Thursday, February 28, 2013

F-35: Japan restates its committment to the F-35

What is it that Japan and Israel understand about the capabilities of the F-35 that critics just don't seem to be able to wrap their heads around?  Apparently quite a bit.  Recently, Japan's Defense Minister reiterated Japan's commitment to the F-35:
Japan is confident Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will overcome its development setbacks and expects to accept an initial order of four planes on schedule in 2016, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.

“Problems tend to occur when a plane is in development,” Onodera said today in an interview at his office in Tokyo. “We have heard nothing from the U.S. to say there will be a delay. We think the end result will be a good product.” 
Apparently, with China on its doorstep and North Korea lurking offshore, they find it hard to believe that all future wars will be "asymetric".  

They also seem to be able to understand how modern fighter aircraft are developed and have confidence in the outcome of the program.

And they also realize that their current 4th generation fleet is woefully inadequate to their future defense needs.  Remember, Japan was not an original allied nation (nor was Israel) involved in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter.  They're a nation that made the decision to buy outside that partnership.

One would certainly have to ask, given the level of criticism in some quarters, why both Japan and Israel - neither nation is known to buy poor defense products - have ignored the criticism and opted for the F-35?

The answer, it would seem, is obvious.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

F-35: A comprehensive comparative look at the F-35

I found this while perusing the web and was impressed by the thoroughness and completeness of the analysis. The author addresses a multitude of topics in his review.  This is written addressing Canadian concerns about the F-35, but they are concerns you see thrown around all the time by others concerning the F-35.    A snippet of the purpose of his article:
The source of many of these assertions of poor performance from the F-35 can generally be traced back to Dr. Dr Carlo Kopp of Air power Australia. Kopp claims that the F-35 is inferior to almost all modern 4.5 generation fighters. He vehemently disapproves of his country's decision to purchase the F-35 and pushes the Australian government to keep requesting the American F-22A. In his reports he says that the F-35 isn't stealthy enough to penetrate Chinese airspace, not maneuverable enough to win a dogfight, and doesn't carry enough ordinance to make it an effective air superiority fighter. Too be honest, Dr. Carlo Kopp is too biased. 
From there, the author skillfully and completely disassemble's Kopp's arguments.

Definitely recommended reading.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

F-35: Will allies abandon F-35?

The simple answer is "probably not".  The reasons are multiple, but basically, the primary reasons have to do with the desire to have the best technology and capabilities available for their fighter pilots coupled with the understanding of the need for interoperability.  Only one fighter gives them those options.

Perhaps the "ground truth" of what will happen is best captured in an interview Australian Minister of Defense Stephen Smith recently gave.  In it he commits to the F-35:
We have committed ourselves contractually to two Joint Strike Fighters. We’ll receive those in 2014 in the United States for training purposes. We’ve announced that we will take another 12, effectively our first squadron, but we have not made a judgment as to when we will place the orders for those.
I’ve made it clear since the time I’ve become Defence Minister that we won’t allow delays in the Joint Strike Fighter project to leave us with a gap in capability and at the end of last year, we placed a letter of request with the United States authorities to enable us to investigate the potential purchase of up to 24 more Super Hornets.
So, in the near future you're likely to see mixed fleets of 4th and 5th generation fighters.  As Thomas Donnelly and Phillip Lohaus pointed out in their recent AEI paper that we covered here:

The F-35 fleet is critical to ensuring that US forces and coalition forces are sufficiently capable at all echelons. It is crucial to understand the F-35 not simply as a uniquely capable platform, but as one of the few, if not the only, sources of operational mass in the Western Pacific theater. Without the mass and flexibility it provides, any first strike by China will fall on an inherently brittle defense. 
And, in fact, the F-35 will make 4th generation fighters more effective as well.  Australia obviously understands that.

The bottom line seems to be that perhaps the F-35's deployment among allied countries may be slower than first envisioned - some of that having to do with fiscal problems as well - but that it will still be the premier fighter jet among our allied nations. It simply offers too many advanced capabilities for the money to pass up. 

However you can expect to see that slowed deployment generate sales in 4th generation plus aircraft to fill the near-term gap.  At the point that the F-35's development reaches combat readiness and the price point stabilizes, you can then expect to see F-35's exclusively bought by these countries as they retire their 4th generation fleet.


Monday, February 25, 2013

F-35: Engine blade crack grounds fleet

The F-35 fleet has been grounded due to an engine blade crack in one of them.

And, of course, the more hysterical among the anti-F-35 media are taking this opportunity to again push the "troubled program" meme.

