By BEN FREEMAN
Just when you think the bar can't be any lower for the most expensive weapons program in history, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the Pentagon lowers the bar.
Last month, the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) lowered performance requirements for the JSF, helping the plane to meet milestones it had previously missed.
According to Inside Defense, which first reported the issue, JROC relaxed the performance requirements for the Air Force F-35A variant's combat radius and granted "the Marine Corps F-35B nearly 10 percent additional runway length for short take-offs.”
The Pentagon's JSF Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) from December 31, 2010, stated that the F-35A variant had a combat radius of 584 nautical miles—6 nautical miles below its key performance parameter of 590 nautical miles. So rather than modify the design to add fuel capacity, as was suggested in the SAR, the Pentagon instead lowered the performance standard. What happened is actually quite subtle and on the surface appears to be a strengthening of this performance goal, i.e. an extension of the combat radios to 613 nautical miles. However, "to extend the F-35A's combat radius," Inside Defense reported, "the JROC agreed to a less-demanding flight profile that assumes near-ideal cruise altitude and airspeed, factors that permit more efficient fuel consumption" [emphasis POGO's].
Inside Defense also noted that "the estimated combat radius of the short-take-off variant, which is being developed for the Marine Corps, is 15 percent lower than the original JSF program goal even though the aircraft is slated to carry fewer weapons than originally intended."
As David Axe wrote for Wired’s Danger Room, JROC “gave the F-35 a pass that was apparently designed so the over-weight, over-budget, long-delayed stealth fighter could avoid yet another embarrassing scandal.”
Tom Christie, a veteran defense insider and former top weapons tester at the Pentagon, says, “This is typical. We’ve seen this happen time and again. You [the Pentagon] paid the contractor to deliver a capability. Then, all of a sudden, they tell you you’re not going to get it. And you just say we no longer need that capability.” The worst part, according to Christie, is “there’s no penalty for anyone.”
Ben Freeman is a POGO investigator.
Image via U.S. Air Force.