WASHINGTON — The F-35 joint strike fighter is on track to conduct trials aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier in November, but there are still variables as to what may be tested, the program’s top official said today.
“The November deployment will happen,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 joint program office, said during a news briefing in Oslo. “It will most likely happen with two airplanes. Whether both those airplanes are fully capable of doing all the work remains to be seen.”
“We have some work to do as we lead up to that point in November,” he added.
That work will decide what trials the pair of F-35C models will end up performing while aboard the US Navy’s carrier Nimitz, located off the west coast of the US. The biggest question is whether both jets can perform catapult launch and arrestment trials or if only one is ready for that.
If the latter is the case, the second jet will be left on dock for what Bogdan called “logistics testing.”
Bogdan’s comments came following the biannual JSF Executive Steering Board meeting, which brings together representatives from the F-35’s nine partner nations to discuss the fifth-generation fighter. The meeting rotates locations.
It has been a week of mixed news for the jet. On Tuesday, a government fiscal watchdog released a report stating that sustainment estimates for the F-35 may be underselling the overall cost of the program. Then on Wednesday, South Korea officially signed on as a customer for the plane, with plans to procure 40 F-35A models.
Bogdan was joined at the Oslo event by Air Force undersecretary for acquisition William LaPlante, who noted there is a “slow but steady” movement to drive sustainment costs down.
“Most of the new discussion and intellectual work today is on the sustainment and cost,” LaPlante added.
Bogdan was also asked to comment on the rising strength of the dollar and what impact that could have on program costs. While cautioning that he is not an economist, the general expressed confidence and acknowledged that there is a risk in changing global markets.
“We are very much conscious of exchange rates,” Bogdan said. “We actually have to build those into our contracts to ensure that everybody is equitably dealt with on both ends of those contractual transactions.
“With the strengthening of the dollar for certain partners and certain services, that creates what I would consider to be a risk we have to deal with,” he added. “We have to understand that risk; we have to put money aside to make sure we can handle those exchange rates and changes in the currencies.”
F-35C CF-3 completed fourteen catapult launches in one month. The testing occurred on the TC-7 steam catapult system at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.