Thursday, August 29, 2013

DoD agrees to F-35 engine contract - prices lower

Yes, that's right, the pricing on the engines for the F-35s of LRIP 6 have decreased:
In a statement, the Pentagon said the agreement reflected a continued reduction in the cost of the F-35 engines. It said the price of each of the 32 common configuration engines, which power both the Air Force’s conventional take-off variant of the F-35 and the Navy’s carrier variant, would be about 2.5 percent lower than in the previous order.

The unit prices for the 6 engines that power the Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, were about 9.6 percent lower compared with the previous contract, according to the statement.

“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program and we are working together — in each successive contract — to lower costs for the propulsion system,” said Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon official who runs the F-35 program. 
So we have a 22% drop in the overall cost, a 40% drop in the ALIS and now a 2.5 to 9.6% drop in engine costs depending on the variant.

But, you know, prices won't come down ... or something.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

F-35: Quote of the day

It comes from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh:
As Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh visited airmen in Hawaii and at Kadena AB, Japan, this week, he emphasized that the service is committed to seeing the F-35 program to fruition, as the fifth generation fighter's success has great implications for the Air Force's role in future conflicts. "The F-35 is flying, it is a real thing, and progress is real," he said. Several countries, including Russia and China, are working on fifth generation fighters, he said, and even if the United States does not go to war with these countries, it will inevitably have to confront the military technology they sell to others. Extending the service lives of fourth generation aircraft, and even supplanting the force structure with generation "4.5" fighters, does not solve the problem. "When a fifth generation fighter meets a fourth generation fighter—[the latter] dies," said Welsh. "We can't just dress up a fourth generation fighter as a fifth generation fighter; we need to get away from that conversation," he said. 
Emphasis mine.  It simply stretches credulity to think that aircraft as capable as the 5th generation fighters will be significantly threatened by the old technology of the 4th gen (or even 4.5 gen) fighter.  As we've mentioned here, air warfare is about to change in a revolutionary manner with the full fielding of the family of 5th generation fighters.  Pretending the old standards of air warfare still rule won't change the new reality their fielding will bring, and Welsh understands that.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

F-35: Will 40% drop in ALIS price mean more foreign sales?

Possibly.  However, just as important is the cost savings the new ALIS system will bring to the program as a whole:
Lockheed Martin Corp said it is close to an agreement with the Pentagon for a more portable and 40 percent cheaper version of the operations and logistics system that controls the F-35 fighter, the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program.

Lockheed aims to finalize a contract with the Pentagon's F-35 program office in coming weeks that will pay for development of lighter units to operate the new warplanes when they are deployed or based on ships, company officials told Reuters late on Wednesday.

Couple this with the recently announced 22% drop in the estimated cost of all F-35s over 55 years and you're beginning to see some significant money pared from the program.  It will also give potential foreign buyers a little reassurance that the cost savings promised have a very good chance of coming to fruition.

Of course, these sorts of savings will keep critics up at night since they've essentially been reduced to the 'cost' argument and it isn't cooperating.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

F-35: 22% drop in 55 year cost projection

Bloomberg (pay site) is reporting the following:
A fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighters will cost $857 billion over 55 years to operate and support, 22 percent less than previously estimated, according to the head of the Pentagon office developing the plane.

The new estimate reflects the aircraft’s performance in 5,000 test flights over 7,000 hours, Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Defense Department’s program manager for the F-35, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written answers last month that haven’t been made public until now. “The previous cost estimate did not factor in this new knowledge,” Bogdan said.

Operating costs include expenses from spare parts to repairs and fuel. Officially, the Pentagon’s estimate remains $1.1 trillion, a two-year-old projection developed by the Pentagon’s independent cost-assessment office. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s costliest weapon system, with an estimated price tag of $391.2 billion for a fleet of 2,443 aircraft, up 68 percent from the projection in 2001, as measured in current dollars. The rising costs and troubles in building the plane even as it’s being developed have led to criticism in Congress. This year, lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon test office have said the aircraft is making progress in flight tests and in stabilizing production.

The reduced estimate for operating the planes was among such indications cited by Bogdan in his letter to the lawmakers.
The point, of course, is that the first estimate wasn't using real data in many of its assumptions and estimates.  With the addition of real data, those original assumptions have been proven to be wrong and the estimates of cost to be incorrect as well.

Also in the report:
Bogdan estimated that basic production costs, including engines, for the three variations of the aircraft will fall as much as $35 million per plane by fiscal 2018, when full-rate production is scheduled to begin.

