Joint Strike Fighter:

DOD Plans to Enter Production before Testing Demonstrates Acceptable Performance

GAO-06-356: Published: Mar 15, 2006. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Michael J. Sullivan
(937) 258-7915
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is DOD's most expensive aircraft program. The program represents 90 percent of the remaining planned investment for recapitalizing DOD's aging tactical aircraft fleet. GAO is required by law to review the program annually for 5 years, beginning in fiscal year 2005. This is our second report and GAO assessed the program's acquisition approach--in terms of capturing knowledge for key investment decisions--and identified an alternative to improve outcomes.

DOD is investing heavily in procuring JSF aircraft before flight testing proves it will perform as expected. For example, the JSF program plans to produce 424 low-rate initial production aircraft, at a total estimated cost of more than $49 billion, by 2013--the same time at which the program plans to complete initial operational testing. Producing aircraft before testing demonstrates the design is mature increases the likelihood of design changes that will lead to cost growth, schedule delays, and performance problems. Because the program will lack key design and testing knowledge, DOD plans to use cost reimbursement contracts to procure early production aircraft. This type of contract places a substantially greater cost risk on DOD and the taxpayers. Confidence that investment decisions will deliver expected capability within cost and schedule goals increases as testing proves the JSF will work as expected. At the same time, the JSF program has not adopted an evolutionary approach to acquiring the aircraft--despite DOD policy that prefers such an approach. Instead, the JSF program has contracted to develop and deliver the aircraft's full capability in a single-step, 12-year development program--a daunting task given the need to incorporate the technological advances that, according to DOD, represent a quantum leap in capability. DOD's buying power has already been reduced. Since initial estimates, program acquisition unit costs have increased by 28 percent, or $23 million. Development costs have increased 84 percent, planned purchases have decreased by 535 aircraft, and the completion of development has slipped 5 years, delaying delivery of capabilities to the warfighter. With more than 90 percent of the JSF investment remaining, DOD officials have the opportunity to adopt a knowledge-based and evolutionary acquisition strategy that would maximize DOD's return on its investment. The acquisition approach used for the F-16 fighter, the Air Force's JSF predecessor, could provide a model for delivering JSF capabilities to the warfighter sooner and recapitalizing tactical aircraft forces more quickly while lowering risk. The F-16 program successfully evolved capabilities over the span of about 30 years, with an initial capability delivered to the warfighter about 4 years after development started.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: DOD does not plan to change its business case or acquisition plan for developing and buying the JSF. Without changes, the acquisition plan will put at risk $50 billion for procuring JSF aircraft at the same time the program develops and tests the aircraft's expected performance capabilities over a 7-year, 12,000 hour flight test program. The JSF program has continually missed its cost and schedule targets over the 5 years it has been in development. If DOD were to make smaller, more manageable commitments in capabilities, it would make cost and schedule more predictable and deliver needed capabilities to the war fighter sooner. For these reasons, Congress may want to consider delaying authorizations and appropriations for procuring JSF aircraft until DOD demonstrates the aircraft design qualities and integrated mission capabilities of the fully configured and integrated JSF variants work as designed based on actual flight testing.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress reduced the fiscal year 2007 budget request by $561.030 million reducing the number of aircraft to be purchased in 2007 from 5 to 2 and reducing the advanced procurement of aircraft in 2008 from 16 to 12.

    Matter: DOD does not plan to change its business case or acquisition plan for developing and buying the JSF. Without changes, the acquisition plan will put at risk $50 billion for procuring JSF aircraft at the same time the program develops and tests the aircraft's expected performance capabilities over a 7-year, 12,000 hour flight test program. The JSF program has continually missed its cost and schedule targets over the 5 years it has been in development. If DOD were to make smaller, more manageable commitments in capabilities, it would make cost and schedule more predictable and deliver needed capabilities to the war fighter sooner. For these reasons, Congress may want to consider delaying authorizations and appropriations for procuring JSF aircraft until DOD develops a knowledge-based business case that matches requirements with proven technologies and design knowledge and available funding. Capabilities that demand technological advances not yet demonstrated should be part of future increments that are funded and managed separately once demonstrated.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress reduced the fiscal year 2007 budget request by $561.030 million reducing the number of aircraft from 5 to 2 and the advanced procurement in fiscal year 2008 from 16 to 12 aircraft.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To reduce program risk and increase the likelihood of successful program outcomes by delivering capabilities to the warfighter when needed and within available resources, the Secretary of Defense should, once the basic airframe design has been demonstrated, limit production quantities to the number of aircraft needed for operational testing and that can be produced using the current production capability (based on existing tooling, materials, and personnel) until a fully integrated aircraft (with advanced mission systems and predictive maintenance systems) demonstrates through flight testing the required capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Because of the inherit risk of buying production aircraft before demonstrating that the aircraft will work as intended, the Congress reduced funding for the first two low rate initial production orders for JSF thereby slowing the ramp up of production. Subsequently DOD reduced the number of production aircraft it plans to buy during the flight test program by about 35 percent as compared to the original plan. This revised production plan allows for a more moderate production rate and with less program risk. The program does not plan to significantly increase its buy quantities now until it has captured additional test information about the capabilities of the aircraft.

    Recommendation: To reduce program risk and increase the likelihood of successful program outcomes by delivering capabilities to the warfighter when needed and within available resources, the Secretary of Defense should delay the investment in production aircraft until sufficient testing has at least demonstrated the basic airframe design of each JSF variant in important parts of the flight envelope, including combinations of critical altitudes, speeds, and angles of attack.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Because of the inherit risk of buying production aircraft before demonstrating that the aircraft will work as intended, the Congress reduced funding for the first two low rate initial production orders for JSF thereby slowing the ramp up of production. Subsequently DOD reduced the number of production aircraft it plans to buy during the flight test program by about 35 percent as compared to the original plan. This revised production plan allows for a more moderate production rate and with less program risk. The program does not plan to significantly increase its buy quantities now until it has captured additional test information about the capabilities of the aircraft.

    Recommendation: To reduce program risk and increase the likelihood of successful program outcomes by delivering capabilities to the warfighter when needed and within available resources, the Secretary of Defense should plan an incremental acquisition strategy that follows the intent of DOD evolutionary acquisition policy and delivers a first increment that limits new content to proven technologies and design. The plan should be completed and reported to the Congress by July 2006, and include adjustments in associated programs as necessary to maintain needed capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DOD partially concurred with our recommendation to the Secretary of Defense to plan an incremental acquisition strategy that follows the intent of DOD acquisition policy, it has taken no action to implement this recommendation and did not report its strategy to the Congress. While it stated the JSF Acquisition Strategy fully complies with policy and is a knowledge-based, incremental approach that includes three blocks of increasing degrees of warfighter capability, we believe DOD's strategy does not provide the benefits of an evolutionary approach as suggested by DOD's policy and best practices. DOD has not structured the JSF development program into increments managed as separate acquisitions with their own cost, schedule, and decision milestones making the likelihood of successful program outcomes low. The JSF strategy resembles other past major acquisition programs that have attempted to achieve the ultimate capability in a single development increment producing nearly all of the fleet with the fully required capability from the outset. If DOD were to make smaller, more manageable commitments in capabilities it would make cost and schedule more predictable and deliver needed capabilities to the war fighter sooner.

    Apr 18, 2014

    Apr 16, 2014

    Apr 11, 2014

    Apr 10, 2014

    Apr 9, 2014

    Apr 8, 2014

    Apr 3, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here