Aerial Warfare

Distributed Aperture System (DAS) Window Production Continues to Decrease Lockheed Martin F-35 Cost

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole fighters
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole fighters

With the most advanced electronic sensor suite of any fighter jet in history, the F-35 provides 360-degree situational awareness for enhanced threat detection warning and day/night pilot vision. This is made possible by the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that consists of six infrared cameras around the aircraft. As the F-35 program continues to decrease costs of production and sustainment, the Lockheed Martin team producing the DAS window panels continues to play a vital role in that cost reduction. Over the lifetime of the program, Lockheed Martin has reduced 80 percent of costs for DAS window panel production. In May, the team hit a major milestone by delivering the 6,000th DAS window panel.

As the rate of F-35 production increases, the team in all areas of production remains focused on continuing to lower the cost per unit while maintaining on-time delivery for our customers. To reach the 6,000th delivery milestone, the DAS window panel team consistently met or exceeded the internal operating plan (IOP) for a year, producing an average of 95 windows per month, surging to achieve a high of 120 DAS windows produced. As the team continues to achieve these high production numbers of new DAS window panels, the team also supports a high rate of replacement panels for sustainment efforts. This allows Lockheed Martin to be even better positioned to support repairs and needs of the fleet with a well-stocked inventory. This ultimately translates to reduced repair turnaround time as well as lower sustainment and spares costs for customers.

Two AN/AAQ-37 sensors just below the canopy, above the nose. Below the nose, the electro-optical targeting system
Two AN/AAQ-37 Electro-optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) just below the canopy, above the nose. An F-35A pilot assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, prepares for takeoff at Los Llanos Air Base, Spain for participation in the Tactical Leadership Programme flying course. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Evan Parker)

“This milestone represents the dedication and successes of the team as they continue to support our end customer’s needs. Our goal was to hit an average of 88 DAS window panels a month, and we surpassed that mark by eight percent. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for the team – even without a global pandemic in the mix. Accomplishing consistent IOP ensures we meet our end-customer’s needs by providing the windowpanes needed to support F-35 builds and fleets in the field for spares.Our overall success is attributable to the effective communication across the team, from beginning to end of the production line at all levels and roles. We have an empowered team where everyone can suggest process improvements in our workflow.” said Brett Rolston, director for the F-35 Sensors program at Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control.

To achieve the DAS window panel 6,000th delivery and production goal, a considerable amount of coordination and communication was involved. Extra tools were created to track metrics at each Lockheed Martin site location involved, ensuring an efficient system for every employee to share. The first steps in the process to machine the metal frame of the DAS window panel became automated, allowing the team to work faster. Currently in the works is the creation of a robot that will paint the DAS window panel frames, also speeding up the production process. The program is adding additional workstations that allow for increased production capacity. The team continuously evaluates engineering processes, such as redesigning parts to make them even more affordable for the overall product. These process innovations will continue to support the team’s production goals for 2022 as rate ramps up to an average of 137 DAS windows per month.

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