Anyone who has watched or been a part of any program to develop an new system knows that these sorts of things happen.  In fact, that's what the testing program is for, to find problems before they become major problems and fix them.

Pratt and Whitney, the manufacturer of the engine, has issued the following statement:

On Feb 19, 2013, a routine engine inspection revealed indication of a crack on the 3rd Stage Low Pressure Turbine airfoil of the F-35A aircraft AF-2 operating at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Engineering teams are shipping the engine and its associated hardware to Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Facility in Middletown, CT, to conduct more thorough evaluations to determine the cause of the indication. It is too soon to tell if there is a fleet wide safety concern. However, as a precautionary measure, all F-35 flight operations have been suspended until the investigation is complete and the cause of the blade indication is fully understood. Pratt & Whitney is working closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, and its military customers to ensure the integrity of the engine, and to return the fleet safely to flight as soon as possible. 
What will happen now is all the F-35s in the fleet will be inspected and inspectors will try to determine whether the crack is a one off or a design or manufacturing problem.  It may simply be the result of the engine ingesting a foreign object at some time or other.   But, in the interest of safety and until that determination can be positively made, they've grounded the fleet.

Of course, you can expect some among the journalistic profession covering this story to imply that this is huge set back and virtually unprecedented.  But that's simply not true:






What it is, instead, is a routine cautionary measure used to ensure the safety of the pilots until a determination of cause can be made.

Nothing more.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

F-35: The toll sequestration will take

In terms of defense, sequestration is almost unthinkable.  On top of the $500 billion cut in defense spending mandated by President Obama, sequestration would add another $500 billion cut.  The effect, as you might imagine, will be devastating.

Some examples of that point, using the F-35 program:
Under the Congressional sequestration budgetary maneuver, the US Department of Defense's coffers would be automatically cut across the board by 10% every year for 10 years. That is on top of the $487 billion that has already been cut from the spending plan.

If the full sequestration were to take effect, "we're going to have to look completely at the [F-35] programme," US Air Force chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 12 February. "It's going to be impossible to modernize." 
Or, our young pilots will continue to fly fighters older than they are while our potential enemies continue to advance their 5th generation capabilities. Say it however you wish, the bottom line is we would be put well behind the power curve.  Meaning:

The consequences operationally would mean that the US Air Force would not be able to operate as effectively in contested airspace as it had planned. "Our kick in the door capability would be impacted," Welsh says.

While there are those who claim the possibility of us needing to operate in contested air space any time in the future is pretty slim, not advancing this program will make that likelihood less "slim".  In fact, it may encourage those who are also developing 5th generation fighters to be a bit more audacious in their actions.

The other services will be just as negatively impacted, and not just because of restructuring of the F-35 program:

For the US Navy, the consequences of the full sequestration are as dire. Adm Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, told the Congress that if the USN had to suffer the effects of nine additional years of sequestration, the service would lose two carrier strike groups and a "proportional" number of amphibious strike groups.

The US Marine Corps may also have to "cancel major multi-year procurements such as the [Bell-Boeing] MV-22 and incur greater cost and program delay in future program buys," USMC commandant Gen James Amos says in his prepared testimony.

Those are huge capability losses.  And, of course, those sorts of losses put much more strain on the assets that are left.

Defense cuts are reality.  The first $500 billion is being absorbed and seems survivable.  Sequestration's "meat axe" cuts are cuts that tear into muscle and bone. That means increased risk for our military and they will put our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in a future situation where the possibility exists that they'll face

That's unacceptable.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

F-35: EOTS order

In a little noted press release, we learn this:
II-VI Incorporated (Nasdaq: IIVI) today announced an agreement between its subsidiary Exotic Electro-Optics and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) for two multi-year purchasing agreements. Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

The first is for Lockheed Martin's F-35 Electro-Optical Targeting Sensor (EOTS) and the second is for Lockheed Martin's Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP). Purchase orders from this agreement will be reflected as bookings based on the II-VI bookings policy of reporting customer orders received that are expected to be converted into revenues during the next 12 months
Revenue is usually paid "on delivery".  So, we begin to see the manufacture of advanced systems for the F-35.

If you're not familiar with EOTS, here's a little info:
The Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is the world’s first and only sensor that combines forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and infrared search and track (IRST) functionality. It provides the Warfighter with an affordable, high-performance, lightweight, multi-functional system for precision air-to-air and air-to-surface tracking in a compact package. The pilot has access to high-resolution imagery, automatic tracking, IRST, laser designation and rangefinding and laser spot tracking at greatly increased standoff ranges. Integrated into the F-35 Lightning II’s fuselage with a durable sapphire window, the low-drag, stealthy EOTS is linked to the aircraft’s central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface.
EOTS is one of those "advanced capability" systems that critics try to ignore.  It is one of those systems that will be part of the revolution in capabilities this 5th generation fighter will bring to the game.   It is one of those systems that will have planners, strategists and tacticians completely re-evaluating the way they deploy and use the F-35.  It is one of those systems that is going to make the old fashioned "dogfight", which so many critics are focused upon, pretty much a thing of the past.

