5 years ago
Matthew Potter has penned a very important article at BNET concerning the F-35. I will cite it at length.
Veteran newspaper reporter George C. Wilson asked in a recent column that appeared in CongressDaily why rush the F-35 into production? In that gentleman’s eyes the program is experiencing delays in testing and development as well as overall cost to product and operate. In Wilson’s view it might make sense to save the whole $298 billion planned to procure the F-35 since there may not be the necessary threat to justify its purchase.
Wilson compares the F-35 to a similar program from the 1960’s where an attempt was made to develop one aircraft for the U.S. Air Force and Navy. This TFX program did result in the F-111 supersonic bomber used by the Air Force and Australia. The Navy rejected the aircraft and went on to purchase the F-14 Tomcat long range fighter. The F-111 had a drawn out development and the desire to have it due multiple missions for different services increased this and the cost increases reflected this.
In the upcoming 2011 defense budget the F-35 program will be restructured again to delay production and extend development. Money will have to be reprogrammed from buying aircraft to paying for this development extension. Lockheed Martin (LMT) the lead contractor on the program has offered up taking some money out of its fee from the development phase but the extended production run will only add money to the back end. Lockheed will make up some of the money lost in 2011 – 2013 through these quantities.
Of course the question to ask if Wilson’s suggestion was acted on would be what to do for a new fighter? The F-35 is it. It will replace F-16, A-10, F-18 and AV-8 aircraft in service with the U.S. Air Force, Marines, Navy and allied inventories. The F-22 is a purer, long range fighter that was supposed to replace the F-15. Now less then 200 will be built and they cannot supplant the large numbers of other aircraft. It also doesn’t exist in a carrier based version so it cannot do the F-18 or AV-8 mission. There had been attempts to restart the F-15 production line in the early part of this decade but nothing came of that. Perhaps the F-18E/F/G could be built for the Air Force as well as the Navy and Marines?
So if an existing aircraft cannot be produced to replace the aging F-16, F-18 and AV-8 force then a new replacement program will have to be started. Even if there are no advanced requirements but a straight replacement there will be the great cost of beginning again a development program and ramping up a production capability. It would also make little sense in building a new aircraft without adding advances in sensors, weapons, survivability and electronics. This will increase the cost to both produce and operate the aircraft.
I know one officer whose way was paid through the Air Force Academy, who trained other fighter pilots for several years, and who now wears shorts and a polo shirt and works on finish carpentry every day for his base because the Air Force has no fighter for him to fly and nothing else for him to do. The existing fleet of aircraft is aging. This means that stress corrosion cracking and fatigue on structural members and rotating parts has begun to take its toll. Aircraft cannot fly forever, and while it was in vogue to bash the F-22 several months ago, remember what The Captain’s Journal said.
Basically, this amounts to crafting a model of hybrid wars as the primary mission (along with jettisoning the two-war paradigm under the QDR), and telling the Air Force to plan for it. This is circular, and proves little if anything regarding whether the F-22 is needed. It may not matter, since Obama has apparently won this victory, calling the F-22 wasteful and threatening a veto of any legislation that includes more F-22s …
The Captain’s Journal would feel better about the F-35 as the next generation all purpose fighter aircraft if it had seen production and flying hours. But it is inferior in air-to-air combat and yet to be flown by U.S. AF pilots. Also note that in spite of what the QDR might conclude, we have recommended replacement of the sea-based expeditionary model for forcible entry with a combined sea-based and air-based approach that doesn’t rely on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
We have recommended heavier reliance, not less reliance, on manned air power both from land bases and sea-based craft as an important leg of conventional, expeditionary, counterinsurgency and hybrid warfare. We will grant the point that the VTOL F-35 will be a mainstay in the Marines’ model rather than the F-22, but if the skies are controlled by rockets and enemy aircraft, the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock with an entire Battalion of Marine infantry on board would end whatever expeditionary entry that was planned. Air power is critical to the success of every form of warfare mentioned above.
It may be that the F-35 will come along in time to contribute to interim needs, and that its inferiority to the F-22 won’t do harm to the conduct of its mission. But this hasn’t been proven to our standards.
I sounded the alarm, but Mr. Potter is placing meat on the skeleton. Listen carefully to what he is saying. This will become an urgent situation without action. The F-35 is behind schedule, so the DoD is rearranging the deck chairs.
The U.S. Defense Department is slowing Lockheed Martin Corp’s $300 billion F-35 fighter jet program, a multinational effort, to stabilize its schedule and costs, according to draft budget documents obtained by Reuters.
The department’s fiscal 2011 budget will request $10.7 billion to continue the F-35’s development and to procure 42 aircraft, a budget overview shows.
Overall, the plan is to cut planned purchases by 10 aircraft in fiscal 2011 and a total of 122 through 2015.
The Pentagon “has adjusted F-35 procurement quantities based on new data on costs and on likely orders from our foreign nations partners and realigned development and test schedules,” the document said without giving details.
“Stabilize its schedule and costs …” This is a euphemism to indicates that the DoD won’t outspend the development capabilities of the program, and since the program is behind schedule, the development dollars will decrease.
All the while, aircraft are being retired, trained pilots are busy doing carpentry work on board their base, and as The Captain’s Journal pointed out, the F-35 has yet to log a single flying hour – even though it is supposed to be the cornerstone of the U.S. air fleet. There is trouble in the air, and it isn’t of the sort that can be solved by wishful thinking about future weapons systems or flying gadgets that have yet to be designed or tested. We told you so.