John McCain vs JSF

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Le sénateur McCain contre le JSF

Lors des auditions de la commission des forces armées du Sénat des Etats-Unis (SASC, pour Senate Armed Services Committee), le sénateur républicain John McCain joua un rôle très important. Il fit d’abord une intervention personnelle, pour présenter son jugement général sur le statut actuel du programme JSF. Ensuite, il intervint de nombreuses fois durant les séances de question.

Ci-dessous, nous publions son intervention (accessible sur le site de McCain, en date du 19 mai 2011, puis les transcriptions de ses interventions. (Titre et intertitres sont de la rédaction.)

John McCain vs JSF

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. And, to our witnesses, thank you also for your participation today.

This hearing furthers this Committee’s obligation to the American taxpayer to ensure that we’re training and equipping our fighting men and women in the most fiscally responsible manner possible, and that every effort is being made to eliminate waste and unnecessary costs wherever possible. This is especially important in a program with the size and importance of JSF.

The facts regarding this program are truly troubling. Originally, the JSF program was supposed to deliver an affordable, highly-common, ‘fifth-generation’ aircraft that, by leveraging proven technologies, could be acquired by warfighters in large numbers. Acquiring these jets was supposed to cost a total of $233 billion (or an average of $69 million each), when adjusted for inflation. And, the program was supposed to first deliver production aircraft to the Services back in 2008.

None of these promises have come to pass. The program first delivered production aircraft just a few weeks ago. And, when the Services will get their JSFs with real combat capability is anyone’s guess. As of today, the total cost to acquire these planes will be at least $385 billion (or an average of $133 million each), and will likely go higher.

The fact is that, after almost 10 years in development and four years in production, according to outside experts, the aircraft’s design is still not stable, manufacturing processes still need to improve and the overall weapon system has not yet been proven to be reliable. Notably, it has taken Lockheed Martin about 10 years and cost the taxpayer $56 billion to produce and deliver 9 of 12 test aircraft. Over that period, Congress has authorized and appropriated funds for 113 F-35 jets. Lockheed has, however, built just 11.

In my view, the program is now at a watershed moment. With austere defense budgets for as far as the eyes can see, the JSF program must show now that it can deliver JSF aircraft as needed, on time and on budget.

Since 2009, Secretary Gates significantly restructured the program twice – an indication of how serious this program’s problems have become. Those efforts have, rightly, focused on reducing the risk of trying to develop, test, and procure cutting-edge aircraft that have plagued this program since it started. Cost and schedule changes that accumulated over the last few years resulted in critical breaches of the statutory cost thresholds. Put simply, JSF is estimated to cost about 80% more than when the program started and about 30% more than the current baseline set in 2007. No program should expect to be continued with that kind of track record – especially in our current fiscal climate.

I understand that soon the Pentagon will announce new baselines for cost and schedule to reflect a total of $7.4 billion in additional funding, a cut of 246 aircraft from the near-term production ramp, and the addition of 33 months to complete development – prescribed by Secretary Gates’ restructuring efforts.

As for the future, daunting obstacles remain. Estimates have the early production facing cost overruns of between 11% and 15% – that’s between about $700 million and $960 million over the original estimate of $6.4 billion for 28 aircraft. Also, while there has been improvement in decreasing the number of design changes on the manufacturing floor, which tends to be a sign that the design is more stable, such changes are still being done more frequently than desired. And, Lockheed Martin still needs to improve how efficiently it moves parts through its manufacturing processes and how it manages its global supply chain. Additionally, developing the software that’s vital to making JSF work as intended is lagging behind schedule. Plus, the new helmet display system that JSF will use is still not on track. Moreover, even after these production problems are solved, we still have to contend with potentially huge costs to maintain all three versions of the JSF. Right now, it’s estimated at about $1 trillion (adjusted for inflation). This jaw-dropping amount may be about twice as much as the cost to maintain other roughly comparable aircraft. I appreciate this estimate is still early and subject to change. But, we need to know that the program is going to bring that number down.

Finally, I am also keenly aware that the Marines need to start replacing their aging combat aircraft soon—and yet the Marine variant has had the most difficulty in development so far and is facing a two-year probation after which the Marine version must show improvement or face cancellation. Of all the services, the Marines face the most drastic consequences of further delays or cost increases due to age of their legacy aircraft.

