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F-35C Catapult Launch  (Source: Navair)
Pentagon wants to spend less on subcontractors

The Pentagon is pressing hard to cut costs to as many programs as possible during the current budget crunch in Washington. The Pentagon and Congress been complaining loudly about the costs of the F-35 program coupled with the delays the aircraft has seen. The project is still moving forward, but there are some in Washington that think the cost of the new jet is simply too high.

The Pentagon is now looking to cut costs in the F-35 program by reducing the amount spent on subcontractors. So far the cost estimates for the program have been pegged at over $380 billion for the 2,400 aircraft the U.S. wants. An additional 700 aircraft have been ordered internationally. The Pentagon says that it has realized a lot of the money spent on the program is at the subcontractor level.

 "What we've learned is that a lot of the money that we're spending is at the subcontract level," Shay Assad said. "We're following money. We want to make sure we have a complete understanding of what we think a fair and reasonable subcontract price should be, and we do expect Lockheed Martin to develop their own position."

The costs of the F-35 program are expected to be more understood this fall when a review is complete. The Pentagon is currently getting ready for negotiations on the LRIP-5 of F-35 fighters. One place where money can be saved is by finding better ways to make common features across all the variants of the F-35.

"What we're finding is that we're getting much more precise about what is the commonality amongst these things and how should we build those common items, because that's where we'll save some money," Assad added. 

While the Pentagon is working to reduce the cost of the F-35 program, some estimates are saying that the first three production lots of the F-35 are exceeding cost projections by up to 15% to $918 million. The Pentagon will pay $635 million of that overrun to Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, the two lead contractors of the aircraft. The other $136 million will be met by reducing target fee.

Despite all the concerns with the cost of the F-35 program, the F-35C hit a major milestone this week. The Navy version of the fighter had its first successful catapult launch. The launch took place at the F-35 integrated test facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

“It was great to be able to be a part of this milestone in the F-35C test program,” said Navy test pilot Lt. Chris Tabert. “Due to the hard work of the entire test team, the event went very well and I look forward to seeing the airplane operate from the carrier.”

The test team will execute a test plan over the next few weeks that will include more launches at varying power levels and dual-aircraft jet blast deflector testing and catapult launches using a degraded catapult configuration. The degraded catapult tests are to measure the effects of steam ingestion on the F-35.



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RE: typo
By DanNeely on 7/28/2011 2:57:36 PM , Rating: 2
"When you owe the bank $10,000 and you can't pay, you have a problem. When you owe the bank $10,000,000,000 and you can't pay, the bank has a problem."

You have two basic problems with overruns, contractors lowballing/using rose colored glasses to make their cost estimates to win the deal and creeping featurism in the pentagon. While big acquisition contracts typically do have penalty clauses that eat into if not wipe out the profits planned in the cost plus contracts, the combination of the two sources of overrun are large enough that they could easily end up bankrupting the prime at which point after spending $bns on R&D the govt can either start over (assuming that having destroyed the last prime any of the other handful of capable companies are willing to place a bid at all), spending $bns to design a new system that will probably end up even more expensive with scope creep or buy them from whoever buys out the old company in the bankruptcy settlement. The latter company will probably end up having to charge even more than the former one, because of having to replace the knowledge lost when people jumped ship at he old company.


RE: typo
By Stiggalicious on 7/28/2011 3:44:12 PM , Rating: 4
As an employee of a major defense contractor, I completely agree with you. So many projects have had so much scope creep, delays, changes, and cost increases mostly because the customer keeps changing their mind on what they want. The amount of requirements documentation that the government wants (and changes) and the way the government pays for these projects are the two biggest reasons why these projects are expensive.
When you have a team of 100 engineers, each costing the government $100 an hour, stop to wait for the Air Force to decide what they really want, it's costing the government $2.78 per second. And that's just one (albeit large) team of engineers.

Back in the 60's, the government told companies to make something awesome, and 10 years later they received a product that was awesome costing X amount of dollars. Nowadays the government wants to micromanage so many aspects "to control cost and mitigate risk," it ends up being waaaay more expensive to create something waaaay less awesome.


RE: typo
By 91TTZ on 7/28/2011 4:28:56 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Back in the 60's, the government told companies to make something awesome, and 10 years later they received a product that was awesome costing X amount of dollars. Nowadays the government wants to micromanage so many aspects "to control cost and mitigate risk," it ends up being waaaay more expensive to create something waaaay less awesome.


10 years? The A-12 which the SR-71 is based on took only 3 years from contract to first flight. In the beginning of 1961 the US hadn't even put a man in space yet. By 1969 we'd already landed on the Moon.

Give a bunch of modern engineers computers and special software and they'll make the same thing for you and it'll take twice as long and cost 10x as much. It's a totally different mindset nowadays. I think companies/the government focuses on non-critical things like workplace diversity more than results.


RE: typo
By Bubbacub on 7/28/11, Rating: -1
RE: typo
By Bubbacub on 7/29/2011 2:48:56 PM , Rating: 2
black cheque = blank cheque

why the downrating?


RE: typo
By tecknurd on 7/30/2011 4:04:23 AM , Rating: 2
You do not know what you are talking about. For an engineer to make anything to be successful for the public, the engineer have to make and this means physically make something. Making in the computer just does not work compared the device being made and function in the real world. Simulations gives the engineer an ideal look of the device.

NASA have to go through hundreds or thousands of designs to make a successful rocket and moon lander. Using one model is suicide.


RE: typo
By AssBall on 7/28/2011 6:19:51 PM , Rating: 2
You are completely right, on so many levels.

Engineers should design our defense products, not politicians and bureaucrats.


RE: typo
By FITCamaro on 7/28/2011 11:03:07 PM , Rating: 2
Its not that engineers don't design and build it.

It's that the documentation and other red tape as well as the military not knowing what they want makes the costs go well beyond the "best case" bid that is required to win the contract.


RE: typo
By inperfectdarkness on 7/29/2011 7:58:14 AM , Rating: 2
yes, to design--but that's it. warfighters should still be the ones coming up with the ideas. they're the ones using the machines in combat; they're the ones who have the best idea of what is needed, what will work, and what could be made better.

and for the record, the current climate is "reap what you sow". there's been a HUGE push to cut down on what is supposedly "wasteful, dead-end programs". that's all well and good; not every potential defense program will bear fruit. the problem is, we have insisted on ZERO fruitless endeavors; i.e. no weapons systems fielded that end up being of marignal use.

so now we insist upon the programs that we DO keep, having to have "everything" included in the plan. more gets added in after-the fact. programs get modified excessively and budgets overrun.

if we stick with limited-scope programs, and stipulate that "changes" have to be relegated to block upgrades later during service life, we can do much better at keeping costs down--even if we occasionally have to kill programs or early-retire certain systems.

p.s.
comanche should never have gotten the axe.


RE: typo
By Owik2008 on 7/29/2011 3:42:57 AM , Rating: 3
As a software engineer I can honestly say that the biggest problem is scope creep due to people not knowing what they want. It is best to get the customer to sign off on a specific item and then build that! If the end product is not what they wanted - well you have the papers to prove you built what they wanted. Of course this never works in reality when the client is the government who can change anything.

I remember watching a movie about the Bradley tank development, the problems with this program started reminding me of it.
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