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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

JSF: Through the Prism of Risk Management

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   29th March, 2009

Peter Goon, BEng (Mech), FTE (USNTPS),
Head of Test and Evaluation, Air Power Australia

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

F-35B SDD test vehicle BF-01 (US DoD image)

Looking at the JSF design and ensuing, concurrent development, testing and production programs through the prism of modern day risk management (AS/NZS 4360:2004 and ISO31000 style) which has been polished and focused with the lessons learned from previous aerospace development activities, a number of areas in the design and development/production of the JSF would be assessed as HIGH and EXTREME risk. 

In no particular order, here are a few such areas:

  1. Electrical Power Generation and Distribution System.
  2. Environmental Cooling and Heating under the generic heading of ‘Thermal Management’.
  3. The use of Electro Hydrostatic Actuators and Electrical Actuators for driving control surfaces and things that open and shut.
  4. Cockpit and Ejection System Integration, particularly the limited volume that was made available and the location relative to the nose wheel well.
  5. Weapon Bays and the unique nature of design – canted stores carriage, large doors angled to the airstream and highly likely limitations on weapon clearances, even if aero acoustic shaping techniques are employed.
  6. The concept of CAIV – Cost As an Independent Variable, which is logically flawed and mathematically unsupportable.
  7. Small wing and limited body lift available in the design with the resulting vortex fields (near and far) around and behind the aircraft.  Consequently, the effects these will have on such things as take off and landing performance, up and away performance, external stores carriage and release, and lesser appreciated things like WVE (Wake Vortex Encounters) which, for an aircraft tactically designed around a multiple (four) ship operation, presents some interesting new challenges and likely limitations.  One hopes these have been considered.
  8. Unprecedented level of concurrency of design, development, T&E and production with over 400 jets actually planned to be built before the ground and flight testing have been completed.
  9. Unprecedented level of dependency on modelling and simulation in the design before the real world data, information and knowledge are available from the ground and flight tests in order to calibrate, verify and validate the models and associated computer based simulations and assumptions.
  10. Compromised ‘stealth’ shaping design optimised for ‘X’ and ‘Ku’ frequency bands with resulting high dependency on material technologies in the form of RAM and coatings.
  11. Influences and limitations of the STOVL requirements and resulting solution on the overall ‘family of aircraft’ design.
  12. The STOVL approach adopted for the F-35B with the earlier identified risks and inherent challenges seemingly treated with total indifference, as portrayed by the rather serious ‘disconnects’ observed in the installed Lift Fan power transmission clutch/gear box arrangement.  During 'hover pit' testing, these will become particularly prominent in the areas of 'lock up' and 'thermal management', being integrated into an aircraft that, by design, is already significantly challenged in the ‘thermal management’ department.
  13. The somewhat myopic focus on what the JSF family of aircraft is being marketed to look like in the future as opposed to what it is today, what it will have to be as it gets there and what this will take in terms of cost, time and opportunities forgone.  Put simply, this attitude and the resulting behaviours belie (in fact, show a total indifference to) the most basic, common sense and fundamental rules of engineering design.  These rules state that it is much easier, cheaper, effective and more possible to fix problems earlier than later in the design/development process and such fixes should be done before committing to production, otherwise penalties will be incurred on the design, the resulting product and its capabilities.

Such a list of attributes would be called risks at the start of any design process.

However, since the hardware now exists and the software development path is locked in, these are no longer risks but real design issues and problems – most, if not all of which, simply cannot be fixed by a software update.

The original design point (around the time of contract award to Lockheed Martin) for this “family of aircraft” was targeting an aircraft with some reasonable characteristics comparable though, in most cases, somewhat less than those of legacy aircraft.  These design targets included a top speed of Mach 1.6 at altitude; a sustained turn performance of 6g @ 0.8M/15kft; a level flight acceleration time from 0.8M to 1.2M @ 30kft of 42 secs; a specific excess power of 720 ft/sec; and, a Combat Radius of at least 600 nm.

These targets are contained within a number of the 431 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that sit beneath the small number of Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) contained in the power point briefings in which we were  told the failure to meet any one of these would be reason enough to cancel the program.

Now the devil is in the detail, but it would be a pretty safe bet that the characteristics of today’s (and tomorrow’s) JSF, particularly the F-35A for the USAF and the various degraded export versions, will fall somewhat short of these targets and by a significant degree on most, if not all, of the cardinal ones.

To the trained and experienced eye, the JSF Program has the appearance of a large number of quandaries, wrapped up in an enigma, encased in a bubble of total indifference to what is real. As a result, questions related to these matters and many other aspects of the JSF Program have been asked of the Lockheed Martin JSF Program Director, and also provided to the top senior officials in the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) to ask.  

Examples of these questions may be found attached to the APA NOTAM entitled, “JSF Alternate Realities:…and from whence they come”.

No replies have been received from Lockheed Martin so far, but one of the top senior officials in the DMO has effusively thanked us for providing him with such questions and implied he has put them to Lockheed Martin and the JSF Program Office to answer.

However, when we ask for the responses to OUR questions, the same top senior official becomes quite coy, saying he is “more than comfortable with the answers he has received” but states he can’t release data or information that have been provided to him on a “basis of commercial confidentiality”.

The only problem with this is that not knowing what questions to ask, in the first place, is what the Hon Donald Rumsfeld and others describe as “…..the principal trait of people who don’t know what they don’t know, particularly when they are dealing with things they don’t understand”.

The quite logical dilemma here is if these same top senior DMO officials did not know what questions to ask, in the first place, then as people ‘who don’t know what they don’t know’, how can they be confident let alone comfortable they are in a position to understand the answers they have received, let alone whether the answers are genuine and correct, let alone supported by data and facts that can be verified and validated?

A reasonable person would say such hubris belies belief!  ....or is it indifference and these top senior officials simply do not care?

F-35B SDD test vehicle BF-01 (US DoD image)

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