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

JSF: Through the Prism of Risk Management - Revisited

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   4th April, 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

Aerial refuelling of AA-1 from KC-135R tanker (US DoD image)

Looking again through the prism of modern day risk management standards (in accordance with AS/NZS 4360:2004 and ISO31000) at the design and ensuing concurrent development, testing and production programs of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, we observe further areas in the design and development/production of the JSF that would be assessed as HIGH and EXTREME risks.

The basis of such assessments is clear when viewed through the risk assessment process and associated template of AS/NZS 4360:2004 –

Likelihood Consequence
Almost certain H H E E E
Likely M H H E E
Moderate L M H E E
Unlikely L L M H E
Rare L L M H H

E– Extreme level of risk (Immediate action required by Executive and Directing Governance levels, i.e. do not proceed with activity until this level of risk is reduced)
H– High level of risk (Executive Management attention required)
M– Moderate level of risk (Able to delegate to Implementation Management Level with ongoing Executive Management oversight)
L– Low level of risk (Able to be managed through routine procedures)

The earlier NOTAM on this topic outlined a few areas in the JSF Program wherein high and extreme levels of risk had been identified, such as (cite):

  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?

For example, the following advice and recommendation were provided to senior Canberra DMO (Defence Materiel Organisation) officials, in the national interests of Australia and our closest ally, the USA:

To:  Dr Steve Gumley, CEO DMO and AVM John Harvey, JSF Project Director
Subject:  JSF: Range and Cruise Performance

Dear Steve and John,  

Back in the 1980s, the Fairchild Trainer Aircraft (T-46 Eaglet) program was cancelled under somewhat controversial circumstances.
One point, though anecdotal, was poor range and cruise performance with the prototype requiring three stop-overs to refuel on its ferry flight from the East Coast USA (MD) to Edwards Air Force Base CA - a distance of some 1,950 nm.
Reportedly, the F-35A JSF, AA-1, made two refuel plugs during its flight from Ft Worth NAS TX to Edwards AFB CA – a distance of some 1,040 nm.
There are a number of operational and flight test reasons that might dictate such refuelings.  Allowing for these reasons, though, there is still reasonable cause for some concerns.
Therefore, if not already done so, could you please obtain from LM and/or the JSF Program Office the data from the AA-1 ferry flights to and from Edwards AFB and arrange for aircraft flight performance specialists such as those at Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) to have a look to, hopefully, allay these concerns.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Yours sincerely,
Peter Goon
Peter Goon
Principal Consultant/Advisor
Head of Test and Evaluation
Co-Founder, Air Power Australia

Though a response is pending, one can have every confidence this matter will be pursued by the top senior officials in the DMO and the Department of Defence and, no doubt, with vigour and rigour since the advice provided and the recommendation made are about crucial aspects of the JSF design. This is particularly so for a large continent like Australia surrounded by oceans and seas, and due to the significant increases in the level of risk that a number of the 430 plus key performance indicators and parameters (KPIs and KPPs) that govern the JSF Program will not be achieved, if combat radius performance targets are not achieved.

When the Air 6000 evaluation process was terminated and the previous government committed the Australian Department of Defence and, so far, over $600 million to be a participant in the JSF Program, Australians were told by senior officials of the JSF Program Office, Lockheed-Martin, the Pentagon and the then top senior officials of our own Department of Defence, that failure to meet any one of these KPPs is reason enough to cancel the program or, at the very least, require major changes:
“The key performance parameters on a program are those requirements that are the make or break on a program.  You miss a KPP and your program is subject to cancellation or major rework.”

One of these KPPs states the F-35A JSF CTOL variant must have a combat radius of at least 590 nautical miles.  This KPP, in turn, is technically linked to those metrics in the other 430 plus KPPs/KPIs that form the basis of the range, endurance and cruising flight performance guarantees for the JSF Air Vehicle.
The principal consequences of not meeting this KPP are dire and would be catastrophic, not only for the JSF Program; but, as experienced journalists with the insight of wisdom have been warning, for Australia.  Non achievement of critical requirements is one of the pre-requisites for program cancellation, which is why these requirements are called KPP/KPI in the first place. However, until recently, the likelihood of this happening was assessed as RARE, since the traffic light style reporting in various JSF Briefings up to late 2007 showed the KPP was likely to be met, with a small but positive margin.

But subsequent events (e.g. ferry flight to Edwards AFB, ‘thermal management’ issues, problems with the innovative but challenging PTMS and related sub-systems, protracted nature of testing program, etc.) coupled with the ongoing absence of transparency in this and all other technical and operational areas of the JSF Program have given rise to a change in this assessment which has now been elevated to a likelihood of MODERATE.
This re-assessment puts this risk, namely, the F-35A JSF CTOL variant failing to meet the Combat Radius KPP, at the EXTREME risk level.
Thus the provision of the above advisory to top senior DMO officials.
We can be confident that now being alerted to the genuine challenges of risk management in a developmental program, these top senior DMO officials will exercise diligence in the transparent way which is the hallmark of exercising real accountability.
Also, since EXTREME levels of risk assessed under the Australian Standard require the immediate attention of both Executive and Directing levels of governance, there could be no better follow up to his recent visit to Australia than for the Chairman and CEO of Lockheed-Martin, Bob Stevens, to take charge by setting the standard and addressing this risk in the ethical and transparent manner his Company Charter requires.
Let’s also hope the lessons embodied in such things as Series 11 of the Integrity Minute have been learned  and these well produced videos are not just 'comfortable fiction'.

Now, some may say it is all too late for any such actions – that things have just gone too far; while others have said argued otherwise.

More basic than either of these views, why commit to buying something that is not going to do what was promised, let alone what is needed?

F-35A SDD AA-1 (US DoD image)

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