The phases of the JSF programme
The JSF programme consists of a number of phases: development, testing, production, maintenance (or ‘sustainment’, to use the JSF term) and follow-on development. The partner countries have signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) setting out the details of each phase of the programme.
The JSF programme consists of a number of phases, as shown in the following diagram. The abbreviation in the dark blue bar is the name of the MoU for the phase in question.
The MoUs and their duration
The partner countries have signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) containing the details of each phase of the programme. An MoU is an international agreement, in this particular case between the partner countries’ ministries of defence. The MoUs explain the aim of the programme, how it is to be organised, and how the costs are to be allocated among the partners.
The MoUs for the JSF programme
MoUs have been signed for the following phases of the JSF programme:
- the Concept Demonstration phase (CDP);
- the System Development and Demonstration phase (SDD);
- the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development phase (PSFD);
- the Initial Operating Test and Evaluation phase (IOT&E).
The Concept Demonstration Phase (CDP) ran from 1997 to 2001. The Netherlands signed the CDP MoU in 1998, joining forces with the US, Norway and Denmark. Two aircraft manufacturers, viz. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, won contracts to build a demonstration model of the JSF. In 2001, Lockheed Martin was chosen to build and supply the JSF.
The development phase for the JSF, formally known as the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, began at the end of 2001. The Netherlands joined the phase in 2002. All nine partner countries are involved in the SDD phase, during which the JSF is gradually refined and put through a series of technical tests. There are three different levels of cooperation, depending on:
- the extent of each country’s financial involvement in the programme;
- the way in which technology is transferred;
- the subcontracts available for domestic aerospace companies that have tendered for orders as part of the JSF programme.
The levels are designated (in descending order of intensity) as Tier 1 (in which the UK is the only country involved), Tier 2 (the Netherlands and Italy) and Tier 3 (the remaining countries).
PSFD stands for Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development. The Netherlands signed the PSFD MoU in November 2006. It is not due to expire until 2052. The PSFD MoU covers various aspects of the JSF programme:
- production: the production phase of the JSF started in 2007;
- maintenance and sustainment: the JSF programme works on the assumption that maintenance and sustainment are not performed by each individual country, but rather that a global organisation is to be set up for this purpose. This organisation is managed by the JPO. The two contractors building the aircraft and the engine, i.e. Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, will also be responsible for providing the relevant maintenance services during its lifetime. The countries using the JSF are required pay an annual maintenance and sustainment fee.
- follow-on development: the PSDF MoU also contains agreements on future configurations in blocks 4i and 4f. The Netherlands has agreed to contribute to the further development of the JSF, which includes paying part of the cost involved. This is not the same as an undertaking to buy aircraft in these blocks, which is a different decision.
The OIT&E (Initial Operating Test and Evaluation) MoU was signed in May 2008. The Netherlands is the third partner in this phase, together with the US and the UK. Australia, which has not ordered any JSF test aircraft, was admitted to the IOT&E phase as an observer in 2014.
The difference between operational and technical testing
The IOT&E is a separate part of the JSF programme. The operational tests are not the same as the technical tests performed during the development phase. There are two differences:
- a technical test seeks to ascertain whether everything is working properly. An operational test is about finding out whether the aircraft meets the operational requirements;
- a technical test is performed by the manufacturer, whereas an operational test is performed by the customers, i.e. the partner countries’ defence ministries.
Not all partner countries have signed up to the IOT&E phase, because of the expense involved – participants have to buy one or more test aircraft in order to take part in this phase. The Netherlands ordered two test aircraft, one in 2009 and the other in 2011. The two aircraft were delivered in 2013.
The test and evaluation phase has been put off on a number of occasions. In 2008, the assumption was that the IOT&E phase would take place between 2011 and 2013. However, it was decided in 2008 that the timing should be put back to 2013 and 2014. In the end, the IOT&E phase did not start until 2015. It is due to run until 2019.
The delays in timetabling the IOT&E phase in the US led to various forms of extra expenditure for the partners in the IOT&E, such as the cost of storing the aircraft in a hangar. Fortunately, by using one of the Dutch test aircraft for simulating flights in stormy weather, it was possible to limit some of the extra expenditure. The Dutch pilots began training for the test phase at the end of 2013.
MoU that does not form part of the JSF programme
In certain cases, the partner countries enter into agreements that do not actually form part of the JSF programme. The Production & Sustainment MoU (P&S MoU) is a good example of such an agreement. It was signed by the Netherlands, Italy and Norway in February 2007. The aim of the agreement is for the three countries to help each other secure certain JSF-related contracts for companies in their own countries. Norway withdrew from this MoU in November 2013.
Italy was keen to assume responsibility for the assembly of the aircraft ordered by European countries, and the Netherlands wanted to carry out the maintenance work on the aircraft engines. The Italian government decided to build an assembly plant (for ‘Final Assembly and Check-Out’ (FACO), as this is known) at the Cameri air force base near Milan.
To date, only Italy and the Netherlands have decided that their aircraft should be assembled at the Italian FACO plant. The first JSF was delivered by the plant in 2017.
The JPO decided in 2017 that certain engine maintenance activities should be performed at the Dutch air force base in Woensdrecht, which is also where the European distribution centre for JSF parts will be located.