Joint Strike Fighter Acquisition:

Development Schedule Should Be Changed to Reduce Risks

T-NSIAD-00-132: Published: Mar 16, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2000.

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Louis J. Rodrigues
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the results of its review of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft program, focusing on whether the acquisition strategy: (1) is designed to demonstrate to a low level of technical risk those critical technologies, processes, and system characteristics necessary to produce an affordable family of strike aircraft that meets all participants' needs before entering engineering and manufacturing development; and (2) is being implemented in a manner that will ensure that this objective will be achieved.

GAO noted that: (1) the Joint Strike Fighter acquisition strategy is designed to meet affordability goals by reducing program risk before proceeding into the engineering and manufacturing development phase; (2) the acquisition strategy is designed to ensure a better match between the maturity of key technologies and the aircraft's requirements; (3) matching the requirements and the maturity of technology when a program enters engineering and manufacturing development (development phase) is a critical determinant of a program's success; (4) 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 schedule and cost; (5) beginning the 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; (6) while GAO was encouraged by the design of the Joint Strike Fighter acquisition strategy, GAO has some concerns about its implementation; (7) GAO's biggest concern is that critical technologies are projected to be at low levels of technical maturity when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is scheduled to be awarded; (8) in addition, when the competing contractors experienced design problems and cost overruns, the Department of Defense (DOD) restructured the program in a manner that will provide less information than originally planned prior to selecting between the two competing contractor proposals; and (9) GAO believes that to demonstrate DOD's commitment to acquisition reform, follow best commercial practices, and reduce the risk of future cost growth, the Joint Strike Fighter program office should continue to focus on risk-reduction efforts by maturing critical technologies prior to entering engineering and manufacturing development, and be allowed to do so without the penalty of withdrawal of funding support.

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