WASHINGTON Oct 30 The Pentagon on Wednesday
said it is examining the possibility of saving time and money by
more closely integrating developmental and operational testing
of the new F-35 radar-evading fighter jet built by Lockheed
Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the $392 billion F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter program, said discussions were under way with the
Pentagon's "testing community" but no decisions had been made.
"It's trying to do what makes sense and is efficient,
without up-ending the intent of having these separate and
distinct review processes," Hawn said.
Pentagon officials have said they hope to protect the F-35,
the military's most expensive new weapons program, but mounting
budget pressures have forced officials to look for efficiencies
and cost savings across the board.
Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational
testing and evaluation, has been critical of past efforts to
reduce F-35 developmental testing, arguing that it could lead to
significant discoveries during operational testing later.
Gilmore had also warned against starting pilot training
before more developmental testing had been completed, but the
services decided to press ahead with training programs.
But Gilmore's spokeswoman Jenn Elzea said he would consider
a more integrated testing approach, if structured properly.
"The Director of Operational Test & Evaluation is always
open to considering the use of integrated testing, which uses
developmental tests conducted under appropriate conditions to
collect data for use in our operational evaluations," she said.
Traditionally, U.S. weapons programs have gone through
developmental testing to flesh out any design flaws and then
rigorous operational tests before the weapons are fielded.
But the F-35 program was designed to move into production
while developmental testing was still in progress, an approach
called "concurrency" that Frank Kendall, now the Pentagon's
chief arms buyer, has described as "acquisition malpractice."
The F-35 program has been restructured to add time and money
to the development program, which is nearing completion after
more than decade, and to slow a planned increase in production.
Officials told reporters last month that developmental testing
was about 40 percent complete.
Kendall this week said the F-35 program had made sufficient
progress to plan for higher production in fiscal year 2015, but
he remained concerned about the jet's software, reliability and
a computer-based logistics system.
Current plans call for the Marine Corps to start using the
new planes operationally from mid-2015, followed by the other
services in subsequent years, while operational testing is not
due to begin until 2018.
In an "acquisition decision memorandum" dated Monday,
Kendall ordered the Air Force general who runs the program to
submit a reworked plan by Nov. 15 for funding the development
program that reflected the program's experience.
Hawn said that new plans would reflect changes made to the
developmental program, such as earlier testing of the jet's
ability to function during lightning storms, and changes linked
to the government shutdown and earlier furloughs.
But she said the new plan could also include changes in the
current testing plan, if agreements are reached with Gilmore's
office and officials in charge of developmental testing.
Retired Admiral Gary Roughead, the former chief of naval
operations, welcomed efforts to better integrate testing and
speed up the process of buying and fielding new weapons.
He said he would never put U.S. military personnel in an
unsafe position, but thought the current level of testing
required for new weapons had "gone way overboard."
"Time is money. We really need to look at how we get things
to market faster and more efficiently," Roughead, a fellow with
the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, told Reuters.
"How we test, how we learn, and how we make improvements has
become overtaken by a slavish adherence to an ever increasing
process," he said.
The Pentagon on Wednesday announced some recent successful
weapons testing by the F-35, including the plane's first firing
of a guided weapon at a ground target.
Lockheed is developing three models of the new radar-evading
warplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped
fund its development: Britain, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Norway,
Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have
also placed orders for the jet.