Sunday, July 18, 2010

F-35 Lightning II goodies to chew on

Search and search and search and still I could find nothing public about which of the three variants of F-35 Canada is intending to purchase. A friend called and told me but, like me, he had no particular source. Neither the defence minister nor the "military analysts" appearing at press conferences and on TV and radio provided anything beyond the words F-35, after which they had to wipe the drool from their chins.

Infuriating, or what? The government, the pundits, falling all over themselves to tell us how cool this is and they won't tell us which one.

So... check out another source. Aha! We're buying the cheap one! That makes me feel better. That I had to dig it out of the company that's building them and it wasn't offered at the announcement makes me wonder how much people like MacKay care for you to know.
The version the Canadian Air Force is buying is the least expensive of the three variants and in today's dollars it will be around $60 million per aircraft, said Lockheed spokeswoman Kim Testa.
That would be the "A" variant.

And then there is the issue, as the article above points out, that this is a sole-source contract. Commenters have suggested there was no other way. Maybe... maybe not, but the Defence Minister certainly promised that there would be an open and transparent competition, and he emphatically stated that there was more than one contender:
The joint strike fighter is one of the two aircraft, and there may be others. But I think those are the two main contenders that we are looking at.
Uh oh. Then he said this:
I just want to be very clear on the record that the reference to the next generation of fighter aircraft does not preclude a competition, and an open and transparent one.
So... anyone notice smoke coming out of MacKay's ass? Did we miss that little bit of Harper government transparency?

It isn't as if this whole project has been a bed of roses either. It's had its own share of plagues, not the least of which was the US Secretary of Defense firing the program manager back in February. Oh... oops.
So far, that performance has “not been what it should” Gates said. Total costs have ballooned by more than 45% since the program’s inception. According to some reports, the stealth jet isn’t even that stealthy. Its engines run the risk of burning holes in the decks of the ships its supposed to lift off from. Final tests for the plane could be pushed back until as late as 2016, a two-year delay.
And I will remind readers that it is now July - that happened almost five months ago.
Looks like Gates got on the case and fixed things... maybe. There is a niggling rumour that Major General Heinz lost his job because he wanted an alternative engine brought into the program - to reduce overall costs. Gates didn't agree and it is suggested his hesitation had more to do with politics than cost.
Although a congressional aide said he was not “surprised” by Gates’ decision, the aide also made clear that he thought Heinz was a fall guy. “He is not the first to provide his best professional judgment and be fired for it because it is contrary to White House and Second Gates’ politics,” the aide said in an email. The aide wrote back speculating that Gen. Heinz may well have ticked off Gates with his quiet but persistent support for a second engine for the F-135. Heinz told me and others several times that a second engine could well result in lower costs and provide operational benefits by lessening the program’s dependence on a single engine. “Gates does not like this kind of thinking, no matter how much sense it makes. Heinz wasn’t in lock step with the politics — he is interested in future fighter force readiness and affordability,” the aide said.
Interesting. (Don't get carried away. This is an alternative to the Pratt & Whitney F-135; not a 2nd strap on.)

What is being discussed is the GE/Rolls Royce F-136 which could be made considerably more efficient with an upgrade in the future. And there's a good reason to have a fleet with two different brands of power plant.
The F-35 programme chief, Brig Gen David Heinz, has said he supports the DOD's decision, but he also believes that dueling JSF engine programmes could yield cost savings and reduce operational risk of a fleet-wide grounding caused by an engine problem.
You can get fired for that kind of thinking.

It remains to be seen if Airshow MacKay can follow the logic.

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