Joint Strike Fighter:

Progress Made and Challenges Remain

GAO-07-360: Published: Mar 15, 2007. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2007.

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The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program--a multinational acquisition program for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and eight cooperative international partners--is the Department of Defense's (DOD) most expensive aircraft acquisition program. DOD currently estimates it will spend $623 billion to develop, procure, and operate and support the JSF fleet. The JSF aircraft, which includes a variant design for each of the services, represents 90 percent of the remaining planned investment for DOD's major tactical aircraft programs. In fiscal year 2004, the JSF program was rebaselined to address technical challenges, cost increases, and schedule overruns. This report--the third mandated by Congress--describes the program's progress in meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals since rebaselining and identifies various challenges the program will likely face in meeting these goals in the future.

The JSF program has delivered and flown the first development aircraft. However, cost and schedule goals established in the fiscal year 2004 rebaselined program have not been met. Total JSF program acquisition costs (through 2027) have increased by $31.6 billion and now DOD will pay 12 percent more per aircraft than expected in 2004. The program has also experienced delays in several key events, including the start of the flight test program, delivery of the first production representative development aircraft, and testing of critical missions systems. Delays in the delivery of initial development aircraft were driven by incomplete engineering drawings, changes in design, manufacturing inefficiencies, and parts shortages. Despite these delays, the program still plans to complete development in 2013, compressing the amount of time available for flight testing and development activities. Also, the program projects it will meet all but one key performance requirement--line of sight communications--that is currently dependent on other capabilities being developed outside the JSF program. Accurately predicting JSF costs and schedule and ensuring sufficient funding will likely be key challenges facing the program in the future. JSF continues to pursue a risky acquisition strategy that concurrently develops and produces aircraft. While some concurrency may be beneficial to efficiently transition from development to production, the degree of overlap is significant on this program. Any changes in design and manufacturing that require modifications to delivered aircraft or to tooling and manufacturing processes would result in increased costs and delays in getting capabilities to the warfighter. Low-rate initial production will begin this year with almost the entire 7-year flight test program remaining to confirm the aircraft design. Confidence that investment decisions will deliver expected capability within cost and schedule goals increases as testing proves the JSF will work as expected. The JSF program also faces funding uncertainties as it will demand unprecedented funding over the next 2 decades--more than $12.6 billion a year on average through 2027.

Status Legend:

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  • 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

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve chances of a successful outcome, the Secretary of Defense should limit annual low-rate initial production quantities to no more than 24 aircraft per year, the current manufacturing capacity, until each variant's basic flying qualities have been demonstrated in flight testing now scheduled in the 2010 time frame.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD restructured the JSF program in March 2010. Because of cost increases, continuing delays in manufacturing and testing aircraft, and attendant risks, one of the major decisions was to reduce low rate procurement quantities by 122 aircraft over the next 5 years. We believe DOD's actions to slow the program's production ramp rate by reducing the number of aircraft it plans to buy over the next five years is in line with the intent of our recommendation of reducing the risks of making production commitments prior to demonstrating through flight testing that the aircraft works as intended. While DOD is buying 30 aircraft in fiscal year 2010, by the end of year the program will have tested the basic flying qualities of all three variants. The production risks in subsequent years has been reduced by DOD's actions as the program now plans more time to complete testing before it significantly increasing its production rate. This should improve the program's chances for a successful outcome.

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