Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My swan song

As you’ve probably noticed, my blogging effort here has slowed down considerably.

There’s a reason for that. To borrow from “Top Gun”, it looks like the F-35 program is past the "danger zone".

That’s where a program such as the F-35 is in danger of being cancelled or drastically cut back to a dangerous point - dangerous for our military and our country. The original impetus for me doing this blog was watching what happened to the F-22 program. It concerned me deeply.

Our air power is aging, we were seeing the emergence of a new level of aviation technology that is critical to our future and decisions were made to curtail a program that would keep us on the cutting edge of that technology and almost guarantee our ability to establish air superiority if not air dominance in future conflicts. This blog was my small attempt to try to avoid a repeat of what happened to the F-22 program. I wanted to try to help ensure, given the volume of critical press when I started this, that the good news got through as well.

So I concentrated on publishing what some would call “fan boy” posts in which I tried to tell the other side of the story, or simply made sure articles which were good news for the program, but mostly ignored by the critics, got some exposure.

The full production of F-35 in combination with those F-22s we have will likely give us the ability to continue to enjoy air superiority, perhaps not as robust as I’d prefer, but robust enough. And given the outstanding year the F-35 program had in 2013, I feel confident that the program is on the right track. I’m of the opinion it will continue to do well and deliver an aircraft that will fulfill all of its promise.

I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read the blog and comment over these past few years. However this will be my last post. I wish the F-35 program well and to our future F-35 pilots, may you always have clear skies and a tailwind.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dutch F-35s to carry nukes?

More of an FYI than anything else:
The Joint Strike Fighter may be used to carry nuclear weapons in the future, according to defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and foreign affairs minister Frans Timmermans.

Last year a majority of MPs supported a motion stating the F-35 jet fighter should have no nuclear role. However, Hennis and Timmermans have now decided to set the motion aside because of the Netherlands' role within Nato.

The minister say they will continue to support nuclear disarmament but say the Netherlands does have a nuclear role for the time being. 'We do not want to be tied to the standpoint set out in the motion,' they said in a briefing to parliament. 
Dutch politicians as a whole aren't big fans of nukes, however as the Defense Minister says, the Netherlands is a member of NATO and NATO has nukes.

It'll be interesting to watch this side-story as it develops.  But, bottom line, you're either a member of NATO and all that means, or you're not.


Friday, January 10, 2014

F-35: The great "Chinese parts" tempest in a teapot

You probably saw the headlines flying around last week - the F-35 has used Chinese parts to keep it on schedule.

It's all about magnets, a law that requires US defense contractors use "specialty metals" made in the US (a magnet is a "specialty metal"), and parts made with Japanese magnets in violation of the law.  Once these non-conformal metals were discovered, a review of other parts was made:
The documents reviewed by Reuters show that Northrop first discovered the use of non-compliant Japanese magnets on the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar it builds for the F-35 in August 2012, alerting the prime contractor, Lockheed, which then told the Pentagon.

A subsequent investigation of all parts on the F-35 turned up two more cases in which non-U.S. specialty metals were used on the F-35's radar, and on target assemblies built by Honeywell that are used for positioning doors and landing gear.
The parts in question were $2 magnets used in each of those assemblies.  Key point:
Bill Greenwalt, a former senior defense official and now an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the risk to national security appeared low since the magnets in question had no programmable hardware.

However, he added: "This is an area that will need considerable due diligence in the future to ensure that components for more high-risk applications are safe from potential tampering and foreign mischief." 
Indeed.  And it looks like the review process caught the violations, reported them promptly and the proper action was taken (they were looking at over $10 million in cost and 25, 000 manhours to replace these magnets vs. keeping them).  As Greenwalt mentions these magnets were in hardware which was not programable.

So, given those facts, the decision not to replace them seems to be the right one to make. The cost and delay simply wasn't worth the effort.  However:
In his statement to Congress, Kendall said he took the matter "extremely seriously" and said Lockheed was told to take aggressive steps to identify any further cases, and correct its compliance process.
And that's as it should be.  So, all in all, no harm no foul, process reviewed, action taken.   It was a manufacturing and compliance issue, not necessarily a security issue as Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) at the Pentagon pointed out:
"There was never any risk of technology transfer or other security breach associated with these manufacturing compliance issues," he said. "The JPO is working with industry to put in place long-term solutions to avoid the need for future waivers."


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

F-35: Learning to use the JSF, part II (allies)

Of course the US isn't the only country which will be using the F-35 in the coming decades, and many of our partners aren't going to be able to completely replace their legacy fleet with the JSF.

That means they too have got to develop plans and a strategy for the aircraft's most efficient employment based on the reality they face.  The Italian airforce gives us an example of the point:

Illustrative of the shift is the approach articulated by the Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force.

According to Lt. General Preziosa, the F-35 presages a new era in air combat, and he is engaged in working through how his F-35s will work with legacy Eurofighters as Italian air power adapts to 21st century conditions.

One way to think about the way ahead is to continue to use 4th generation aircraft in surging mass to more classic airpower situations. One would use the F-35 as the key asset up against the distributed operational settings or for operations in denied air space.

Another way to look at it will be to find ways to gain more synergy between the F-35 and the legacy fleet. How can we better utilize our older assets during the process where the F-35 fleet becomes a reality?

Shaping combinations of 4th generation with the F-35s will be a mix and match opportunity in tailoring airpower to the missions ahead.