This is one of the systems and capabilities that separate the F-35 from 4th generation fleet - and largely ignored by those who are critics of the program.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

TIME trashes F-35 with false, dated, incorrect, misleading and incomplete "facts"

Dr. Loren Thompson disassembles a TIME story critical of the F-35.   Essentially, TIME does what all the critics seem to do at one time or another - used outdated and incorrect information to formulate the usual bogus case against the aircraft and the program.  For instance:
[T]he piece says that the short range of the Navy's F-35s will require aircraft carriers to "sail close to enemy shores." In reality, the F-35 will deliver about 40% more combat radius than the Navy planes it is replacing. Elsewhere, it states that a stealthy jet like the F-35 "requires sacrifices in range, flying time and weapons-carrying capability." But the most common version of F-35, the Air Force variant, has a combat radius 25% greater than that of the non-stealthy F-16s it will replace while carrying a bigger bomb-load; in some scenarios, F-35 can carry over three times the bomb-load of an F-16. And it asserts that the plane's "squat fuselage" forced designers to put the tailhook of the Navy version in a location where it doesn't work well, without noting that the tailhook issue has been solved.
In fact, we've even featured video of the tailhook functioning just fine.  It is a non-issue.  A little research and TIME is not citing outdated and incorrect "facts".  It just isn't that hard (like, perhaps contacting Lockheed Martin for an update?). Without it, you're perpetrating myths.  And that doesn't help a journalistic reputation at all does it?

And there is more.  Even the apparent research they did was incomplete, causing one to assume the intent of the article wasn't to present a balanced and factual treatment of the F-35 and the program, but to portray the aircraft as a lemon that has been overcome by events.  Neither contention could be further from the truth and simply display the "journalist's" ignorance:
The story is full of misleading statements. It says that the advent of unmanned drones "makes the idea of flying a human through flak and missiles seem quaint," without mentioning that drones can't survive when subjected to flak or missile fire. It cites a former official saying the Air Force refused to consider purchasing the longer-range Navy version of the plane without noting that the Navy version costs more and is poorly suited to Air Force needs. It complains about a supposed doubling in costs while failing to note that the cost of the most common version has fallen in each successive production lot, and is on track to match that of the legacy F-16 fighter at the end of the second Obama Administration. It asserts the high-tech helmet worn by F-35 pilots is "plagued with problems," without acknowledging that fixes have been found and even without fixes, the helmets are better than anything being used today.
Again, we've reported that for the most part, the helmet problems are fixed.  They're still working on the night vision acuity, but it's an engineering problem, not a design problem.  It will be fixed. Both latency and jitter have been solved. 

The state of journalism today is abominable.  Instead of informing, we see publications like TIME advocating a position based on dated, false, incorrect and incomplete information.  It is either pure laziness or the result of an agenda.  I'll leave it to you to decide.


Monday, February 18, 2013

F-35A successfully completes wing flutter testing

Another important milestone has been accomplished via the F-35 test program:
An F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing aircraft, known as AF-1, completed its final test mission for clean wing flutter recently at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Flutter testing was conducted to ensure the jet"s structure could withstand various aerodynamic loads verifying the F-35Aís design. The mission, flown by Maj. Ryan "Gunner" Reinhardt, marks the conclusion of three years of testing that now allows the F-35A to proceed with tests continuing to expand its flight envelope and validate predictions in real-world scenarios. The testing demonstrated the F-35 is clear of flutter, at speeds up to 1.6 Mach and 700 knots with weapon bay doors open or closed, critical to performing its combat mission. Data collected proves the F-35A flight dynamics maintains a large margin between its designed airspeed and airspeeds where possible flutter could occur. 
Note the important points - "clear of flutter" at spec.  And, "proves the F-35A flight dynamics" in terms of its design.

And, just as important - successful completion of the wing flutter testing clears the F-35A "to proceed with tests continuing to expand its flight envelope and validate predictions in real-world scenarios."

One would logically assume that given it's performance in the wing flutter testing, the F-35A will do well in tests that "expand it's flight envelope".


