AIR POWER

JUST IN: Services Consider Reducing Live F-35 Training to Save Sustainment Dollars

6/16/2021
By Meredith Roaten

Lockheed Martin photo

ORLANDO — The F-35 joint strike fighter program is considering reducing live training hours for pilots and shifting to simulators in order to reduce sustainment costs, an official said June 16

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fly the F-35, which has come under criticism lately for low readiness rates and the high hourly cost of keeping the aircraft in the air.  

“We're working with the U.S. services right now to figure out how we smartly take some of the flight hours and move them over into the simulators to maximize our training dollars, but also reduce costs across the sustainment arm in the enterprise,” Navy Capt. Robert Betts, program manager of the F-35 training management office, said at the annual Training Simulation Industry Symposium in Orlando, which is hosted by the National Training and Simulation Association.

The full mission simulator, mission reversal trainer and deployment resource trainer are all used to train pilots to fly the jets.  They are able to train at any skill level from anywhere in the world. The devices are “high-end, high fidelity” and interoperable with other platforms, he said.

“Less flight hours means less broken parts on airplanes, less spares, less spare parts,” he said. “There could be a significant savings there for the enterprise.”

The F-35 program has received a raft of bad publicity for its affordability. Current estimates are as high as $36,000 per hour to fly the F-35, which is down from $44,000 in 2018, according to recent congressional testimony. Its manufacturer Lockheed Martin has pledged to reduce those costs to about $25,000 by 2025.

Lawmakers have called for cuts to the F-35 program because of the high sustainment costs and low readiness rates. Defense officials and Lockheed Martin executives have said they are working to drive down the procurement costs as well as the operation and sustainment costs for the program.

“Cost is the number one enemy of the F-35 enterprise,” Betts said.

As readiness rates have fallen and progress on upgrades has slowed, the Biden administration's fiscal year 2022 budget request asked for 48 of the new Lockheed Martin-build jet fighters, 12 fewer than the 60 enacted in 2021.

The program drew criticism when the full-rate production decision for the fighter jet was delayed again this year. Advocates of the platform — which in addition to being stealthy is also equipped with cutting edge sensors and data networking capabilities — say it is a critical asset in the U.S. military inventory as the United States competes with advanced adversaries such as China and Russia.

Betts added the training management office is also working with Lockheed Martin to reduce the time it takes to get software updates from the platform to the training systems. The transition time was 18 months when the effort started, and the goal is to cut the transition down to six weeks by the end of the month, he said.

He noted that improving the F-35's training systems is an important priority for the services.

“The F-35 is delivering game-changing capabilities," he said.  "It is incumbent upon us to give our warfighters game-changing training devices and training capability to make them as lethal as possible while maintaining cost efficiency across the enterprise,” he said.

Topics: Acquisition Programs, Air Force News, Joint Strike Fighter