The U.S. Air Force's top officer is concerned that delays in software engineering for the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter could delay the service's fielding of the jet.
"I'm still concerned, concerned on schedule primarily -- a little bit less on technical matters -- software, again, appears to be a potential pacing item here and that has me concerned in terms of deliveries,"said Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz today during a breakfast with reporters in Washington.
He went on to say that while the plane is ahead of schedule in terms of test flights, test points and has had no "failures or surprises" structurally, delays in writing code for the plane have him worrying about whether it will reach initial operational capability by early 2016.
"There are some issues with respect to timing on software development, and we don't have complete understanding on whether or not that will affect the IOC which was predicted after the Nunn-McCurdy assessment to be April of 2016," said Schwartz.
The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 of the jets, making it the largest F-35 customer in the world.
This comes one day after F-35 Program Manager Vice Adm. David Venlet briefed the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) on his effort to retool the plane's cost profile and schedule based on a sweeping review of the program, known as the Technical Baseline Review, that his office has conducted this year.
While Schwartz was not at that meeting, he said that Venlet briefed his preliminary findings on the F-35s progress to date and his tentative schedule and cost profile moving forward.
"That effort is not complete," there will be another DAB meeting to finalize JSF plans in the Pentagon's fiscal year 2012 budget, "which is really what this is all leading up to," said Schwartz.
Should the final DAB meeting reveal a slowed F-35 production and delivery schedule, the Air Service is working on a plan to modify its aging F-16 fleet with everything from structural refurbishments to avionics and sensor upgrades, Schwartz reminded reporters. That plan however, depends on the outcome of that meeting, which is expected later this year.
All of this comes after it was revealed that the entire program could face additional delays, especially the Marine Corps' F-35B short take-off and landing variant of the plane which could see delays of two to three years. The Marines' F-35s are currently scheduled to reach IOC in 2012.
Furthermore, the congressionally-mandated defecit reduction panel recently suggesting nixing the F-35B in order to pour money into the more successful F-35A and C-models.