Joint Strike Fighter:

Significant Challenges Remain as DOD Restructures Program

GAO-10-520T: Published: Mar 11, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2010.

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This testimony discusses our work on the F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The JSF is the Department of Defense's (DOD) most costly and ambitious aircraft acquisition. DOD is seeking to simultaneously develop and field three aircraft variants for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and eight international partners. The JSF program is to provide critical replacement aircraft that will serve as the heart of future tactical air forces. It will require a long-term commitment to very large annual funding outlays. The current estimated investment is $323 billion to develop and procure 2,457 aircraft.

Our work has found that, although the department has recently directed a number of strong actions that should improve JSF program outcomes in the future, development costs have continued to increase and key events were missed. Although improving, manufacturing inefficiencies and parts problems persist, slowing delivery of test aircraft and, in turn, delaying development flight tests. DOD's restructuring actions should help, but there is still substantial overlap of development, test, and production activities while DOD continues to push ahead and invest in large quantities of production aircraft far ahead of completing testing. The JSF program continues to struggle with increased costs and slowed progress--negative outcomes that were foreseeable as events have unfolded over several years. Total estimated acquisition costs have increased $46 billion and development extended 2.5 years, compared to the program baseline approved in 2007. DOD is now taking some positive steps that, if effectively implemented, should improve outcomes and provide more realistic cost and schedule estimates. Manufacturing JSF test aircraft continues to take more time, money, and effort than budgeted. By December 2009, only 4 of 13 test aircraft had been delivered and total labor hours to build the aircraft had increased more than 50 percent above earlier estimates. Late deliveries hamper the development flight test program and affect work on production aircraft, even as plans proceed to significantly ramp-up annual procurement rates. Some improvement is noted, but continuing manufacturing inefficiencies, parts problems, and engineering technical changes indicate that design and production processes may lack the maturity needed to efficiently produce aircraft at planned rates. Although DOD's restructuring actions should help, there is still substantial overlap of development, test, and production activities while DOD continues to push ahead and invest in large quantities of production aircraft before variant designs are proven and system performance verified. Given the extended development time and reduced near term procurement, DOD still intends to procure up to 307 aircraft at an estimated cost of $58.2 billion before completing development flight testing by the beginning of fiscal year 2015.

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