[Look how easy it is you Congress pukes. It just snaps together. Now hand over the money]
The much known SWAT (STOVL weight attack team) weight reduction event in 2004 gets most of the attention in early F-35 program history when one thinks of program management challeges, or the lack of program management skill. But there was another weight reduction event in the previous year that had just as an important impact on the whole of the program.
The SWAT event of 2004 had a goal to reduce 3000 pounds off of the short take-off and landing (STOVL) F-35B that would be used by the USMC. Some of these weight reduction methods saw their way into the other variants; the conventional F-35A and the aircraft carrier capable F-35C.
SWAT had a significant effect on the program. While it may have got them to their weight goal, it made the Lockmart/Pentagon team drop their main design for a new “weight optimized” version. The program lost about a year along with an increase in program cost.
There was a lesser known weight reduction event in 2003. When we read today’s negative reports on F-35 production costs and delay, we can let the 2003 weight reduction event take some of the credit. A quote from a 2003 article* by Stephen Trimble of Flight International shows what can only be a significant impact of removing quick-mate joints. Ease of assembly and affordability were the big selling points of the program. Today? Maybe not so much.
In another revelation, the Rand report says that Lockheed Martin now plans to "abandon" the quickmate joints that were a hallmark of the aircraft's highly touted lean assembly technique.
Lockheed Martin's original plan called for mating each major section of the aircraft using machined planes with pre-drilled holes that are simply fastened together. Combined with a laser tracker, the quick-mate joints were expected to reduce a 10-day assembly process to a few factory shifts.
"The net effect of [abandoning the process] will probably be an increase in work content – and schedule and costs - to the final assembly stage," notes the Rand Europe report, titled Assembling and Supporting the Joint Strike Fighter in the UK: Issues and Costs. But Lockheed Martin disagrees with the word "abandon", describing the company's action "more as scaling back".
JSF's quick-mate joints have been replaced by an "integrated joint",a move that trims the aircraft weight by 320-360kg (700-800lb), says Lockheed Martin. The original joints were dropped soon after a critical design review earlier this year showed the aircraft exceeded its weight target by 30%.
Kent concedes the trade-off is a longer assembly period, but the cost increase is projected to be a "fraction of a percentage point".
* Stephen Trimble, “U.K. faces increased cost of participation in JSF, Flight International, 7-13 Oct. 2003