3.19.2008

Jet Fighter Program Keeps Crashing and Burning

This falls into the category of “yeah, right.” Or maybe “did he really say that?”

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the cost of buying and operating a new fleet of jet fighters is nearing $1 trillion because of price increases and inefficiencies in the program.

The plane in question is the F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. The plane is for several military services, with different models going to the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.

According to a
story from the Associated Press,

Operating costs, projected at $346 billion just a few years ago, have been driven upward by changes in repair plans, revised costs for depot maintenance, higher fuel costs and increased fuel consumption.

The GAO's auditors said they expect development and procurement costs "to increase substantially and schedule pressures to worsen based on performance to date..."

Auditors criticized both the military and the contractor for pressing into the jet's development's phase before key technologies were mature, started manufacturing test aircraft before designs were stable, and moved to production before flight tests showed the aircraft was ready.

"We do not know the basis for the GAO estimates and until we receive and analyze their data we will be unable to comment on them," Lockheed spokesman John Smith said in an e-mailed statement.

It is the next part of the story that raises my level of skepticism:

Smith, however, said the company has been careful stewards of U.S. tax dollars by trimming costs wherever possible.

"We continue to apply the same kind of oversight, budget alignment and lean thinking to the program," he said.

Lean thinking? Really? I have to believe that if there were a truly a lean mindset on the part of all the people involved in this project, the problem wouldn’t be so bad. For example, in a truly lean process that had all steps in proper order, manufacturing of test aircraft would not begin before designs were stable, and production would not begin before the aircraft was ready.

Am I overreacting? What do you think?

1 comments:

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