This is a challenge; but it is a key task within which the F-35s will make the legacy aircraft more effective; and the 4th generation aircraft will add support and strike capabilities to an F-35 enabled air power force.

The F-35 is in the process of becoming the dominant Western production combat aircraft for the decade ahead for the US, Pacific allies, European partners and Middle Eastern allies.
That, of course, is an expensive way to do business, given the cost of maintaining  a legacy fleet in addition to the F-35s.  However, as pointed out, some allies really have no choice.  And, of course, the legacy fleet would only be viable in certain tactical situations, thereby limiting their ability to project airpower in situations where the use of legacy aircraft is ill advised.

And, of course, even in the situations where stealth and the other capabilites of the F-35 aren't demanded, the F-35 too can load up on external hard points and deliver the goods as needed.

But ... unlike the US, an "all F-35" air fleet is just not an option for some airforces.  So they are forced into a situation where they have to consider integrating, updating and maintaining a 4th generation fleet as well.   And, they have to develop plans to use the F-35 as a combat multiplier for their legacy fleets.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

F-35: Learning how to use the JSF

That's something the Navy is planning on doing as we speak.  They'll be working in conjunction with the USMC to fully exploit the F-35's capabilities and advantages.  Those capabilities and advantages are new to the Navy and they need to learn how to use them fully:
But the Navy has never operated a stealthy aircraft with the kinds of sensors found onboard the F-35C before. In order to learn how to best utilize the new fighter, one of the first units to receive the F-35C will be the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC)—which is the home of the Navy’s famous TOPGUN school.

“One of the earliest places we’re going to put Joint Strike Fighter is at NSAWC,” Manazir said. “We’ll operate them out at [Naval Air Station] Fallon [Nevada] and be able to develop those tactics real-time on the range with Block II AESA [Active Electronically Scanned Array] F/A-18Es and Fs and F-35Cs.”

Moreover, because all three F-35 variants have the same mission systems, the Navy is working very closely with the U.S. Marine Corps to develop tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for the JSF. Manazir noted that the USMC would operate the F-35C from the Navy’s Nimitz and Ford-class supercarriers in addition to the F-35B, which will be operated from amphibious assault ships.

“We’ll be able to exploit the advantages of both kinds of aircraft,” Manazir said. Right now the Marines are ahead of the Navy in developing the concepts of operation for the F-35.
And that's the key to the successful deployment of the F-35 - fully testing it's strengths and weaknesses and then developing tactics, operational concepts and strategies which fully exploit the strengths of the F-35 while guarding against any weaknesses. 

Sound like they have a plan.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

F-35: Critic - "F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders would do fine"

Sometimes you read something that is supposedly aimed at objective criticism and you run across something so silly you just throw up your hands and say, "I'm done".  This article was one of them.  It rehashed all the old, stale arguments against the F-35 and then claimed all we needed to do was buff up our legacy aircraft (and in this case, gen 2 and 3 aircraft) a bit.

In fact:
Indeed, for many of the missions associated with the modern practice of airpower, A-1 Skyraiders and F-4 Phantom would perform perfectly well.
This is what I call the 'present conflict' syndrome.  "Thinkers" like this can't or won't look past the present conflict in which we're involved to possible conflicts of the future.  You build your force for the future, not the present.  You do it with an eye on who those conflicts might involve and what it might require to be on at least equal and hopefully superior footing.

Critics like this also tend to tell us how "expensive" a program like the F-35 is, but never seem to realize that maintaining and upgrading a raft of different lines of mission specific legacy aircraft would be prohibitively expensive.  And even then, in a world going stealth, they would be inadequate in almost every way.

Could we use F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders?  Possibly, in very special circumstances, like Afghanistan.  But against China?  Iran?  Any of a host of other hostile nations with sophisticated air defense systems (another of many potential enemy capabilities they usually ignore)?  Of course not.  Nor would we do well with our current crop of legacy aircraft.  So what then?

Warfare evolves.  It moves on.  While a critic may believe the F-35 has shortcomings, they lose all credibility when they make silly suggestions such as we should just keep what we have while other countries move into the same areas of development as the F-22/F-35 programs are involved.  If they had a valid point, I'm sure we'd still be using Gatling guns and muzzle loading cannon.  I'm sure they would "perform perfectly well" in certain circumstances.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The F-35's "very good year"

Well this will make the usual suspects foam at the mouth, I'm sure:
Thirteen is looking like the F-35 fighter’s lucky number. After struggling for a dozen years to make program realities match government expectations, in 2013 prime contractor Lockheed Martin saw everything come together. Technical risks were retired. Flight testing progressed rapidly. The price-tag for each plane continued declining. And a new management team discovered that its government customers weren’t so hard to get along with after all. So when the history of the Pentagon’s biggest weapon program is written, 2013 is going to look like the point at which the effort really took off — the year doubts melted away and the F-35 became unstoppable.
I'd say, as a short synopsis of the year, this pretty much describes it.  Loren Thompson, who wrote it and, as usual, discloses that LM is one of the contributors to his think tank, nonetheless lays out a pretty persuasive case for his lead paragraph in the remainder of the article.

In successive paragraphs, Thompson covers testing, production, cost, teamwork and orders.  In every area both progress and success are undeniable.  Well, except for the critics, who adept at denying reality on a daily basis.

Make sure to read the whole thing.