Today is F-35 Defense Acquisition Board day. Some will bill this as a make-or-break event for Lockheed Martin but we suspect much of the bad news has already leaked out. Today could be the precursor for what could be a much worse day in the future when Defense Secretary Robert Gates takes the data from today's DAB meeting and decides what to do with it in the 2012 budget.
Just how much turmoil is there in the world's biggest defense program, not to mention the single most important program to the world's biggest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin? The Technical Baseline Review, which formed the basis for today's DAB meeting, found that JSF will need up to $5 billion more than currently budgeted and faces significant schedule delays. In schedule terms, the A and C models face another 12-month delay. The F-35B was expected to slip as much as three years.
Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell has made it clear that Gates will be looking at the new data in terms of 2012. Take all that data and add to them the rumors that those close to Gates are considering termination of the F-35B, the plane beloved of the Marine Corps. The Marines have already advanced to contact and, according to Loren Thompson, have beaten back any plans to kill the plane. The Marines were left in a pickle when Britain made the decision to drop its buy of the STOVL aircraft and buy F-35cs for its next-generation aircraft carriers. But with the recent flurry of deficit reduction plans and increasing pressure from the Tea Party and
Amidst all the gloom for Lockheed, the company offered a glimmer of hope today when it announced its previously unprepossessing entry for the $5 billion Joint Air to Ground Missile competition had scored a hit. The success occurred during a company-funded test (as allowed by the Pentagon for this competition) at White Sands Missile Range.
Here's what the company said in a release:
"The test also demonstrated the ability of the millimeter wave (MMW) radar sensor to simultaneously track a nearby moving tank, as well as the ability of the two sensors to discriminate targets and to hit the target of choice. Other test objectives included characterization of the launch shock environment, free-flight environment characterization and verification of design maturity, including demonstrating the success of corrective actions following minor anomalies in earlier tests."
Until now, Lockheed had fared poorly in comparison with Raytheon and Boeing's JAGM entry. During government-funded tests, the Raytheon missile scored three for three. Lockheed, determined to catch up to Raytheon and to prove to the Pentagon that its more complex IR seeker is worth the extra weight and cost because of its greater sensitivity, said this in its release:.“The test also verified the success of corrective actions we implemented to resolve anomalies from two earlier flight tests," Frank St. John, Lockheed's VP for Tactical Missiles, said.As the company statement diplomatically put it, "coupled with an August 2 target hit at 16 kilometers in a contract-funded test of the semi-active laser (SAL) seeker, this latest shot completed the process of demonstrating the performance of Lockheed Martin’s tri-mode seeker."
“Flawless sensor correlation in the cooled tri-mode seeker is what allows JAGM to fill the eight identified capability gaps,” said St. John. “We demonstrated this in earlier contract-funded tests in which the cooled tri-mode seeker penetrated battlefield obscurants and defeated all threat countermeasures. As in all our tests, we used a tactical configuration, thereby significantly reducing risk going into EMD.”
Critically, "the three modes of the seeker did communicate back and forth. All three sensors were collecting data simulateonously," St. JOhn told me in a press call this morning. He said the company may do another flight after the first of the year on a moving target. He also said release of the final RFP for the next phase of the program "is imminent" and should be out before the end of the year.