With this in mind, I look forward to the testimony of all our witnesses. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

John McCain

Questions du sénateur McCain durant les auditions

Durant les auditions de la SASC, le sénateur McCain fut de loin le principal intervenant. Dans la transcription ci-dessous, on trouve ses principales interventions durant quatre séquences de l’audition. Durant la première, il parle au docteur Ashton Carter, adjoint au secrétaire à la défense, chargé des acquisitions ; au docteur Gilmore, directeur des tests et évaluations opérationnels ; à Mme Fox, du CAPE, le service des estimations de coût du Pentagone. Durant la seconde, il parle à Mr. Sullivan, du Government Accounting Office (GAO). Durant la troisième, il parle à Mr. Burbage, vice-président chez Lockheed Martin. Durant la quatrième, il parle à l’amiral Venlet, directeur du JSF Program Office au Pentagone.

Ces transcriptions sont publiques, et reprises sur divers sites. Nous les empruntons à nos amis de, en date du 21 mai 2011.

Dr. Carter, Dr. Gilmore, Mme Fox, DoD

Question Senator McCain : «I am sure you understand the frustration that members of this committee feel because we have received testimony after testimony over the 10-year period that you are describing that things were going pretty well, that we were pretty well on track, that yes, there were some cost overruns. And in all candor, we had to rely to some degree on the GAO for the facts, and many of us—or at least some of us—saw this train wreck coming which has led me to your comment that right now—is this accurate from what you said? Right now it is not an affordable program and the sustainment costs are not affordable. Is that correct?»

Answer Dr. Carter : «That is correct. If we live the estimates, we cannot afford to pay that much. I do not think we have to live those estimates, and our objective is to make sure that those estimates do not come true and that we do have an affordable program.»

Question Senator McCain : «It seems to me we have to start at least considering alternatives. If the situation right now is not acceptable, we have to do two things, it seems to me : make it acceptable but also think of alternatives if we cannot do that. I guess, Dr. Gilmore, did I hear you say the previous plans under your area of supervision were ‘‘not credible’’?»

Answer Dr. Gilmore : «Well, first, I advise on developmental testing. My focus is operational testing. So I am not actually responsible for planning the program. But what I did do, when I first took office, is take a look at the planning factors that were being used. For example, there are planning factors for reflying sorties, test sorties, when you do not get all the information that you originally hoped you would get when you fly a sortie in the test aircraft. And there are planning factors for what are called regression sorties. That is, you have made a change to the aircraft. For example, they are making changes in the flight control system now in order to deal with something called transonic wing roll-off, which is an unexpected loss of lift on one wing in the transonic regime where models cannot predict very well what the chaotic air flow is. So you make a change to the flight control system software. You want to go back and refly previous points you have already flown to make sure you understand the behavior of the aircraft. That is a regression sortie. The original plans for refly and regression—the original planning factors were 15 percent and 20 percent, 15 percent for refly and 20 percent for regression. Now we stand, as a result of the technical baseline review, at 35 percent and 66 percent. So that is one of the reasons that we now have 14,000 hours in the flight test program as opposed to 8,000 hours before all of the restructuring. That is just one example of assumptions that were made that were clearly out of line with our experience with programs like F–18E/F and F–22. Now, you want to be somewhat aggressive. You do not want to put yourself in a position of inevitably repeating mistakes that were made before, assuming that you will repeat those mistakes. But you can see that those planning factors were well out of line with historical experience.»

Question Senator McCain : «It is too bad that we cannot, Mr. Chairman, ask those people who made these estimates and made assumptions that were made before this committee to explain that. But probably would be a waste of time. I do not know if it is Ms. Fox or Mr. Van Buren. According to the GAO, software providing essential JSF capability is not mature and releases to the test program are behind schedule. Is that you, Ms. Fox?»

Answer Mrs. Fox : «That is our understanding, sir. The software is behind, yes. […] Sir, I do not have an answer for what we do. We are absolutely tracking it. I know that the program office is on it. The software development is proving to be much more difficult, as I said, even than CAPE estimated originally.»