If current trends hold and production rates increase, Bogdan said, the Marine Corps version will fall to $110 million a plane from $153 million under the fifth production contract signed in December. The Navy’s version will drop to $100 million from $140 million and the Air Force’s to $85 million from $120 million, he said.
Or costs will fall to pretty much what the manufacturer promised.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that this new $857 billion number will rarely see the light of day on the critical side of the spectrum.  Just as they like to cite 2008 exercises, they'll likely stick with the $1.1 trillion number as well.  Feel free to apprise them of their error.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Critic: The F-35B is all that is bad about the F-35 ... or something

I've noted any number of times that most of the criticism that you see anymore is warmed over stuff from 2008.  It's as if the intervening years have never occurred.  What that leaves critics with is trying to find a different approach to "freshen" their criticism and make it at least somewhat more relevant than the chorus the usual naysayers spout.

David Axe attempts to do this by going after the F-35B and the Marine Corps as the real problem with the 5th generation fighter.  If it hadn't been for their insistence that they have a STVOL jet, well, everything might have been okay ... or something.  Per Axe, Guadalcanal was the point at which the Marines realized that they needed the ability to have air support not dependent on the Navy.  So:
The Marines wanted a “jump jet” capable of taking off from these helicopter decks with a short rolling takeoff and returning to land vertically, lighter because of all the fuel it had burned.

Besides launching from amphibious ships, the new planes were touted to fly in support of ground troops from so-called “lilypads” —100 foot concrete patches supposedly quickly installed near the front lines.
The concept became known to engineers as Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) or Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL). It was subject to extensive, crash-plagued experimentation throughout the early years of the jet age — every STOVL or V/STOL prototype from 1946 to 1966 crashed. “USMC interest in a working V/STOL attack aircraft outstripped the state of aeronautical technology,” Kristy pointed out.
Enter the Harrier or AV8B.  Axe declares it a "disaster":
But the Harrier, so appealing in theory, has been a disaster in practice. Fundamentally, the problem is one of lift. A plane taking off vertically gets no lift from the wings. All the flight forces must come from the downward engine blast. Forcing the motor to do all the work results in three design drawbacks: a big, hot engine with almost no safety margin; an unsafe airframe that must be thinly built with tiny wings in order to keep the plane’s weight less than the down-thrust of the engine; and minimal fuel and weapons load, also to save weight.
So how did the "disaster" perform in combat? Uh, not too badly. In fact, the UK's SeaHarriers (SHAR) were quite impressive:
The Navy’s SHARs went on to score 20 kills (none of which was achieved using the famous trick of stopping the plane midair by pointing the jet nozzles slightly forward inducing a 2g deceleration) to no loss in air-to-air combat. However, two were lost to ground fire (radar guided 30mm AA and a Roland missile) and a further two were lost to accidents during the conflict.

The kill-to-loss ratio does not reflect the skill and braveness of the Argentinean pilots who had to face a truly astonishing fighter, which had remarkable slow flight characteristics, even without the thrust vectoring, and a superior radar.
Of course, in Mr. Axe's world, the Harrier has to be a "disaster" so one can imply the F-35B is a disaster as well.  The implication is that the concept (STVOL) is the problem regardless of the plane.  And Axe then goes on to attack the concept and the strategy that drives it.  Of course, on the strategy front, he chooses to live in 1991 in order to claim his attack on the strategy has relevance:
In the 1991 Gulf War, the front-line concrete lily pads never showed up, so the jump jet had to fly from distant full-size bases or assault ships. With their very limited fuel, they were lucky to be able to put in five or 10 minutes supporting Marines on the ground — and they proved tremendously vulnerable to machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles. 
Again, the Falklands experience or the much more recent Libyan experience are totally ignored for a 100 hour "war".  There's a good reason why the "lillypads" didn't show up - given the Marine Corps mission at the time, they weren't necessary.  As for Libya, there's a reason Axe ignores it. Coming off the deck of the USS Kearsarge, the Harriers did precisely what the strategy called for them to do:
The key point is that the sea base, which in effect is represented by the ARG, can provide a very flexible strike package. Given their proximity to shore, the Harriers could operate with significant sortie rates against enemy forces. Not only could they come and go rapidly, but the information they obtained with their LITENING pods could be delivered to their ship and be processed and used to inform the next strike package. Commanders did not need a long command and control or C4ISR chain to inform combat. This meant that Muammar Qadhafi’s ground forces would not have moved far from the last positions Harriers noted before the new Harriers moved into attack positions.15

