Continuing and sometimes deteriorating nature of the delays at Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 production facility

Winslow Wheeler. Straus Military Reform Project, 24 February 2010.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Straus Military Reform Project has obtained almost two years of monthly reports from the Defense Contract Management Agency on Lockheed-Martin’s production of the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter.” The most recent of those reports show deterioration from previous reports in several respects.

The Defense Contract Management Agency’s (DCMA) most recent reports cover the months July through November, 2009. These will soon be available at the Straus Military Reform Project website.

Major elements of the July through November reports can be summarized as follows:

The F-35 assembly line at Forth worth is being cannibalized for parts to support flight testing. This may be the first time an assembly line has been cannibalized for parts for such a tiny number of flight test aircraft as Lockheed-Martin has been able to get into the air. See summary of August report below.

Continuing and sometimes deteriorating nature of the delays at Lockheed-Martin’s (L-M) Fort Worth plant refutes the L-M contention that things are getting better and that the F-35 program learned from the past and with new design techniques is avoiding the kinds of problems experienced by “legacy” aircraft programs.

The cause, nature and implications of the “stand down” mentioned in the November report could well be important, but details are redacted in the DCMA reports and the press is yet to uncover the nature of the “stand down.” It is a matter looking for an explanation.

Some details from the reports follow:

July Report: Page 4 talks about a new DCMA estimate to complete System Design and Development, but the numbers are redacted. DCMA calls the L-M estimate “inadequate.” This DCMA estimate is before the Pentagon’s second independent Joint Estimating Team (JET II) estimate was finished and available, and is presumably independent. Most importantly, it clearly was available for SecDef Gates Forth Worth visit in August. Was it briefed to him? If so, why was Gates so positive about the program at that visit; if it was not, is that an example of why the F-35 program manager, General Heinz, was fired: i.e. that troubling information was not getting to Gates on this high visibility program.

Page 4 also mentions without further discussion a “BF-4 STOVL Upper Lift Fan Door incident.” The context is the rising costs of the overall system, but there are no details. Given that the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B is on a short schedule to deployment, is this a problem that will further complicate the schedule for the F-35B?

Page 4 identifies a “Corrective Action Plan” to address “EVMS,” “Earned Value Management system” or the system that LM uses to measure and report execution of the program and its budget. I understand it to be the core method DOD uses to monitor and manage the program. Results of the plan are due to DCMA in August. (The October Report states that the plan was submitted, but no specifics are reported. It is only stated that “a more focused Review will occur in three to five months by the DCMA….” [Page 4 of October Report.]). There has been some reporting on the failure to meet EVMS criteria in the press. The threat to L-M is that it will have to maintain its “certification” to perform EVMS calculations—if it is lost, L-M could end up not legally eligible to be a contractor to the federal government.

August Report: L-M is cannibalizing the production line to provide spare parts for the flight test program (pp. 3 & 4). These cannibalizations are “causing significant workload to supply chain personnel and are disrupting the production line.” There is no further discussion or explanation. This may be the first time a development aircraft’s production line was cannibalized for spares.

September Report: “Execution of the Flight Test Schedule continues to be a significant Program concern.” (Page 3.)

“The volume of major CR’s [Change Requests] is projected to continue.” “…the number of major changes has exceeded projections. Additionally, the impact of timing these changes and the disruption to the floor were not anticipated.” (Page 3.) This would seem to be exactly the kind of thing that L-M promised would not happen: i.e. that they had learned from previous programs and with the benefits of advanced computer design, the F-35 would not have the kinds of design disruptions so common with “legacy” aircraft.

Page 4 addresses another delay issue: ”Wing-at-Mate” problems. These, I understand, have to do with the decision to mate the wing to the fuselage before the wing is “stuffed”. The plan was to mate the completed wing to the fuselage. But, because of delays, L-M decided to add wing components after mating, which – being inefficient — slows things down more.

“Composite production is not meeting the demands of the production operations – composites for the AFT and Empennage assemblies are paced by the availability and quality of composites.” (Page 4.) Again, the modern design feature of composites, said to not just reduce weight (of the over weight aircraft) but to facilitate design and fabrication is proving to be a source of delay and complication.

October Report: Flight test schedule still “a significant Program concern.” “AF-1 continues to be in a maintenance period as of this report, progressing towards taxi tests and first flight.” (Page 3.) This is an example of a problem addressed in earlier DCMA reports: aircraft coming off the production line incomplete and incapable of flight. They are sent to adjacent hangars for post-production production. This pre-first flight “maintenance” would seem to be a misleading misnomer.

Mentions that the program is about to get its “sixth schedule revision.” (Page 3.)

More on the “Wing-at-Mate overlap” which appears to be improving. (Page 3.)

November Report: Due to the need for the sixth schedule revision — coming in early 2010 — “Recent Program summary charts, scorecards, and management briefings do not consistently depict performance to the master schedule baseline.” (Page 3.)

The graph on page 6 shows Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) aircraft delivery rate is on average 80 days late. The rate significantly deteriorated in April and stayed at that deteriorated rate. Individual aircraft deliveries are significantly above that: AF-6 will be 92 days late; AF-7 will be 142 days late. A sentence presumably explaining the increased delay was redacted. (Page 6.) This category is rated “red” by DCMA. On the other hand, DCMA confirms public reports that while LRIP 1 & 2 aircraft are months late, the “risk” that LRIP 3 aircraft will be late is rated as “low.”

Suppliers’ Delivery Rate (Page 8.) is also getting worse, now down to about 75% on-time. This category is also rated “red” by DCMA.

The Management Reserve of money is gone, “further straining the financial management of the Program.” Amounts are redacted. Given USATL Carter’s decision to used LRIP production money for SDD, how much of that will go to L-M’s management reserve slush fund, rather than directly to SDD activities?

A section is titled “Maintenance and Quality Verification Stand-Down” immediately followed by several redacted lines. Later the section states “This incident triggered a maintenance and quality verification stand-down to determine systemic root causes for increasing aircraft impoundment and suspension of operations incidents to date.” And later, “The focus areas are Software, Rework/Repairs, System Check Out Procedures (SCOPs) and Aerospace Equipment Instructions (AEIs).” (page 4.) The discussion in the section titled “Improve Software Productivity” refers to “F-35 stand-down events” and explains that a “Joint Process Review” effort to address software issues was “postponed until further notice as it was overcome by F-35 stand down events that took precedence.” (Page 18.)

This “stand down” would appear to have some significance, but has not been reported to the public by L-M or DOD.

Note: for links to the DCMA reports cited here see Winslow Wheeler, Pentagon Reports Document Continuing Lockheed-Martin Failures, Center for Defense Information, 24 February 2010.

Comments are closed.