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F-35 Not looking good

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The F-35 fighter jet, set to replace a large part of the US warplane fleet, has become the most expensive weapons program ever, drawing increased scrutiny at a time of tight public finances. Following a series of cost overruns and delays, the program is now expected to cost a whopping 382 billion dollars, for 2,443 aircraft. The so-called 5th generation fighter was built with features designed to help avoid and ensure American supremacy in the skies for decades.

But there is now the potential for competition from China, which this week unveiled its first radar-evading combat aircraft and fueled a sense of a military rivalry between the two powers. At home, the Lockheed Martin F-35 is getting increased criticism even from some at the Pentagon. Defense officials say the original cost estimates have now doubled to make each plane’s price tag reach some 92 million dollars. At the same time, the contract awarded in 2001 had been planned to last 10 years, but has been extended to 2016 because of testing and design issues.

Lockheed Martin, which is working with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is developing three versions of the aircraft, which are being designed for ground attack as well as reconnaissance missions. The F-35A is designed to replace the F-16 and A-10 of the US Air Force, while the F-35C is designed for deployment on aircraft carriers to supplant to F-18, and the F-35B would have a vertical takeoff capacity and replace Harrier aircraft.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned the cost overruns cannot continue and expressed particular concern over the short take-off and vertical landing variant. “The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint,” he said recently. For the short-takeoff version, Gates has ordered “the equivalent of a two-year probation,” adding that “if we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled.”

As part of a cost-saving drive, the Pentagon chief has decided to delay the purchase of 124 of the 449 units of this version until 2016. Another bone of contention is a second engine being developed for the fighter by General Electric and Rolls Royce in case the Pratt & Whitney engine is not up to par. Gates contends this second engine is “unneeded.” Private analysts say the whole F-35 program is becoming a money pit.

The incredibly unfortunate phrase ‘too big to fail’ applies to this aircraft more than any other defense program,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group. “It’s difficult to think of a civil or military program in the past decade that hasn’t experienced similar delays and cost overruns.” Still, it may be hard to make many changes to the F-35 program because Britain and seven other countries have been closely involved in its development.

The United States is covering 90 percent of the cost of the development but has participation from Britain, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Other nations, including Israel and Singapore, have signed contracts to buy the plane. “The US wants a globalized JSF program for a combination of strategic and economic reasons,” said Aboulafia. “It greatly simplifies logistics, training and doctrine for coalition warfighting. Dominating the military aerospace export business is certainly a strong draw, too. It’s as much an industrial policy as a fighter.”

AFP Via Yahoo

George Collazo
George Collazo

George has been hosting review sites and blogging about toy collectibles, travel, digital photography and Nikon digital imaging since 1998. His first model kit build was a Testors 1/35 DODGE WC-54 in 1984.

  • Glaarg!

    It’s industrial policy until other nations discover that for a 10th the buy-in costs, they can _prototype shop_ hand build a few airframes to act as pathfinders on a ‘1-2 per year’ basis of affordable expenditure in the 150-400 million level, given the very few, really difficult, targets that most regional threats around them actually have that are worthy of stealth attack.

    An as an element of this, they will also get airframes more tailored to their individual mission needs (the JSF is _not_ a fighter and it does -not- need to carry internal, 2,000lb, munitions to be an effective standoff bomber…).

    The other side of this coin is that the threat is not sitting still either. Not merely in role-specific airframe design which makes the Lightning II look decidedly subpar (PAK-FA and J-20, even the Euro-Canards with IRST) but in real game-changer areas like missiles (cruise and ballistic) which are both faster, harder to intercept and generally better suited to limited warfare conditions than a fighter whose only real utility lies in the constancy of sortie rates it can generate, provided you can keep it fixed and flying.

    SSL or Solid State Laser technology is also going to be the KT boundary to manned airpower as the reach and ZTOF assured hit capabilities of 100KW terminal defenses (5-7km)are expanded into 1MW, 20km and 1MW + Relay Mirror, 60km weapons systems.

    Those who invest in drones and network targeting for missiles will be very much better positioned to survive in this environment while maintaining an overall faster ISR collection:kill targeting tempo against dispersed/hybrid forces.

    The JSF, despite being more of an F-117 (deep strike) than F-16 replacement, does none of these things well and will most assuredly find itself out competed for CPFH and persistent presence in high threat arenas when the world moves from point emitter based airspace coverage to netcentric AD with multiple, small, cheap, optical surveillance systems.

    You get noticed by an IADS that combines speed of light kill effectors with deeply robust, passive, targeting and you are going to be in a world of hurt.

    For about 20-30 seconds. And then you will be hair-teeth-eyeballs flying formation with the falling cinders of your jet.