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

F-35: Sequestraition - a disaster for the military and F-35

I assume it isn't any secret, given the unilateral cut of $500 billion to defense by the administration last year, that sequestration, which would cut an additional $500 billion, would be a disaster, both to the military as a whole and the F-35 program specifically: 
The U.S. Air Force will have to curtail its orders for Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet, restructure a $52 billion tanker contract with Boeing Co and reduce its flying hours by 18 percent if lawmakers do not avert impending across-the-board spending cuts, the service told Congress on Wednesday.

The Air Force, in a draft presentation to Congress, said it faced shortfalls of $1.8 billion in war funding and $12.4 billion overall if Congress does not forestall the cuts, known as sequestration, which are due to take effect on March 1.

The impact of sequestration would be exacerbated, the Air Force said, if Congress did not pass a budget for the current fiscal year and stuck with the stop-gap spending measure currently in place, known as a "continuing resolution," or CR. "Without substantial reprogramming flexibility, a year-long CR and sequestration disrupts modernization programs" and means a delay in getting weapons into the hands of troops, according to the presentation, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

It cited several examples, including expected reductions in the number of F-35 purchases, the need to renegotiate a big contract with Boeing for new refueling planes, and a delay in a new version of the MQ-9 Reaper drone built by privately held General Atomics.
This is certainly something that would badly hurt our military readiness, already suffering from over 10 years of war, worn out equipment and cuts in personnel levels.  Most of the fat is fairly much gone.  Start cutting and slowing down flying hours and future programs, and we begin to cut into muscle and bone.

And that means lives in the future - American lives.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

F-35: Costs continue to come down - as projected

As has been stated here any number of times, it is a matter of simple economics:
As the Canadian government assesses alternatives to the Lockheed Martin F-35 for its next generation of fighters, mainly to address concerns about unit costs, Lockheed Martin announced it has managed to reduce the cost of an aircraft in “combat configuration” by 50 per cent, through supply chain and production line streamlining.

“When I hear things like the F-35 cost is increasing, nothing could be further from the truth,” said Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s vice-president of F-35 program integration and business development, during a Feb. 8 teleconference.

He said the fifth stage of low-rate initial production (LRIP5) had yielded a unit cost 13 per cent below the $67 million, which was the official U.S. government estimate on orders placed in 2017 for aircraft to be delivered in 2020. The reduced cost worked out to just over $58 million, and includes the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, as well as all the pods and sensors required for operations. Moreover, the LRIP5 price was some 50 per cent below LRIP1 aircraft.

Asked how that had been achieved, O’Bryan told Canadian Skies that Lockheed Martin and its suppliers had been “really driving down the learning curve” from lessons learned from legacy fighters such as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 eagle, the F-18 and its own F-22 Raptor.

“We more efficiently put the airplane together, we more efficiently put the supply chain together, and we drive down the price,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do that and continue to add volume. We’re able to absorb the overhead rates, if you will, and we’re able to amortize that overhead . . . over a larger quantity of airplanes.” 
Production efficiencies and volume lead to lower prices.  The over-hyped "sticker shock" was a device used to try to ignore the laws of economics in an attempt to kill the program.   If you want examples of what not to do, just take a look at the F-22 and B-2 projects.  Then consider this:
The B-2 bomber, developed and produced in the 1980s, is the textbook case of poor management. Attempting to cut costs, planners reduced the buy from 132 to 21, driving up the unit price to $2 billion per copy. The result was a bomber that the military was reluctant to use. “If it does badly, and it crashes, you’d have a $2 billion smoking hole in the desert, which could be a bit embarrassing,” one Air Force official explained. 

Should such a thing happen to the F-35, it would be the third advanced program to be curtailed with huge consequences to the men and women in the field.  Yes, stop the program short of its projected output and each aircraft will cost more.  But the opposite is obviously also true. That's how laws of economics work. 

Somehow, most critics never seem able to quite wrap their heads around this truth.


Monday, February 11, 2013

F-35: The price of cutting the program is more expensive than the program

Retired Marine Corps Brig Gen. Stephan Cheney has his say about the F-35. He makes the case that it is critical to our military's future. He also says:
The F-35 has had schedule delays and cost overruns, for which there are a number of causes. Chief among them is concurrency, the practice of moving forward with production before development and testing is complete. As a result, new planes may roll off the assembly line already in need of significant retrofitting – an unintended consequence of the plan to field the aircraft quickly and efficiently.

