanskeligheder med vedligeholdelsessystemet ALIS. Og et fly, hvis nuværende software ikke gør det i stand til at blive sendt i krig.

Vi sætter i dette indlæg fingeren på femte generations F-35-flyets manglende evner til at slå et fjerde generations F-16D fly i luftkamp. En bekymrende oplysning, som var gemt langt nede i Gilmores skriv.

Efter at have sundet os over den oplysning, så lad os se nærmere på nogle af de andre mest markante problemer:

For det første mener Gilmore ikke, at man kan holde tidsplanen.

”The current schedule to complete System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and enter IOT&E by August 2017 is unrealistic.

Full Block 3F mission systems development and testing cannot be completed by May 2017, the date reflected in the most recent Program Office schedule, which is seven months later than the date planned after the 2012 restructure of the program. Although the program has recently acknowledged some schedule pressure and began referencing July 31, 2017, as the end of SDD flight test, that date is unrealistic as well. Instead, the program will likely not finish Block 3F development and flight testing prior to January 2018.”

Block 3F er den seneste udgave af flyets software. Og hos Joint Program Office ser man lidt anderledes på tingene end Gilmore gør:

”The F-35 Program Office (JPO) continues to aggressively execute development and testing of Block 3F capabilities with the objective of delivering full Block 3F capabilities in the fall of 2017. The F-35 program recognizes there are about four months of potential risk in the 3F testing schedule; however, at this point in time the program is still tracking to a summer 2017 end date for 3F testing. The JPO does not intend on “short cutting” any required testing. Removal of test points by the combined JPO, industry and warfighting team occurs only after a thorough and disciplined review of what is required to deliver the promised capabilities.

By the end of the F-35 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) program, the objective is to deliver full Block 3F capabilities (Mission Systems, Weapons, & Flight Envelope) for the Services and International customers. The F-35 program will continue to closely coordinate with the JSF Operational Test Team (JOTT) and DOT&E on key test planning and priorities, including completion of weapons delivery events and support of IOT&E.”

Man har fløjet med Block 3F-software siden 2012, men havde i november 2015 kun gennemført 12 procent af testen.

”Block 3F developmental flight testing began in March 2015, 11 months later than the date planned by the program after restructuring in 2012, as reflected in the IMS. Progress has been limited (flight testing has accomplished approximately 12 percent of the Block 3F baseline test points as of the end of November) as the program focused on closing out Block 3i testing and providing a software version suitable to support plans for the Air Force to declare IOC in August 2016.”

Block 3i er forløberen for 3F. Og som det fremgår af slutningen af citatet, så har man lagt energien i 3i for at US Air Force kan erklære nogle F-35’ere operationsklare om seks måneder. En milepæl, der er vigtig for at fastholde omverdenens tillid til programmet. USAF fik fornylig den første F-35’ere med Block 3i-software og er nu ved at analysere, om man kan erklære en gruppe Block 3i-fly operationsklare i august.

Kilder peger i øvrigt på det bekymrende ved, at de programmeringsopgaver man ikke når i én softwareversion bliver udskudt til udviklingen af den næste softwareversion. Måske det største og mest fundamentale problembarn.

For det andet, så erklærede US Marine Corps 10 F-35’ere operationsklare i juli sidste år. Det var Block 2B-fly – forløberen for 3i og 3F. Og hvis man skal tro Michael Gilmore, så vil det kræve stor hjælp fra andre sider, hvis marinesoldaterne rent faktisk vil gå i krig med F-35 Block 2B-flyene.

”(…) 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). Block 2B deficiencies in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment result in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to respond to threats, and a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack. Since Block 2B F-35 aircraft are limited to two air-to-air missiles, they will require other support if operations are contested by enemy fighter aircraft.”

Om ovenstående berettiger til at betegne et fly som operationsklart, kan man naturligvis argumentere. Langt nede i rapporten kan man læse, at også F-35 med 3i softwaren kræver stor støtte in real life combat:

”If the Block 3i F-35 aircraft will be used in combat, they will need equivalent support as for the Block 2B F-35 aircraft, as identified previously in this report,” skriver Michael Gilmore på side 50.

