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F-35 Acquisition





Title: History

What is commonly known today as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program had its origination in several programs from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over the years, several tactical aircraft acquisition programs have attempted to deliver new warfighting capabilities to the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and our close allies. A brief summary of these preceding programs is provided below:

  1. Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) 1983-1991
  2. Advanced Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (ASTOVL) 1983-1994
    1. STOVL Strike Fighter(SSF) 1987-1994
    2. Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) 1993-1994
  3. Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) 1990-1991
  4. Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) 1990-1993
  5. Advanced-Attack/Advanced/Fighter-Attack (A-X/A/F-X) 1992-1993

Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) 1983-1991
The U.S. Navy Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program began in 1983 as a proposed long range, very low observable, high payload medium-attack aircraft to replace the Grumman A-6 in the carrier-based, medium-attack role.

On January 13, 1988 the McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics team was selected over a Northrop team to develop the ATA. Designated the A-12 Avenger II, the unique flying wing design was to be a long-range, subsonic aircraft with a large internal weapons load including air-to-surface and air-to-air weapons.

Following the disclosure of severe cost and schedule overruns and technical problems in late 1990, the A-12 program was canceled on 7 January 1991.


Advanced Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (ASTOVL) 1983-1994
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began a program in 1983 to begin looking at the technologies available to design and manufacture a follow-on supersonic replace for the AV-8 Harrier. The program, known as ASTOVL, would eventually lead become a joint U.S.-U.K. collaboration. In 1987 the results of the ASTOVL program made clear that the technologies available were not yet advanced enough to generate a replacement that the U.S. and U.K. would have been satisfied with. At this time, DARPA secretly approached the Lockheed Skunk Works in the hopes that they would be able to develop an aircraft like they had hoped would have appeared from the first phase of ASTOVL. Lockheed told DARPA that they had some ideas that could be matured and that, if they were successful would meet the goals that DARPA was trying to achieve. At the same time, DARPA continued with ASTOVL Phase II as a cover for the covert work being done at the Skunk Works.


i. STOVL Strike Fighter (SSF) 1987-1994
In the late 1980s the Lockheed Skunk Works was involved in a classified, non-acknowledged program with NASA Ames that looked into the feasibility of designing a stealthy supersonic STOVL fighter. This was a cooperative program that utilized the assets of NASA (wind tunnels, personnel, super-computers, etc.) along with the expertise of the Lockheed Skunk Works in designing stealthy air vehicles. The results from this highly classified program proved that a SSF could be successfully flown. Management at the Lockheed Skunk Works was convinced that the SSF design could be sold to both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. (The U.S. Navy (NAVAIR) is the procuring office for Marine Corps aircraft.) The Skunk Works proposed a teaming between the USAF and the USN. The services agreed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the services and the SSF program began to come out of the black.


ii. Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) 1993-1994
The ASTOVL/SSF concepts were originally seen as developing a replacement for the U.S. and U.K. Harrier jump-jet. As the ASTOVL/SSF concepts became multi-service with the suggestion of multiple variants, the program was re-christened as the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

The management of the CALF program was handed by DARPA due to the experimental nature of the concept. DARPA was also managing the ASTOVL program, which was used by the SSF program as their unclassified, white-world cover story.

The CALF program's aim was to develop the technologies and concepts to support the ASTOVL aircraft for the USMC and Royal Navy (RN) and a highly-common conventional flight variant for the U.S. Air Force.

Although the CALF program was organized upon a suggestion from Lockheed, the government still wanted multiple contractors involved in the program. Initially, the only two contractors involved were Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas. Boeing later approached DARPA and offered to meet DARPA's financial contribution if they were allowed onto the program.

Under the auspices of the CALF program,
The CALF program has also been called the Joint Attack Fighter (JAF).


Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) 1990-1991
Due to Congressional intervention, the U.S. Navy agreed to evaluate a navalized version of the U.S. Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter (now the F/A-22) as a possible replacement for their F-14s. In return, the U.S. Air Force would evaluate a derivative of the ATA as a replacement for their F-111s.

In late 1988, a Naval ATF (NATF) program office was set up at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the existing ATF Dem/Val contracts were modified to include studies of potential NATF variants.