 For many, the solution to the F-35’s rising costs and technical setbacks is to cut back or even cancel the program. This is the kind of knee-jerk reaction we must avoid. We must weigh consequences, costs, and alternative solutions, all in the light of strategic requirements rather than jumping to conclusions. 
I disagree with one aspect of his defense of the F-35.  Concurrency costs are not "an unintended consequence" of the plan to field the aircraft quickly.  They are, in fact, planned costs, and they've come in under budget so far as we reported here.   There are nothing at all "unintended" about those costs. They are anticipated - the trade off - for fielding the aircraft more quickly. The trick, which apparently they're accomplishing so far, is to spend less than you budget.

But his other point is spot on.  Every program - every program - has teething problems.  There isn't a single one that proceeds according to plan right out of the gate.  So while the program did indeed have it's ups and downs in the beginning, it seems to have reached its stride if last year is any indication. The testing program stayed ahead of plan for the year.

The reason the "knee-jerk" reaction gets more attention than it should is because of the fiscal mess the government finds itself in.  And we have precedent for cutting aircraft programs - look at the B-2 and F-22 programs.  But those cuts have left us dangerously vulnerable as technology and capabilities advance past the point that 4th generation fighters can compete.

Those that understand this particular truth keep sounding the warning klaxon about the danger of cutting the number of F-35s, or heaven forbid, cancelling the program.  At the moment we're barely keeping up with the power curve.  Cancel or curtail it and we condemn those young pilots of the future with inferior equipment even as we put them in harm's way.

There are some things that must be paid for - this program is one of them.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Video: The F-35's year in review

Here's a nice video reviewing the progress of the F-35 program for 2012 to close the week out with:


Thursday, February 7, 2013

F-35: The demonization of stealth

Found a good article that addresses something I've noticed as well when critics get cranked up about the F-35.  The desire to make you think that a) stealth is all the F-35 offers that's new and b) that stealth really isn't that big of a deal.

Of course, they're wrong on both counts.  Paul Manson focuses his critique in Canada, but his arguments aren't about just the Canadian debate, but the debate everywhere.
In the recent furor over the F-35 one casualty stands out as having serious implications for national security. Stealth, a widely-publicized attribute of the F-35, has been downplayed, denigrated, ridiculed, and attacked to the point where Canadians can be forgiven for believing that it is an unnecessary and costly feature of the aircraft, or indeed of any aircraft eventually selected to replace the CF-18.

That is unfortunate. Setting aside the political dimensions of the situation—which are many—a compelling argument can be made for the inclusion of stealth technology in Canada’s next fighter aircraft. Although it is a complex matter, there are two basic arguments in favour of stealth, and both are significant. They are mission effectiveness and pilot survivability.
He is, of course, right on the money.  However the point to be made is that stealth is but one tool in the F-35's toolbox.  As has been said here many times, it does not define the F-35.

But as Manson points out, one of the techniques used by critics is to attempt to denigrate it's importance even while purposely trying to define the F-35 by stealth only.

It's an old and effective way to mislead - and that's precisely what this sort of "demonization" does.  The F-35 is a fighter with cutting-edge advanced capabilities which also happens to be a stealth, or preferably "low observable" aircraft.  And it should be remembered that making it low observable does indeed increase mission effectiveness and pilot survivability over all 4th generation fighters.

Seems most would consider both of those positive accomplishments, wouldn't you say?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

F-35: Concurrency costs less than expected

This possibly could come as a tremendous surprise, but it appears the critics were wrong with their high cost estimates on concurrency:
Lockheed Martin expects concurrency costs associated with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to go "significantly downward" with the release of the Joint Program Office's (JPO's) estimates later in the year, a company official told IHS Jane's on 1 February.

The latest cost estimates of retrofitting modifications onto production aircraft already built will be released by the JPO in its Selected Acquisition Report later in 2013, subject to the budget first being finalised, and these will be far less than figures previously reported, Stephen O'Bryan, vice president of F-35 Program Integration and Business Development, said.

By the time that developmental flight testing concludes in 2016, Lockheed Martin will have built 187 F-35 aircraft, of all variants, that will require retrofit improvements to be made. Previous government reports have put the costs associated with concurrency (where system development, testing, and production overlap) at close to USD8 billion. 

Meanwhile, we're miles ahead of where we'd be if we had listened to the critics and worked through a linear development program.


Monday, February 4, 2013

F-35: 100th F-35 on assembly line

A bit of a milestone for the program:
Assembly of the 100th Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is well underway at the F-35 production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

F-35 technicians are in the final phase of building the wings that will be installed on the 100th aircraft known as AF-41. AF-41, a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, is one of more than 89 F-35s in various stages of completion on Lockheed Martin production lines in Fort Worth and Marietta, and supplier locations across the world.

The jet will be delivered to the U.S. Air Force and is slated for pilot training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.