F-35's exorbitant cost clouds its future



An F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, approaches Edwards Air Force Base in California in May 2010. An F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, approaches Edwards Air Force Base in California in May 2010. (Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp./Reuters)

Recent weeks have not been the best of times for the F-35.
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program that produces the fighter jet is weathering strong criticism in the U.S., threats and actual delays or cancellations of aircraft orders, and negative revelations in the media.
As costs spiral upward, militaries around the world cut their orders, driving the costs per plane still higher.
Last month, the estimate of the lifetime cost of the U.S. F-35 program , the most expensive U.S. arms program ever, crossed the $1.5 trillion mark. The U.S. Defence Department has been postponing its F-35 orders but is sticking to its total purchase number of 2,443 production F-35 Lightning IIs.
Eight other countries, including Canada, are partners in the JSF program and plan to purchase 697 F-35s. Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin expects to sell at least that many F-35s to other countries.

Orders cancelled, delayed

In February, Italy, a JSF partner, cut its order by 41. In 2002, it had agreed to purchase 131 F-35s. State-owned Finmeccanica is to assemble the jets that Italy, the Netherlands and Norway purchase.
For the first time an F-35 is on a night refuelling mission, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 22. For the first time an F-35 is on a night refuelling mission, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 22. (Lockheed Martin)
A few weeks later, Japan, the JSF's first customer in Asia, warned in a letter to the U.S. Defense Department that the growing cost and program delays may lead to cancellation of its order for 42 F-35s. And the deal with Japan had only been reached in December.
Julian Fantino, Canada's associate minister of national defence, surprised many of his listeners at a meeting of the House of Commons committee on national defence on March 13 when he announced that Canada's purchase of 65 F-35s was not guaranteed.
Then on March 22, Australia announced it was delaying its orders for the F-35. Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the delivery date for 12 of the first 14 planes ordered was "under consideration" and the second batch of 58 jets was not a priority.
There was some good news for the JSF program amidst the cancellations and delays. On March 23, Norway upped its order by four, and will now buy 52 F-35s.

F-35 faces challenges on the home front

While the global forecast for the F-35 is cloudy, Lockheed Martin has to be concerned about the storm warnings at home in the U.S.
The government is trying to reduce military spending and officials have warned orders will be cut if costs continue rising.
"We have told the contractor and the program office that there is no more money," U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said on March 20.
But the amount of money that is there is huge. The 19 F-35As that the U.S. will acquire in fiscal year 2013 will cost $197 million each.
In 2001, the projected cost for those jets was $69 million. Going forward, the cost per plane is expected to drop, assuming order numbers do not.
Over the course of the U.S. program, the average cost of acquiring the F-35 should average $162 million. (The Canadian government estimates their 65 F-35s will cost just $75 million each to acquire. But the parliamentary budget officer pegs that number at $148 million.)

JSF program in question

F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator includes a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit. F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator includes a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit. (Lockheed Martin)
The U.S. government's General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report on March 20 that raised serious questions about the JSF program.
According to Michael Sullivan, the GAO's director of acquisition management, "The long-stated intent that the Joint Strike Fighter would deliver an affordable, highly common fifth-generation aircraft that could be acquired in large numbers could be in question."
The report states that, "Manufacturing processes and performance indicators show some progress, but performance on the first low-initial production contracts has not been good."
Daniel Zanatta, a vice-president at Magellan Aerospace in Mississauga, Ont., said he is not really concerned about the program's problems in the U.S. Magellan is involved with the JSF program.
Zanatta told Embassy Magazine that the program is "moving actually very nicely through those challenges in the last 18 to 24 months."