The Major Aircraft Review reduced the peak production rates of both the ATF and NATF. This had the effect of substantially increasing the program cost. In August 1990, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, who was in charge of Navy aircraft requirements, stated that he did not see how the NATF could fit into any affordable plan for naval aviation. In early 1991, before the final contractor for the ATF was even selected, the consideration of the NATF was dropped. This was mainly due to the fact that the Navy realized that a series of upgrades to their existing F-14's could meet the Navy's air superiority needs through 2015.


Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) 1990-1993
The U.S. Air Force’s MRF program began in 1991 as a relatively low-cost F-16 replacement. Similar in size to the F-16, the MRF was to have been a single-seat / single-engine aircraft, with a unit flyaway cost in the range of $35 to $50 million.

The MRF Program was managed by the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. ASC hosted a planning meeting with industry in October 1991, and issued a Request For Information (RFI) with responses due in January 1992. The major U.S. aircraft manufacturers began to conduct concept and design studies for the MRF at their own expense.

A formal program start was expected around 1994. The MRF was expected to replace a large number of F-16s reaching the end of service life. The MRF might also have replaced Air Force A-10s and Navy F/A-18C/Ds. Therefore, providing large numbers of aircraft affordably was a higher priority for the MRF Program than any specific capability enhancements.

However, the post-Cold War defense drawdown made the F-16 service life situation considerably less critical. A reduction in the total number of U.S. Air Force fighter wings meant that the existing aircraft would not be replaced one-for-one. Furthermore, F-16 aircraft flying hours were reduced, allowing F-16s to remain in service longer than originally projected.

In August 1992, the MRF program was effectively put on hold. Due to budget pressures and the Air Force’s commitment to the F/A-22 program, sufficient funding for a new program start did not appear likely until around 2000. Until then, it was expected that MRF activity would proceed at a low level. Meanwhile, the Air Force intended to continue production of Block 50 F-16s. By early 1993, however, the MRF’s projected IOC had slipped to 2015. Shortly thereafter, the BUR canceled the MRF Program.


Advanced-Attack/Advanced/Fighter-Attack (A-X/A/F-X) 1992-1993
In January 1991, with the cancellation of the ATA and the NATF, the Secretary of the Navy directed that planning commence for a new A-6 replacement program. This new program became the known as the A-X, an advanced, “high-end,” carrier-based multi-mission aircraft with day/night/all-weather capability, low observables, long range, two engines, two-crew, and advanced, integrated avionics and countermeasures. The Air Force participated in this new program from its initiation, still seeking a replacement for the F-111 and, in the longer term, the F-15E and F-117A.

Contracts of $20M each were awarded to five contractor teams on 30 December 1991 (prime contractor listed first):

  • Grumman/Lockheed/Boeing
  • Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics
  • McDonnell Douglas/Vought
  • Rockwell/Lockheed
  • General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas/Northrop

The original A-X / A/F-X CE/D work was due to be completed in September 1992. A solicitation for Demonstration/Validation (Dem/Val) proposals was expected in late 1992, leading to a Dem/Val start in 1994 and EMD in 1996. Under the Navy’s original plan, the short Dem/Val phase would consist of design refinements and other risk reduction activities, but would not include flying prototypes. However, in late 1992 Congress directed that the A-X Dem/Val phase also include competitive prototyping. This increased the projected duration of the Dem/Val phase from two to five years. Concurrently, as a result of the termination of the NATF in 1991, increased air-to-air requirements were added to the A-X, prompting a change in the name of the Program from Advanced Attack (A-X) to Advanced Attack/Fighter (A/F-X).

The existing A-X CE/D contracts were extended to reflect a revised Dem/Val strategy to accommodate flying prototypes. The expected IOC date of the A/F-X slipped from 2006 to 2008. A Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) Milestone I Review of the A/F-X Program was expected in Spring 1993; however, the BUR placed the A/F-X program on hold pending the outcome of the report. An Milestone I DAB for the A/F-X never took place.

On 1 September 1993, the release of the BUR announced the cancellation of the A/F-X as well as the MRF. As a result of the BUR, A/F-X efforts during the latter half of 1993 were directed toward closing out the program and transitioning applicable experience and results to the upcoming JAST program.

A core of A/F-X personnel performed a large portion of the working-level planning and definition of the emerging JAST Program. The A/F-X CE/D contracts were extended a second time, through 17 December 1993, to allow the contractors sufficient time to bring their activities to a logical conclusion. All A/F-X program operations ended on 31 December 1993.


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