Joint Program Office vil ikke tage ansvar for beslutningen om at erklære de 10 F-35’ere operationsklare med Block 2B-softwaren, men henviser berettiget til, at det var US Navys egen beslutning:

”Regarding Block 2B software, it was successfully fielded in support of the Marine Corp’s decision to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with an interim F-35 capability release in July 2015.  Block 2B development and flight test results were provided to the Services and all critical must-fix deficiencies were addressed to support a successful F-35B IOC.  The program has a well-established, transparent and disciplined process to review all deficiencies.  The final determination whether to fix deficiencies immediately, fix them in later increments, or not fix them at all, rests with the warfighters.”

For det tredje, så er der store vanskeligheder hos det laboratorium, der producerer de missionsdata, som F-35’ernes sensorsystemer og andre missionssystemer skal fodres med. Gilmore beskriver her hvad det er U.S. Reprogramming Lab har ansvaret for:

”The F-35 relies on mission data loads—which are a compilation of the mission data files needed for operation of the sensors and other mission systems—to work in conjunction with the system software data load to drive sensor search parameters and to identify and correlate sensor detections, such as threat and friendly radar signals. The U.S. Reprogramming Lab (USRL), a U.S. government lab, produces these loads for U.S. operational and training aircraft.”

Men indtil videre er der ikke sket særlig meget:

”Despite being provided a $45 Million budget in FY13, the program has still not designed, contracted for, and ordered the required equipment – a process that will take at least two years, not counting installation and check-out. In addition, despite the conclusions of a study by the Program Office indicating that substantial upgrades are needed to the laboratory’s hardware, the program is currently only pursuing a significantly lesser upgrade due to budgetary constraints. This approach would leave the USRL with less capability than the F-35 Foreign Military Sales Reprogramming Lab.”

Og det kan have store konsekvenser:

”Unless remedied, these deficiencies in the USRL will translate into significant limitations for the F-35 in combat against existing threats.”

Og den problemstilling skal der rykkes på ASAP, mener Gilmore.

”The program must take immediate action to complete required modifications and upgrades to the lab before the USRL is required to provide the Block 3F mission data load for tactics development and preparations for IOT&E.”

For det fjerde, så har man endnu ikke fået udviklet og leveret en såkaldt verifikationssimulation, selvom det har stået på både JPO og Lockheed Martins to-do-liste i de seneste otte år.

”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 a 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.”

Manglen på en verifikationssimulator gør det umuligt at teste flyets kapaciteter ordentligt:

”IOT&E will not be able to test the F-35’s full capabilities against the full range of required threats and scenarios. Nonetheless, because aircraft continue to be produced in substantial quantities (all of which will require some level of modifications and retrofits before being used in combat), the IOT&E must be conducted without further delay to evaluate F-35 combat effectiveness under the most realistic conditions that can be obtained. Therefore, to partially compensate for the lack of a simulator test venue, the JOTT will now plan to conduct a significant number of additional open-air flights during IOT&E relative to the previous test designs.”

For det femte, så er det svært at holde flyene på vingerne uden kolossal hjælp fra leverandørerne:

”The operational suitability of all variants continues to be less than desired by the Services and relies heavily on contractor support and workarounds that would be difficult to employ in a combat environment.”

Det er gået fremad, men man har ikke nået sine mål:

”Almost all measures of performance have improved over the past year, but most continue to be below their interim goals to achieve acceptable suitability by the time the fleet accrues 200,000 flight hours, the benchmark set by the program and defined in the Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for the aircraft to meet reliability and maintainability requirements.

Aircraft fleet-wide availability continued to be low, averaging 51 percent over 12 months ending in October 2015, compared to a goal of 60 percent.

Measures of reliability that have ORD requirement thresholds have improved since last year, but eight of nine measures are still below program target values for the current stage of development, although two are within 5 percent of their interim goal; one – F-35B Mean Flight Hours Between Maintenance Event (Unscheduled)—is above its target value.

Og så tager det længere tid end planlagt at vedligeholde flyene.

”F-35 aircraft spent 21 percent more time than intended down for maintenance and waited for parts from supply for 51 percent longer than the program targeted. At any given time, from 1-in-10 to 1-in-5 aircraft were in a depot facility or depot status for major re-work or planned upgrades. Of the fleet that remained in the field, on average, only half were able to fly all missions of even a limited capability set. – The amount of time required to repair aircraft and return them to flying status remains higher than the requirement for the system when mature, but there has been improvement over the past year.”