Answer Dr. Gilmore : «Senator, one of the reasons that the software is behind schedule—Ms. Fox already mentioned one. It is a hard job to develop all this mission systems software. The mission systems software by source lines of code in Joint Strike Fighter is going to be between two and three times the number of source lines of code in the F–22. So this is a very complex job. We are just beginning. One of the reasons that the achievement of mission systems flight test test points is behind schedule is because we have right now one dedicated mission systems flight test aircraft. Two or three of the other aircraft can do mission systems testing, but a couple of those aircraft are STOVL aircraft and right now they are being used primarily for STOVL flight sciences testing. There are two additional Air Force variant aircraft that have just been delivered that can do mission systems testing, but they are not going to be able to start doing that for about 4 months because they are going to be used to do what is called a maturity demonstration in order to enable training to start using unmonitored flight later this year down at Eglin. So the problem is we only have one dedicated mission systems flight test aircraft. In another 4 or 5 months, we will have three, and that may enable us to catch up and drop the next block of software later this year as planned. It is planned in November. According to my estimates, it may slip a couple of months. But right now, we are limited by test aircraft.»

Mr. Sullivan, GAO

Question Senator McCain: « How long, Mr. Sullivan, have you been tracking this program?»

Answer Mr. Sullivan: «I have been tracking it on and off for probably 10 years, but solidly for probably the last 6 or 7.»

Question Senator McCain: «So, given that experience, what is your degree of optimism that the sustainment costs can be brought under control and the cost overruns can be brought under control? What is your overall assessment of the prospects?»

Answer Mr. Sullivan: «I think what we have seen from GAO’s perspective is for years what we thought were some fairly significant risks went unaddressed. For example, the Mid- Course Risk Reduction Program that took place in the mid 2000s we thought added more risk. It didn’t reduce risk and, therefore, added more cost to the program.»

Question Senator McCain: «And you testified so before this committee?»

Answer Mr. Sullivan: «Yes, we have. And we made recommendations to the department, beginning in 2001, when we were talking about technology maturity, all the way through until—I mean, we made many recommendations that they should reduce their ramp-up rate because they weren’t ready to go to production. Now all these things have come to pass, and they have come home to pass probably more inefficiently than if it would have been planned better in the first place. But I would say with the beginning of the Nunn-McCurdy breach, when we had the Nunn-McCurdy breach and they came in and did the analysis, I think that they have done a pretty good job of being a lot more candid. They have got a lot more actual data to bring into it now. Now, of course, it resulted in yet again another pretty significant cost increase, both to RDT&E costs and procurement costs, and significant schedule delays. But I think what we got in the last 15 months with this review that has gone on, and I think what Admiral Venlet referred to, is we have got a lot more sense of the systems engineering knowledge that we need. And I think we have reduced risk a lot, and they have an estimate now that at least it is an estimate.»

Question Senator McCain: «Again, given your long experience, would you believe that perhaps at least alternatives need to be considered?»

Answer Mr. Sullivan : «I think alternatives should always be considered. That is a little bit out of my, you know, my bailiwick. But yes, I think it is reasonable to assume that alternatives should always be considered, especially for our National security interests.»

Mr. Burbage, Lockheed Martin

Question Senator McCain: «Mr. Burbage, Mr. Sullivan has just testified that they alerted the Congress and, I am sure, you of these significant risks, which, Mr. Sullivan’s testimony, were unaddressed for 8 or 9 years. What is your response to that?»

Answer Mr. Burbage: «Well, sir, the process on this program is complex. It is challenging. We have lots of independent looks at the program. We try to accommodate those independent looks as we can within the constraints that we operate in, and those are annual budgets and annual schedule constraints. Can we accommodate all of them? No.»

Interruption Senator McCain: «Annual budgets? You have exceeded your annual budgets by almost double.

Answer Mr. Burbage: «Well, sir, we have a set of requirements we are designing the airplane to meet. We mature that design as we go forward in time. We then bring the design into production. We then test the design. We don’t have full knowledge of how that is going to unfold. And as it unfolds over time, we accommodate the different risks and challenges that come up. Now the contract geometry is established upfront to accommodate the fact that there will be unknowns in this process, and we work our way through those.»

Question Senator McCain: «You know, but the sad part about that is that we sit here, and contractor and Department of Defense come over and tells us this is how much it is going to cost your taxpayers. And consistently—this isn’t unique—we find cost overruns with no incentives to bring those cost overruns under control because they are ‘‘cost-plus contracts.’’ Nowhere in our economy do we have costplus contracts except in Defense, that I know of. And yet Lockheed Martin is doing pretty well. Do you recall what their profits were in 2010?»

Answer Mr. Burbage: «No, sir. I don’t.»

