The F-35 Bottom Line

An estimate of $4.6 billion in additional cost for extending the flight test and development program of the F-35 strike fighter is solid, Vice Adm. David Venlet, F-35 program executive officer, said Tuesday. Speaking at a National Aeronautics Association event in Arlington, Va.—his first public speech since taking over the F-35 program last year—Venlet said the additional cost pays for more flight test aircraft, production slowdowns, and “a 10 percent management reserve, across the board.” The $4.6 billion figure “used to be more,” but Venlet put program personnel through two exhaustive, bottom-up drills to ascertain what a reliable figure would be. Both drills found some twice-counted costs, he said. Whereas previous F-35 cost and schedule estimates have proven to be unreliable, Venlet said the current one has worked for five months, absorbing developments such as “snow days,” engine-delivery problems, and additional setbacks. Accordingly, he’s confident this estimate will hold up in the long term. F-35 flight sciences, development, and missions systems testing will be wrapped up in Fiscal 2016, he asserted. But each service will decide on its own what constitutes initial operating capability for its respective F-35 variant. Some operational testing will continue beyond declaration of IOC, Venlet said. (See DOD’s F-35 fact sheet from January for description of the changes Venlet described)