For det sjette, så gik US Marine Corps demonstration med seks operationelle F-35B-fly ombord på USS Wasp ikke specielt godt.

”As expected, the demonstration was not an operational test and could not demonstrate that the F-35B is operationally effective or suitable for use in combat. This is due to the following:

▪ Lack of production-representative support equipment

▪ Provision of extensive supply support to ensure replacement parts reached the ship faster than would be expected in deployed combat operations

▪ Incompleteness of the available maintenance procedures and technical data, which required extensive use of contractor logistics support

▪ Lack of flight clearance to carry and employ combat ordnance

▪ Lack of the full complement of electronic mission systems necessary for combat on the embarked aircraft

▪ No other aircraft, and their associated equipment, that would normally be employed with an Air Combat Element (ACE) were present, other than three MH-60S rescue helicopters”

Det var svært at have mere end 2-3 af de seks fly i sving af gangen:

”(…) aircraft reliability and maintainability were poor, so it was difficult for the detachment to keep more than two to three of the six embarked aircraft in a flyable status on any given day, even with significant contractor assistance. Aircraft availability during the deployment was approximately 55 percent. Around 80 percent availability would be necessary to generate four-ship combat operations consistently with a standard six-ship F-35B detachment.”

For det syvende, så stiller Gilmore sig kritisk overfor, at det amerikanske forsvar gennemfører et snarligt ”block buy” af op til 270 fly, som alle vil skulle modificeres senere hen.

”Is it appropriate to commit to a “block buy” given that essentially all the aircraft procured thus far require modifications to be used in combat?

I det hele taget, så ruller produktionsbåndet i Fort Worth, Texas allerede meget hurtigere, end Michael Gilmore bryder sig om:

”Although still officially characterized as low-rate, F-35 production rates are already high. Despite the problems listed above, F-35 production rates have been allowed to steadily increase to large rates, well prior to the IOT&E and official Full-Rate Production (FRP) decision. Due to this concurrency of development and production, approximately 340 aircraft will be produced by FY17 when developmental testing is currently planned to end, and over 500 aircraft by FY19 when IOT&E will likely end and the FRP milestone decision should occur. These aircraft will require a still-to-be-determined list of modifications in order to provide full Block 3F combat capability.”

Så måske skal mere end 500 tidligt producerede fly modificeres. Og er der råd til det?

”However, 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. This may potentially result in left-behind aircraft with significant limitations for years to come.”

Og hvad betyder en eventuel tidlig beslutning om block buy for Lockheed Martins motivation for at få tingene til at spille?

”Would committing to a “block buy” prior to the completion of IOT&E provide the contractor with needed incentives to fix the problems already discovered, as well as those certain to be discovered during IOT&E? Would it be preferred – and would it provide a strong incentive to fix problems and deliver fully combat-capable aircraft – to make the “block buy,” as well as any additional increases in the already high annual production rate, contingent upon successful completion of IOT&E? Similarly, would the “block buy” also be consistent with the “fly before you buy” approach to acquisition advocated by the Administration.”

For det ottende, så betyder høj varmeudvikling, at dørene til flyets våbenlastrum ofte kun kan være lukket i 10 minutter af gangen under visse former for testflyvninger.

”Testing to characterize the thermal environment of the weapons bays demonstrated that temperatures become excessive during ground operations in high ambient temperature conditions and in-flight under conditions of high speed and at altitudes below 25,000 feet. As a result, during ground operations, fleet pilots are restricted from keeping the weapons bay doors closed for more than 10 cumulative minutes prior to take-off when internal stores are loaded and the outside air temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In flight, the 10-minute restriction also applies when flying at airspeeds equal to or greater than 500 knots at altitudes below 5,000 feet; 550 knots at altitudes between 5,000 and 15,000 feet; and 600 knots at altitudes between 15,000 and 25,000 feet. Above 25,000 feet, there are no restrictions associated with the weapons bay doors being closed, regardless of temperature. The time limits can be reset by flying 10 minutes outside of the restricted conditions (i.e., slower or at higher altitudes). This will require pilots to develop tactics to work around the restricted envelope; however, threat and/or weather conditions may make completing the mission difficult or impossible using the work around.”

Kan man kalde det absurd? Ja, det kan man vist. Det indbyggede våbenlastrum er en af omdrejningspunkterne i F-35’erens evne til at være ”stealthy”.

