Joint Strike Fighter Acquisition:

Development Schedule Should Be Changed to Reduce Risks

NSIAD-00-74: Published: May 9, 2000. Publicly Released: May 10, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, focusing on: (1) the program's acquisition strategy; and (2) whether the strategy is being implemented in a manner that will ensure that the acquisition strategy objectives will be achieved.

GAO noted that: (1) the key objective of the JSF acquisition strategy is affordability--reducing the development, production, and ownership costs of the program relative to prior fighter aircraft programs; (2) DOD expects the JSF acquisition strategy to save nearly $18 billion (in fiscal year 1995 dollars) in development costs; (3) to achieve its affordability objective, the JSF program office has incorporated various DOD and commercial acquisition initiatives into the JSF acquisition strategy; (4) these initiatives include modifying the traditional weapons acquisition cycle, revising the requirements determination process, and developing critical technologies to a level where they represent low technical risk before the engineering and manufacturing contract is awarded; (5) the expectation is that incorporating these initiatives into the JSF acquisition strategy will result in a better match between the maturity of key technologies and the aircraft's requirements; (6) matching the requirements and the maturity of technology when a program enters engineering and manufacturing development is a critical determinant of a program's success; (7) once the development phase begins, a large, fixed investment in the form of human capital, facilities, and materials is sunk into the program and any significant changes will have a large, rippling effect on cost and schedule; (8) beginning the engineering and manufacturing development phase when critical technologies are at a low level of maturity serves to significantly increase program risk and the likelihood of schedule delays, which in turn result in increased program costs; (9) the JSF program office's implementation of its acquisition strategy will not ensure that the JSF program will enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase with low technical risk; (10) the aircraft being produced during the concept demonstration phase are not intended to demonstrate many of the technologies considered critical for achieving JSF program cost and performance requirements; (11) instead, many of these technologies--such as avionics, flight systems, manufacturing and producibility, propulsion, supportability, and weapons delivery system--will only be demonstrated in laboratory or ground-testing environments; and (12) therefore, these critical technologies will be at low levels of technical maturity when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is scheduled to be awarded.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Defense Authorization Act of 2001 (Sec. 212, P.L. 106-398), directed DOD to delay the Joint Strike Fighter contract award for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase until the Secretary of Defense certified to the congressional defense committees that the technological maturity of key technologies was sufficient to warrant its entry into that phase. The program was delayed by 6 months to allow for completion of technology maturity efforts.

    Matter: To ensure that the JSF Program enters the engineering and manufacturing development phase with low technical risk, as envisioned by the original acquisition strategy, Congress may wish to consider requiring the Secretary of Defense to identify which of the eight critical technologies will be incorporated on the JSF and certify that each of the identified technologies has been demonstrated in a form that is the right size, weight, and configuration needed for the JSF aircraft.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Defense Authorization Act of 2001 (Sec. 212, P.L. 106-398), directed DOD to delay the Joint Strike Fighter contract award for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase until the Secretary of Defense certified to the congressional defense committees that the technological maturity of key technologies was sufficient to warrant its entry into that phase. The program was delayed by 6 months to allow for completion of technology maturity efforts.

    Matter: For any of the eight technologies not initially included on the JSF, Congress should require the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan showing the: (1) strategy for demonstrating these technologies in the right size, weight, and configuration; (2) approach for including them onto the JSF; and (3) cost impact if these technologies do not become available as planned. Congress may want to consider restricting DOD from obligating funds made available for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program until it receives this information from DOD.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense Director for Strategic and Tactical Systems did not concur with this recommendation, stated that he believed that Joint Strike Fighter critical technologies, processes, and system characteristics will be at low risk for Engineering and Manufacturing Development Entry in March 2001, if the planned program activities are carried out by then. However, DOD adjusted the program schedule for the JSF and delayed entry into the next phase until October 2001.

    Recommendation: To demonstrate DOD's commitment to acquisition reform and to reduce the risk of future cost growth, the program office should focus on risk reduction efforts by maturing critical technologies prior to entering engineering and manufacturing development, and it should be allowed to do so without the penalty of withdrawal of funding support. Therefore, the Secretary of Defense should direct the JSF program office to adjust the planned March 2001 engineering and manufacturing development decision date to allow adequate time to mature critical technologies to acceptable maturity levels, thereby closing the gap between technology and requirements, before awarding the engineering and manufacturing development contract. Options that the program should consider include: (1) delaying the selection of a single contractor for the engineering and manufacturing phase of the program until the program's critical technologies have been developed to an acceptable level; or (2) selecting a single contractor, but providing the time and funding for additional risk reduction and technology maturation efforts, so that this contractor can mature critical technologies to acceptable levels before a decision is made to begin engineering and manufacturing development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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