Unmanned aerial systems vs. F-35s

The F-35 is called a fifth generation aircraft because of its technology, but that technology also adds to the costs and delays.
The plane requires millions of lines of software, "with testing of the most complex software and advanced capabilities still in the future," according to the GAO. And only "four percent of the aircraft mission system for full combat capability has been verified."
The emergence of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) raises doubt in some quarters whether the F-35 is the way to go. Current UAS have the elements of fifth generation fighters and are much cheaper to produce.
Unmanned drones are taking away assignments for reconnaissance and even strike roles from jets with pilots onboard.
The JSF program has also had some perception problems recently, due to revelations in the media.
The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland on Feb. 22. The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for the USMC, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings for use on amphibious ships or expeditionary airfields. The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland on Feb. 22. The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for the USMC, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings for use on amphibious ships or expeditionary airfields. (Lockheed Martin/Reuters)
On March 11, The Sunday Times in London reported that, "Chinese spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems" of the F-35. The jet's advanced radar capabilities were thought to be one of the targets.
That report adds confirmation to a Wall Street Journal report about a hacking attack on BAE in 2009. China denied the claims then, and again after last month's story.
The CBC's Evan Solomon reported on March 26 that the Canadian government's 2010 statement of operational requirements for new fighter jets was drafted just two months before Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the F-35 was the choice, suggesting the process had been hijacked, as the process would normally take a year or two.
Solomon also reported that the F-35 didn't even meet all the requirements.
A lengthy article on the F-35 in the current issue of the Canadian Military Journal concedes that although "the JSF program has proven to be an exorbitantly expensive, imperfect and risky endeavour," the F-35 is Canada's only choice.

The only choice

"If Canadians are set on equipping their military with the most advanced arms available, political considerations and market demands all but guarantee that their only choice of aircraft is the F-35," write researchers Marco Wyss and Alex Wilner.
In Canada, the process of selecting the F-35 has long been questioned by the government's critics. On Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson will issue a report that CBC News has learned will be scathing. Ferguson is expected to focus his criticism on the air force and on procurement officials inside DND.
CBC News has also learned that the government will establish a secretariat of senior deputy ministers inside the Public Works Department to oversee the process. The CBC's Chris Hall reports that will remove the lead from Fantino, who is in charge of procurement at DND
.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

F-35's exorbitant cost clouds its future


An F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, approaches Edwards Air Force Base in California in May 2010. An F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, approaches Edwards Air Force Base in California in May 2010. (Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp./Reuters)

Recent weeks have not been the best of times for the F-35.
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program that produces the fighter jet is weathering strong criticism in the U.S., threats and actual delays or cancellations of aircraft orders, and negative revelations in the media.
As costs spiral upward, militaries around the world cut their orders, driving the costs per plane still higher.
Last month, the estimate of the lifetime cost of the U.S. F-35 program , the most expensive U.S. arms program ever, crossed the $1.5 trillion mark. The U.S. Defence Department has been postponing its F-35 orders but is sticking to its total purchase number of 2,443 production F-35 Lightning IIs.
Eight other countries, including Canada, are partners in the JSF program and plan to purchase 697 F-35s. Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin expects to sell at least that many F-35s to other countries.

Orders cancelled, delayed

In February, Italy, a JSF partner, cut its order by 41. In 2002, it had agreed to purchase 131 F-35s. State-owned Finmeccanica is to assemble the jets that Italy, the Netherlands and Norway purchase.
For the first time an F-35 is on a night refuelling mission, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 22. For the first time an F-35 is on a night refuelling mission, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 22. (Lockheed Martin)
A few weeks later, Japan, the JSF's first customer in Asia, warned in a letter to the U.S. Defense Department that the growing cost and program delays may lead to cancellation of its order for 42 F-35s. And the deal with Japan had only been reached in December.
Julian Fantino, Canada's associate minister of national defence, surprised many of his listeners at a meeting of the House of Commons committee on national defence on March 13 when he announced that Canada's purchase of 65 F-35s was not guaranteed.
Then on March 22, Australia announced it was delaying its orders for the F-35. Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the delivery date for 12 of the first 14 planes ordered was "under consideration" and the second batch of 58 jets was not a priority.
There was some good news for the JSF program amidst the cancellations and delays. On March 23, Norway upped its order by four, and will now buy 52 F-35s.