For det niende, så er forholdene i våbenlastrummet ikke sundt for missilerne og kan have betydning for sikkerheden ved missilaffyringer(!).

”Testing to characterize the vibrational and acoustic environment of the weapons bays demonstrated that stresses induced by the environment were out of the flight qualification parameters for both the AIM-120 missile and the flight termination system (telemetry unit attached to the missile body required to satisfy range safety requirements for terminating a live missile in a flight test). This resulted in reduced service life of the missile and potential failure of the telemetered missile termination system required for range safety.”

For det tiende, så er der grænser for hvor mange g der kan trækkes når flyet har meget brændstof ombord.

”Under certain flight conditions, air enters the siphon fuel transfer line and causes the pressure in the siphon fuel tank to exceed allowable limits in all variants. As a result, the program imposed an aircraft operating limitation (AOL) on developmental test aircraft limiting maneuvering flight for each variant (e.g. “g” load during maneuvering). F-35A developmental test aircraft with the most recent fuel tank ullage inerting system modifications are limited to 3.8 g’s when the aircraft is fully fueled.”

Først når der er omkring en halv tank tilbage, kan man give den gas og trække de maksimale g.

”The allowable g increases as fuel is consumed and reaches the full Block 2B 7.0 g envelope (a partial envelope compared to full Block 3F) once total fuel remaining is 10,213 pounds or less, or roughly 55 percent of full fuel capacity, for developmental test aircraft with test control team monitoring (through instrumentation) of the fuel system. For developmental test aircraft without fuel system monitoring, the full Block 2B 7.0 g envelope becomes available at 9,243 pounds, or roughly 50 percent of full fuel capacity. Flight testing to clear the F-35A to the full Block 3F 9.0 g envelope, planned to be released in late 2017, is being conducted with developmental test aircraft with fuel system monitoring. Fleet F-35A aircraft are limited to 3.0 g’s when fully fueled and the allowable g is increased as fuel is consumed, reaching the full Block 2B 7.0 g envelope when approximately 55 percent of full fuel capacity is reached.”

Så hvis man er F-35 testpilot, så skal man huske jævnligt at lufte ud i våbenlastrummet, ikke flyve for vildt og håbe på at missilaffyringerne går godt…

For det 11., så er der store udfordringer med Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), der er omdrejningspunktet for den daglige vedligeholdelse af flyet. Så omfattende udfordringer, at jeg vil afholde mig fra at gå i detaljer, men blot henvise læsere med særlig interesse for ALIS til rapportens side 66-69.

Michael Gilmore slutter sin rapport af med at minde Joint Program Office om seks tidligere anbefalinger, som de mangler at adressere. Desuden kommer han med 14 nye anbefalinger.

”The program addressed two of the previous recommendations. As discussed in the appropriate sections of this report, the program did not, and still should:

1) Update program schedules to reflect the start of spin-up training for IOT&E to occur no earlier than the operational test readiness review planned for November 2017, and the associated start of IOT&E six months later, in May 2018.

2) Complete lab testing of the mission data loads, as is planned in the mission data optimization operational test plan, prior to accomplishing the necessary flight testing to ensure the loads released to the fleet are optimized for performance. If mission data loads are released to operational units prior to the completion of the lab and flight testing required in the operational test plan, the risk to operational units must be clearly documented. Status: Lab testing in Block 2B is still in work; 2B build fielded to operational F-35B units, risk not documented.

3) Complete the remaining three Block 2B weapon delivery accuracy (WDA) flight test events in a way that ensures full mission systems functionality is enabled in an operationally realistic manner.

4) Provide adequate resourcing to support the extensive validation and verification requirements for the Block 3 VSim in time for IOT&E, including the data needed from flight test or other test venues.

5) Extend the full-up system-level (FUSL) decontamination test to demonstrate the decontamination system effectiveness in a range of operationally realistic environments. Status: The Program Office has elected not to address this recommendation: the FUSL test will be conducted only under ambient conditions at Edwards AFB during 4QFY16 through 1QFY17 preventing the assessment of this system in other, potentially more stressing ambient conditions.

6) Ensure adequate testing of ALIS software upgrades on operationally-representative hardware is complete prior to fielding to operational units.

