Thursday, May 16, 2013

A little ground truth in the F-35 debate

A lot of truth in the following short paragraphs from an article about a LM F-35 cockpit demonstration:
The nation’s fighter jets deter the threat of warfare and defend the nation against threats from other aircraft and missile attacks, said Bob Rubino, director of the Navy F-35 program for Lockheed’s Washington operations.

He added that other countries are developing new aircraft similar to the F-35 and F-32. And, quite simply, the nation’s warplanes are old.

Designed in the 1970s, Air Force fighter jets are an average of 24 years old and require a hefty amount of maintenance, he said. “I can probably count on my hand how many people have a car that’s 24 years old,” Rubino said.

More than 90 F-35s have been delivered to date, with 40 more currently being built and another 37 under contract. Thirty were built and delivered last year, a number that Lockheed plans to improve upon by 20 percent in 2013. Lockheed plans to increase its F-35 production rate from the current three aircraft per month to 180 per month by 2018, Rubino said. Once production is in full swing by 2018, the aircraft will cost an estimated $75 million each in today’s dollars. 
Despite all the wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth by critics, this is reality, and the reason this airplane must be built (especially given what was done to the F-22).  As Rubino says, our current fleet is old, soon to be out-dated and would not do particularly well against true 5th generation fighters like those being developed in Russia and China (with the very large caveat that China's fills the bill).  Additionally, the cost - which will be equivalent to a mission capable F-16 or F/A 18 -  will only be "an estimated $75 million" if a) the number promised is the number purchased by the military and b) LM can ramp up to full production (that's where the economies are to be found).

For our military, it reminds me of the old Valvoline commercial - "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later".  The later, in this case, might be priced in the loss of troops to enemy air for the first time since the Korean war.


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