F-35 faces challenges on the home front

While the global forecast for the F-35 is cloudy, Lockheed Martin has to be concerned about the storm warnings at home in the U.S.
The government is trying to reduce military spending and officials have warned orders will be cut if costs continue rising.
"We have told the contractor and the program office that there is no more money," U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said on March 20.
But the amount of money that is there is huge. The 19 F-35As that the U.S. will acquire in fiscal year 2013 will cost $197 million each.
In 2001, the projected cost for those jets was $69 million. Going forward, the cost per plane is expected to drop, assuming order numbers do not.
Over the course of the U.S. program, the average cost of acquiring the F-35 should average $162 million. (The Canadian government estimates their 65 F-35s will cost just $75 million each to acquire. But the parliamentary budget officer pegs that number at $148 million.)

JSF program in question

F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator includes a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit. F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator includes a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit. (Lockheed Martin)
The U.S. government's General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report on March 20 that raised serious questions about the JSF program.
According to Michael Sullivan, the GAO's director of acquisition management, "The long-stated intent that the Joint Strike Fighter would deliver an affordable, highly common fifth-generation aircraft that could be acquired in large numbers could be in question."
The report states that, "Manufacturing processes and performance indicators show some progress, but performance on the first low-initial production contracts has not been good."
Daniel Zanatta, a vice-president at Magellan Aerospace in Mississauga, Ont., said he is not really concerned about the program's problems in the U.S. Magellan is involved with the JSF program.
Zanatta told Embassy Magazine that the program is "moving actually very nicely through those challenges in the last 18 to 24 months."

Unmanned aerial systems vs. F-35s

The F-35 is called a fifth generation aircraft because of its technology, but that technology also adds to the costs and delays.
The plane requires millions of lines of software, "with testing of the most complex software and advanced capabilities still in the future," according to the GAO. And only "four percent of the aircraft mission system for full combat capability has been verified."
The emergence of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) raises doubt in some quarters whether the F-35 is the way to go. Current UAS have the elements of fifth generation fighters and are much cheaper to produce.
Unmanned drones are taking away assignments for reconnaissance and even strike roles from jets with pilots onboard.
The JSF program has also had some perception problems recently, due to revelations in the media.
The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland on Feb. 22. The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for the USMC, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings for use on amphibious ships or expeditionary airfields. The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland on Feb. 22. The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for the USMC, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings for use on amphibious ships or expeditionary airfields. (Lockheed Martin/Reuters)
On March 11, The Sunday Times in London reported that, "Chinese spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems" of the F-35. The jet's advanced radar capabilities were thought to be one of the targets.
That report adds confirmation to a Wall Street Journal report about a hacking attack on BAE in 2009. China denied the claims then, and again after last month's story.
The CBC's Evan Solomon reported on March 26 that the Canadian government's 2010 statement of operational requirements for new fighter jets was drafted just two months before Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the F-35 was the choice, suggesting the process had been hijacked, as the process would normally take a year or two.
Solomon also reported that the F-35 didn't even meet all the requirements.
A lengthy article on the F-35 in the current issue of the Canadian Military Journal concedes that although "the JSF program has proven to be an exorbitantly expensive, imperfect and risky endeavour," the F-35 is Canada's only choice.

The only choice

"If Canadians are set on equipping their military with the most advanced arms available, political considerations and market demands all but guarantee that their only choice of aircraft is the F-35," write researchers Marco Wyss and Alex Wilner.
In Canada, the process of selecting the F-35 has long been questioned by the government's critics. On Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson will issue a report that CBC News has learned will be scathing. Ferguson is expected to focus his criticism on the air force and on procurement officials inside DND.
CBC News has also learned that the government will establish a secretariat of senior deputy ministers inside the Public Works Department to oversee the process. The CBC's Chris Hall reports that will remove the lead from Fantino, who is in charge of procurement at DND
.

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