somdev wrote:F35 programme for instance has a very large supplier ecosystem. The composite skin of F35s is supplied by multiple vendors (e.g. Orbital ATK). The vendors gained from a ‘Out-of-Autoclave’ innovation which came out of the MIT labs. I believe in our case the need of the hour is increase in number of Tejas produced every year to meet the drastic shortfall. Off the shelf tooling will definitely boost our production rates. In tandem, govt labs and Universities can do the R&D on such tooling. Even missile casings are made with OoA process these days. Carbon nanotube film is the latest research for aerospace composite manufacturing at fraction of cost and time, again developed by MIT again and sponsored by Airbus, Lockheed etc.
The F-35 is a 3,000+ aircraft, 5+ decade production, and sustainment program. That alone puts literally a ton of incentives in the lap of industry and military service (and/or industry) co-funded lab and academia. The sheer number of ManTech efforts initiated, validated, and matured leading up to, and during the development of the block 3 and now the block 4 F-35 are mind boggling. The list would run into the dozens if one tallied all of those up.It is still happening
as components and technologies are identified that are not meeting their reliability or affordability goals. The underlying enabler there is a constant need and financial and other incentives that are on the table that justify these investments. The payoffs are in the form of a better product that is more affordable to manufacture (better margins, earlier than anticipated, for industry), more affordable to get to spec (another adv to industry) and higher performer (adv to the operator) and a more future proof product in general requiring less costly upgrades to add additional capability (adv. to both the operator and industry as their future products have better odds of being taken up given a particular budget profile).
One of the examples of this is the technology maturity effort that led to getting the F-35 to that ultimate more-electric-aircraft end state. It was a tough lift in the early 2000's with a fair bit of failure but the end result is that the baseline F-35 (current block), despite being a single engined fighter aircraft, generates, and offers to its sub-systems, about 25% more electrical power than the twin-engined F-22A, Lockheed's/USAF's first 5th gen. aircraft.Compared to the F-15E and the F-16C the contrast is even more dramatic - 60% more power for sub-systems than the F-15E and more than 2x that compared to the F-16C. And for good reasons, between its large radar (with different duty cycle requirements compared to F-15/16 radars), EO/IR systems, EW, CNI and flight control systems its demands are substantially higher compared to those aircraft as well.
What was required to get there wasn't just a technology development breakthrough (prototype technologies were test flown on a surrogate F-16 before decisions were made on tech maturity. In fact, through the JSF validation effort they demonstrated the first fighter aircraft (modified F-16) to fly with 100% of flight critical surfaces electrically actuated) but a manufacturing sprint where Honeywell, P&W and other partners had to demonstrate that they could affordably produce what they were promising. And do so at scale. Having the ability to have a fairly substantial leap in power generation means that, short of directed energy weapon integration, you don't have to dramatically re-architecture the systems as power demands increase over time. When Northrop cuts its next generation T/R modules into production, Lockheed won't need an extensive analysis on whether there will be cascading impacts on other products that may need to be re-designed or engineered. In fact, thermal signature requirements are likely to remain the limiting factor as opposed to ability to absorb more power and distribute it to the sub-systems (Growth Option for the PW F135 engine is getting ready for contract award). So some short term pain (to develop, validate, and then produce at scale) with the benefit of higher performance, lower LCC, and easier to upgrade and add capability. Would/Could they have done it if the program was for a couple of hundred aircraft? Possibly not depending upon affordability and other goals.
My point is that scale and long term financial and operational incentives go a very long way in incentivizing a combination of private and public sector investments to make things better. Private sector is very good at initiating small scale mantech efforts that will improve short-medium financial performance (margins) or competitive positions. Public sector R&D via industry or academia is generally good for long term capability development where the industry finds hard (due to either lack of 'other commercial applications' or uncertain short-meduum term ROI) to close the business case. The payoff is significant and you see it in both near-medium term performance and far term savings from having to fewer, more dramatic technology insertion leaps.
But it isn't all rosy. Scale is both a boon and a curse for the F-35. Moderate level of Tech readiness are often sidelined because they also come with moderate to low levels of manufacturing readiness. So much so that at its scale (150+ production capacity a year), TRL takes second place to MRL. Almost always! Hurdles and pitfalls associated with producing a relatively fresh new technology (say something that may be sitting at TRL 7) are tremendous when the requirements for it are at scale. It generally takes a couple of iterations of smaller level mfg. to boost yields to a point where you are offering it at affordable costs without losing money yourself as a supplier. So if you have a high end technology that you've demonstrated in an operationally relevant environment (a TRL milestone) it doesn't automatically get considered. You have to work with the JPO or another sponsor to show that you can produce it reliably and at scale. That takes a little longer compared to more bespoke needs where you don't have similar stresses on manufacturing capability and capacity.
Your CNT example is also interesting. Getting CNT certified for the JSF was a fairly substantial lift given where that mantech effort was when the aircraft's design was finalized. Even there, they are probably underutilizing CNT compared to what they could have done had they been a little more aggressive and less risk averse.I expect this to change over time as new versions of the F-35 are created for the future.
Where they weren't risk-averse was in using CNT based solution for its RAM. In fact, as Aviation Week and others have reported, there is some indication that the Fiber-Mat on the F-35 covers the L through K band frequency range which would be a major achievement, totally worthy of it claiming the title of " the single biggest breakthrough on the F-35 program" as was attributed to it by Lockheed's GM.