FY15 Recommendations. The program should:

1) Acknowledge schedule pressures that make the start of IOT&E in August 2017 unrealistic and adjust the program schedule to reflect the start of IOT&E no earlier than August 2018.

2)The Department should carefully consider whether committing to a “block buy,” composed of three lots of aircraft, is prudent given the state of maturity of the program, as well as whether the block buy is consistent with a “fly before you buy” approach to defense acquisition and the requirements of Title 10 United States Code.

3) Plan and program for additional Block 3F software builds and follow-on testing to address deficiencies currently documented from Blocks 2B and 3i, deficiencies discovered during Block 3F developmental testing and during IOT&E, prior to the first Block 4 software release planned for 2020.

4) Significantly reduce post-mission Ground Data Security Assembly Receptacle (GDR) processing times, in particular, decryption processing time.

5) Ensure the testing of Block 3F weapons prior to the start of IOT&E leads to a full characterization of fire-control performance using the fully integrated mission systems capability to engage and kill targets.
6) Complete the planned climatic lab testing.

7) Provide the funding and accelerate contract actions to procure and install the full set of upgrades recommended by DOT&E in 2012, correct stimulation problems, and fix all of the tools so the U.S. Reprogramming Lab (USRL) can operate efficiently before Block 3F mission data load development begins.

8) Complete the planned testing detailed in the DOT&E‑approved USRL mission data optimization operational test plan and amendment.

9) Along with the Navy and Marine Corps, conduct an actual operational test of the F-35B onboard an L-class ship before conducting a combat deployment with the F-35B. This test should have the full Air Combat Element (ACE) onboard, include ordnance employment and the full use of mission systems, and should be equipped with the production‑representative support equipment.

10) Develop a solution to address the modification and retrofit schedule delays for production-representative operational test aircraft for IOT&E. These aircraft must be similar to, if not from the Lot 9 production line.

11) Provide developmental flight test tracking products that clearly show progress on what has been accomplished and test activity remaining.

12) Develop an end-to-end ALIS test venue that is production representative of all ALIS components.

13) Ensure the necessary authorizations are provided in time to permit operational cybersecurity testing of the entire F-35 air system, including the air vehicle, as planned by the operational test community.

14) Provide dedicated time on representative air vehicles to complete Joint Technical Data (JTD) verification.

General Bogdan, chef for Joint Program Office (JPO), siger blandt andet om Gilmores rapport:

“There were no surprises in the report; all of the issues mentioned are well-known to the JPO, the U.S. services, international partners and our industry team.”

og:

“Although the DOT&E report is factually accurate, it does not fully address program efforts to resolve known technical challenges and schedule risks. It is the F-35 Joint Program Office’s responsibility to find developmental issues, resolve them and execute with the time and budget we have been given. Our government and industry team has a proven track record of overcoming technical challenges discovered during developmental and operational testing and fleet operations, and delivering on program commitments.”

Han peger dog på, at programmet har to store risici:

“Currently, mission systems software and the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), are the program’s top technical risks. Disciplined systems engineering processes addressing the complexity of writing, testing and integrating mission systems and ALIS software have improved the delivery of capability, although challenges remain. There is more work to accomplish in both mission systems software and ALIS before the end of the development program.”

Bogdan minder dog også om, at F-35 stadig er under udvikling:

“As a reminder, the F-35 program is still in its developmental phase. This is the time when issues are expected to be discovered and solutions are implemented to maximize the F-35’s capability for the warfighter.”

Til sidst må vi skatteydere dog unægtelig spørge os selv, om vi tør binde an med at sende vores penge efter sådan et fly. Hvis vi vælger at gøre det, så er det først med levering af de første fly i 2020 eller senere. Så der er tid til at få styr på tingene.

Men det rokker ikke ved det faktum, at det ikke ser godt ud. Der skal i mine øjne rigtig gode forklaringer på bordet allerede inden vi træffer typevalget senere i år. Og så skal vi være parate til at springe fra inden den endelige kontrakt underskrives i 2018-ish, hvis vi kan se, at der stadig er store problemer. Så må vi gå tilbage til de to tabere, købe nogle brugte F-16 fly, nye F-16 fly eller noget helt andet. For en ny IC4- eller EH101-skandale skal vi alt for verden undgå. Så må flyvevåbnets raske svende klare sig med et alternativt fly, som til gengæld får os skatteydere til at sove mere roligt om natten.

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