Question Senator McCain: «Probably, maybe you could submit it for the record? But I know that there has been a handsome return to the shareholders, but there hasn’t been a handsome return to the taxpayers. And if I convey a sense of frustration, it is because I have been a member of this committee, and I at least initially accepted the testimony of the Department of Defense and the program managers. And consistently, the GAO has come forward with testimony saying that would contradict that, and now we find ourselves in a situation where previous witnesses say that sustainment costs are unacceptable, and the present rate, the weapon system is not affordable. So I guess my question is, is that when you entered into the original contract with DOD, did you anticipate these kinds of cost overruns, breach of Nunn-McCurdy?»

Answer Mr. Burbage: «No, sir.»

Amiral Venlet, directeur, JSF Program Office

Question Senator McCain: «Admiral, since the 2-year extensive review of the programs over the JSF has estimated it cost about 80 percent more than when the program started about 10 years ago, what can you tell the committee to give us confidence that the unsustainable cost growth we have seen in the program is now ending?»

Answer Admiral Venlet: «Sir, the cost position in the situation of the program and Nunn-McCurdy was judged to be, as you said, 80 percent higher. That was on a path that was failed, basically. It did not have the realism in it. That is why the cost to bring this capability to bear was underplanned, both in content and in how it was estimated to be in price. The hope for discipline going forward is it was a very serious commitment by the Defense Department to commit these resources of this extra $4.6 billion, not an easy thing, not taken lightly. Very seriously understood by me, when I brought that recommendation forward. And I told Dr. Carter that it was my estimation that this change and this adjustment to the program had an ability to absorb the learning that remains and the number of flight tests and the years of continued development that should because of that grounding in realism and refly rates, capacity to do software, resource the helmet issues that have been discussed, would have a high confidence of delivering within that timeframe and within that dollar amount. Now it is not a given that it will. It requires to deliver particularly in the software area. From today, from the day I got here until the day the program declares its development complete, software will be the highest risk and the most intense focus of the program. In parallel with this resourced and planned with realism, and it must come, the cultural change to never lose that grasp on the systems engineering processes. If we stray from that, we will go back to the old ways, and we will not live to this plan. That is a determination that those here and those that follow us must not lose to deliver this program.»

Question Senator McCain: «I just have two more quick questions, Admiral. One of them is why are the sustainment costs for this system so much higher than others, and what can be done about that?»

Answer Admiral Venlet: «Yes, sir. In the sustainment costs, the striking estimate that we are facing right now is a buildup of factors that what we believe today about the size of the manpower that will be required to sustain this aircraft, the number that we will own, the number of hours per month that we will fly them, which goes into the fuel cost, the price of the aircraft drives the estimated— (Interruption Senator McCain: « The price of fuel is the same for every aircraft.») ...Yes, sir. Yes, sir. But the size of the fleet— 2,400 of these would be more than the F–18 fleet, the F–15 fleet.»

Question Senator McCain: «So you are saying that the F–18 sustainment costs are less because there are fewer of them?»

Answer Admiral Venlet: «Only one factor, sir. Now I am going to complete the factors that are in the estimate now. My duty for the service chiefs and the Secretaries are to illuminate them the consequences of those choices. So how many that we have, where we bed them down, how many bases, how many support equipment sets, simulators that we need, the number of maintenance technicians we believe are going to be required. My focus this year, if 2010 was the year we focused on the development program and the manufacturing plan, this is the year we were focusing on needs estimates and these parameters, and I need to illuminate for those leaders what those drivers are and then bring them forward, bring forward to them some choices to make to make those go down.»

Question Senator McCain: «Well, I would have hoped that since we are in the 10th year of this program that some of those decisions would have been made a long time ago. My final question is what degree of confidence do you have that the Marine Corps version can get off probation?»

Answer Admiral Venlet: «Sir, I have high confidence that the Marine Corps STOVL will succeed this period of scrutiny. Every technical issue—and they are principally the propulsion system integration, the ones that Dr. Carter spoke of. Every issue within our view today has an engineering solution to lead the STOVL to the air worthy, flight clearance for unmonitored operation by the fleet. I have high confidence that we will get the STOVL to its initial sea trials before the end of this year. I have high confidence that we will be able to achieve a flight clearance from the Naval Air Systems Command for a conventional monitored mode of flight first while we prove out the engineering solutions I spoke about for the STOVL mode, and that will help the Commandant immensely, sir.»

Question Senator McCain: «Thank you. I thank the witnesses for their patience.»


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