May 28, 2013 defense-aerospace.com
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued May 24, 2013)
Defense Department Press Briefing on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room (excerpt)
Excerpts from a May 24 media briefing by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, and Director of Air Force Public Affairs Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick.
“The F-35 program has remained steadily on track over the past two years. Sequestration's impact on the RTD&E money for the program will likely impact software development to some degree, and sequestration cuts to production accounts will cut up to five new F-35As this year. The F-35 is a vital capability that we believe the nation needs to stay ahead of adversary technological gains, and it provides the multi-role capabilities that the anti-access and aerial denial environment of the future will require.
“The multi-service international nature of the program will also reap huge interoperability gains and future combat and will save us a lot of money along the way, just like the F-16 program did with the benefits of the multinational fighter program, et cetera.
“Currently, 22 F-35s are flying at Eglin Air Force Base, forming the backbone of our training fleet. They've flown over 1,200 sorties so far. We have four F-35As that have also been delivered to Nellis Air Force Base to begin operational testing. And we're excited that this program is on the road to success, and we're grateful that our international partners remain as committed to the Lightning II as we are.”
Q: Amy Butler, Aviation Week: I'd like to get a little more discussion about the F-35 going, if possible. We've got the SAR out now. We've been told for a couple of years now, since (inaudible) took office, that O&S was something that the department needed to get its arms around, that it was a big problem. And I know that each of the services have done their excursions to look into how they can contribute to a solution, but the SAR does not reflect that. According to the SAR, it's the same O&S costs, the same costs per flying hour, with some sort of a normalization to the F-16.
So how should we take that? Does the -- does the department have its hands around this problem? What are some of the fixes to get the cost per flying hour and the O&S costs down? And then I'd like to ask a follow-up, as well, on where you guys are on IOC and whether or not you're going to take the 2B or the (inaudible) software.
SEC. DONLEY: So just to start off -- and I'm sure the chief would -- would have some comments, as well on your last question, we will make an IOC notification to Congress next week. We owe them a report by June 1st. That's on track. It's been coordinated between the Air Force and the Navy, both the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps. So we're working on that, and a report will go to Congress next week, I think on time.
First question was O&S cost. It continues to be an issue in the department. You didn't -- you saw the numbers that came out in the SAR. But I'll just offer that there is no final answer on O&S costs. I mean, we continue to work on O&S costs and efficiencies in the program, discussing ways to share costs, mitigate costs, make smart choices between how we structure contracts and logistics support between blue-suit and contractor support.
So there are lots of issues and opportunities to continue to work O&S costs. So, you know, I think it continues to be an issue that we look at, and we'll continue to work toward driving this cost down.
Q: OK, well, I guess the disconnect, it seems, is that we continue to be told this -- we, not just the media, but international partners, people who might want to buy this aircraft. But the official documentation doesn't reflect any of this. So what -- what about this discussion? How do we reconcile that? How is this not just rhetoric?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, it's ongoing discussion inside the department, and if -- if and as we have better data, that'll be reflected in program estimates going forward. So it just is a matter...
SEC. DONLEY:... it is a matter of continuing discussion. We're always trying to drive down the costs where we can, and are always questions internally to the program about how we do logistic support and how we cost operations going forward. So there's no single number that -- that, you know, sort of locks in for the lifetime of the program. This is a 30-year program-plus, so these numbers will adjust as we get smart, as we continue to deploy the aircraft, as we find efficient ways to operate it.
Q: OK. Well, General Welsh, can I get your input on this and your assessment of the normalization process for the F-16 cost per flying hour vice the F-35?
GEN. WELSH: Amy, I think that what's been going on for the last year almost now is trying to come to agreement on an apples-to-apples comparison between the two numbers. This has been worked very hard by the program office, by the Lockheed Martin program office, by OSD AT&L. There's a lot of people involved in this discussion, and I think we've normalized to a couple of numbers now, about $25,000 per flying hour for the F-16 C/D model and about $32,000 roughly for the F-35. That number may continue to adjust itself slightly, as we decide what factors are in or not, but that gives us an idea now.
That number is down from the original estimates, which is a good thing. We are also getting more and more practical data based on the number of sorties we're now flying, actually flying the airplane, and over time that will give us a much better feel for the long-term costs.
We're not flying in a fully operational mode yet. It's still in test. We're just starting our training programs. So that data has to mature. Just like every airplane program that has a projected cost for support and sustainment, we don't really know until we support and sustain it for a while.
Some of the equipment that will help with that process is still being developed, and once we get more fidelity on that over the next couple of years, I think we'll have a much better feel for what the airplane's going to cost. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full transcript, on the Pentagon website.