Navy Aviation:

F/A-18E/F Development and Production Issues

NSIAD-98-61: Published: Mar 13, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 20, 1998.

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Louis J. Rodrigues
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the F/A-18E/F development program, focusing on the: (1) status of the E/F development flight test program; (2) deficiencies that have been identified to date and corrective actions planned; and (3) current cost estimate for the program.

GAO noted that: (1) the Navy has revised the F/A-18E/F flight test program by decreasing the data collection requirements that were originally planned; (2) program documents state that, although flight testing is behind schedule, program decisions to reduce test points will enable the Navy to regain lost time and complete development testing in November 1998, as originally planned; (3) F/A-18E/F program documents identified numerous deficiencies relative to the aircraft's operational performance; (4) the most challenging technical issue is wing drop; (5) until these issues are resolved through software or hardware changes that have been adequately tested, the cost, schedule, and operational performance impact of resolving these deficiencies cannot be determined; (6) the Navy remains confident that it can correct these deficiencies; (7) in addition, a Navy board that assesses risk areas in the E/F program stated in July 1997, that operational testing may determine that the aircraft is not operationally effective or suitable; (8) a December 1997 preliminary operational assessment report, which is classified and based on limited data and analysis, identified 16 major deficiencies with the E/F aircraft but concluded that the F/A-18E/F is potentially operationally effective and suitable; (9) the Navy has consistently stated that the F/A-18E/F will be developed and produced within the cost estimates established for the program; (10) certain key assumptions on which the cost estimate was made have been overtaken by events; (11) program documents state that the current development effort is funded based on the assumption that problems would not occur during testing; (12) unanticipated aircraft deficiencies have occurred, and most of the program's management reserve has been depleted; (13) since the flight test program has about 1 year remaining, it is probable that additional deficiencies will develop; (14) correcting current and potential future deficiencies could result in the development effort exceeding the congressional cost cap; (15) the Navy's F/A-18E/F unit procurement cost estimates are understated; (16) these cost estimates were based on what has become unrealistically high quantities of E/F aircraft that will be bought; and (17) more realistic assumptions indicate that, although the total procurement cost will decrease, the F/A-18E/F unit cost will be more than the Navy currently estimates.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has already proceeded with production decisions beyond the initial low-rate initial production lot. The Lot II (20 aircraft) funding release was approved after the Navy informed DOD that the "wing drop" deficiency had been corrected. Initial funding for Lot III (30 aircraft) has been approved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to not approve contracting for any additional F/A-18E/F aircraft beyond the 12 aircraft contracted for during the first low-rate production phase of the program until the Navy demonstrates through flight testing that identified aircraft deficiencies have been corrected. This will still provide the Navy with the necessary aircraft to conduct operational testing of the F/A-18E/F.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has stated that initial operational testing has already occurred and more is scheduled prior to OPEVAL. There is no indication that DOD intends to delay OPEVAL.

    Recommendation: The Navy should not begin operational test and evaluation of the F/A-18E/F until corrections of deficiencies are incorporated in the aircraft that will be used for the evaluation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy


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