Learning Like Lightning: Lessons From JSF F‐35 Sustainment Activities

Published date01 November 2015
Date01 November 2015
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com).
DOI 10.1002/jcaf.22101
Learning Like Lightning: Lessons
From JSF F-35 Sustainment Activities
Charles R. Thomas Jr.
In 2001, United
States Air Force,
Navy, and Marine
Corps launched a
$1 trillion program
to develop the F-35
Lightning II family
of single-seat, single-
engine, multirole
fighter aircraft. This
combat aircraft is
designed to perform
ground attack, aerial
reconnaissance, and
air defense missions.
Its development is funded
principally by the United
States with participation from
the United Kingdom, Italy,
Australia, Canada, Norway,
Denmark, the Netherlands,
Turkey, and other countries.
The U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO)
issued a report on the pro-
gram in September 2014. This
report, F-35 Sustainment:
Need for Affordable Strategy,
Greater Attention to Risks, and
Improved Cost Estimates, to the
Committee on Armed Services,
House of Representatives,
provides many details about the
program’s current state, future
plans, and management to date.
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
F-35 Sustainment Report high-
lights key management control
system challenges. The pitfalls
noted by the GAO are the same
ones encountered by hundreds
of organizations, large and
small, each year.
This article draws upon
theGAO report to highlight
some critical factors in financial
management today, including
risk management, cost estima-
tion, supply chain management,
and decision making on projects.
This cautionary tale isn’t
intended to bash the hardwork-
ing folks involved with the
program or to nit-
pick the GAO report;
rather, the findings
highlight our chal-
lenges as managers
and provide guidance
on where we should
place our efforts and
types of problems
aren’t easily solved.
The F-35 pro-
gram’s goals were
to develop and field
more than 2,400
stealthy strike fighter aircraft
for the Navy, Air Force, and
Marine Corps and potentially
several hundred more aircraft
for U.S. allies. The F-35 is
intended to provide greater
capability and to replace the
U.S. Department of Defense’s
(DOD’s) aging fighter and
attack aircraft. International
participation in the devel-
opment of this system is a
vital part of the acquisition
strategy. As suggested by the
F-35program logo (Exhibit 1)
the aircraft is slated for three
roles (ground attack, aerial
reconnaissance, and air
defense) and three models
The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps
launched a trillion-dollar program in 2001. This
program has since been restructured several
times. A recent study by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office detailed critical needs for
this program to succeed. This article derives les-
sons learned from the F-35 program. The author
highlights five key financial management lessons
about business cases and projects that are appli-
cable to small organizations and large.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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