Wednesday, October 20, 2010

F-35 JSF? Anyone's guess

Impolitical draws attention to the implications of Britain's massive defence (pdf) cuts for the F-35.
Uncertainty about the programme. Driving up costs for "other governments?" How can our government credibly maintain, with all these developments, that our costs would be under control? We have no contract now, it's hard to see the basis for their claims. (The U.K. government ordering fewer also reported here.)

That Star-Telegram report goes on to suggest that the move away from the F-35B (aircraft carrier version) by Britain could put the U.S. Navy's buy of that F-35 version in doubt too, opening the door to increased purchases of the Boeing Super Hornet. One analyst describes the UK's move away from the F-35B as "...disruptive to all aspects of the program schedule and costs."
 Aviation Week commenter and former Jane's Defence editor Bill Sweetman agrees:
There's not a lot of good news for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the UK review. A requirement for 138 F-35Bs has been wiped out and replaced by a smaller - possibly much smaller - number of F-35Cs. The UK's baseline plan is to retain only one carrier with a normal air wing comprising only 12 F-35Cs, while keeping the option to expand the wing  to 36 jets - presumably by borrowing aircraft from the land-based units that replace the Tornado GR.4...

...That requirement could be met by a 50-aircraft order. But there is lots of time to make that decision because the catapult-modified Prince of Wales will not be operational for another ten years. 

Meanwhile, competitors are starting to talk more boldly about taking on JSF. At Defense IQ's Fighter Conference in London today, Boeing vice-president for international business development Rick McCrary briefed predictions for the next ten years that included a start on technology development for a new Navy strike fighter in 2013 and EMD in 2016-17, as well as the extension of the Super Hornet as a "bridge" to the new program.

Neither Lockheed Martin or the countries involved in the project anticipated an enduring global recession and massive government deficits. But this is the reality now. LM might have thought that by spreading its bet by distributing interest in the platform around the world it ensured that project would remain viable. Governments would see the benefit of everyone buying and there would be incentive (coercion?) not to abandon participation. In effect however, Lockheed Martin built a house of cards, failing to realise that no country absolutely needs luxury platform like JSF and there would be tremendous political and economic counter-incentive for governments not sign if push came to shove.

I think it's now anyone's guess as to whether the program remains viable cost- or even production-wise. Canada really ought to start looking at other options.

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And a tangential bet: The UK is retiring its Harrier force. These are the only fixed wing fast jets flying from the Royal Navy's carriers. As it stands the RN has a 9 year wait before the JSF is meant to come online for its two new carriers, one of which will be mothballed from the get-go. Carriers which HM government acknowledges it would have axed too if it were cost effective. I think there's a good chance the Harrier will be known as the last jet flown from UK carriers.

It is something to ponder that if 9/11 happened in the current economic climate,  the US, UK and allies might not have so readily prosecuted small and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is also interesting to note that a great deal of the present economic mess began with some prospective home buyers and a loans officer in the United States.

7 comments:

Dana said...

Actually it really got rolling in 1999 when Clinton signed the Financial Services Modernization Act effectively undoing the reforms enacted following the crash of '29. This allowed the financial industry to do everything they did in the 20s all over again.

kootcoot said...

": "Israel has recently sealed a deal to purchase 20 brand-new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by US defense and aerospace corporation Lockheed Martin in a contract that, at $2.75 billion, is one of the largest arms purchases ever made by the state. The entire contract is paid for by an ongoing US military aid package under the auspices of the US government's Foreign Military Sales program."

How come Canada has to pay for their planes? Uncle Sam is buying 'em for Stevies Zionist cousins!

The Mound of Sound said...

Canada should acquire aircraft based on our needs for the defence of Canada. Except along the southeast and southwest coasts our territory is defined by vast expanses of relatively unpopulated territory. Surely that dictates two-engines for safety, a hefty weapons carrying capacity, high speed, long range and endurance. Either the F-15E or the SU-35 would fill that order.

Doz said...

After the second world war the British government and its shipping lines invested heavily in a refurbished and rebuilt trans-Atlantic passenger liner service. By 1950 it was obvious that most of the potential customers were opting for trans-Atlantic flights instead. We are making the same mistake by opting for the F35 rather than for the pilotless drones which are a far bigger bang for the buck in costal patrol work and seach and rescue. The only thing the F35 is good for is the next "Pearl Harbour" attack on a third world country.

Doz

Scanner said...

@Mound I think the Sukhoi t-50 is a better bet, India already has a contract to buy 100+ of these and will be constructing further airframes themselves, as they currently do with the Su-30MKI. I think Doz has it right though with the drones to do sovereignty patrol in the North and on both coasts. But if the drones find something it would be nice to be able to do something more than fire a hellfire at them.

Edstock said...

A T-50 with Canadian avionics would be fine. So would the SuperHornet. Stealth is not particularly important for long-distance intercept, given the range of AA missiles like Slammers.
IMHO, we need a tough, in-your-face ground attack aircraft like the A-10 Warthog. Something that can operate from tundra, maybe even on skis. That way, when the Russkies or Chinese get pushy in our Arctic, we can push back, up close and way, way personal.

Boris said...

Ed,
There's a pile of Harrier GR.9's up for grabs soon. You can fly those things from any bit of ground.