This combination of compressed C4ISR and sortie rates created a deadly combination for enemy forces and underscored that using sea bases in a compressed strike package had clear advantages over land-based aircraft still several hours from the fight and dependent on C4ISR coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. One more point about the ARG’s operations is that the Osprey and Harrier worked together closely to enhance combat capabilities. One aspect of this was the ability of the Ospreys to bring parts and support elements to the Harriers. Instead of waiting for ships to bring parts, or for much slower legacy rotorcraft to fly them out, the Osprey, traveling at 300 miles per hour, could bring parts from land bases to keep up with the Harrier’s operations tempo.
What this capability does is make a ship like the Kearsarge into capital ship.  And, most importantly it allows a flexibility we badly need.  Add the F-35B's capabilities and it ups the game even more.  For instance:
And when “Aegis becomes my wingman” or “the SSGN [guided missile submarines] becomes the ARG fire support” through the F-35 C4ISR-D systems, a combat and cultural revolution is both possible and necessary. Basing becomes transformed as allied and U.S. capabilities become blended into a scalable presence and engagement capability. Presence is rooted in basing; scalability is inherently doable because of C4ISR enablement, deployed decisionmaking, and honeycomb robustness. 
Quite a generational "value added" to those who actually understand the role of the F-35.  An incredible capability which seems to unknown to Mr. Axe.  He, apparently, would have us forgo this dramatic improvement in flexibility and increased capability for old technology and the status quo.

Not very forward thinking. It's a good thing he watches wars instead of actually participating in them.

More tomorrow.


Monday, August 19, 2013

F-35: Critics still don't realize that F-35 isn't just a newer 4th gen fighter

Sometimes you stumble across something written that is so poorly done that you have to respond on the off chance that someone would actually take it seriously.  That would be the case with a piece done by someone named David Axe at a site entitled "War is Boring" (Axe tells us he "goes to war so we don't have to", when in fact he goes and watches war, so we don't have to.  It's a bit like a baseball fan claiming he goes and plays baseball when his participation is limited to sitting in the stands watching). 

I've mentioned on numerous occasions how thin the gruel is that critics are offering these days.  Well in the case of Mr. Axe, he's managed to redefine "thin".

His bias is apparent from the beginning and it is also apparent, as one reads further into his article, that he, like many critics, has decided that the F-35 is simply a newer version of the F-16 or F/A 18.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But it is from this false premise that he and other critics base their criticism.  They seemingly have no concept of what the F-35's advanced capabilities bring to the 5th generation or how it will change the concept of the role of future fighters and shape our future strategy.  None.

As a consequence, you get 4th generation thinking that blurts out silliness like this:
Owing to heavy design compromises foisted on the plane mostly by the Marine Corps, the F-35 is an inferior combatant, seriously outclassed by even older Russian and Chinese jets that can fly faster and farther and maneuver better. In a fast-moving aerial battle, the JSF “is a dog … overweight and underpowered,” according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.
Face it, when you're reduced to quoting Winslow Wheeler as a major source, you've effectively screwed any credibility you might have had.  Wheeler is a budget guy.  He knows about as much concerning fighter aircraft and design as does Axe.  And if you remember correctly, Wheeler said that we'd not see reductions in the price of the F-35 in future orders.  He was wrong.  If he can't even get it right in the area of his supposed expertise, why in the world would one even bother listening to him when he spouts off about things he knows little to nothing about?

Axe then compounds the crediblity problem by introducing another "source" which he obviously wants you to believe is credible as well:
“The Harrier was based on a complete lie,” said Pierre Sprey, an experienced fighter engineer whose design credits include the nimble F-16 and the tank-killing A-10. “The Marines simply concocted it because they wanted their own unique airplane and wanted to convert amphibious ships into their own private carriers.”
Pierre Sprey has never "designed" any fighter aircraft.  Ever. He was a PA&E guy. He has no credibility whatsoever to those who actually know his background:
While working on the F-X, Boyd met Pierre Sprey, a weapons system analyst on the OASD/SA staff, whose background was similar to [Alain] Enthoven’s but much less distinguished. By his own account, Sprey was a dilettante with an engineering degree but no military experience. After graduation from Yale, Sprey became a research analyst at the Grumman Aircraft Corporation for space and commercial transportation projects. He came to OSD/SA in 1966, where he declared himself an expert on military fighter aircraft, despite his lack of experience. Sprey admitted being a gadfly, a nuisance, and an automatic opponent of any program he was not a part of. 
Or, essentially, ignore whatever the man says.  He has no experience to back his pontifications.  And, as in the case of the M1 tank, of which he was also a critic, his criticisms were essentially unfounded.

So what is it these people and others like them don't seem to get?  This isn't a fighter like any other fighter we've ever built.  It isn't an evolutionary fighter, it's a revolutionary fighter.   And the missing piece that the critics never mention is well defined here:
The principle of operational versatility applies in spades when it comes to the F-35. The F-35 is wrongly thought of as a strike-fighter replacement for the F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B Harrier II. It is that, but also much more—its advanced sensors, when networked together, will eventually substitute for the Navy and Air Force fleets of very expensive (and very in-demand) surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control aircraft. When used in combination with munitions-carrying drones, small formations of F-35s will be able to conduct large-scale strikes that remain the purview of large, manned bombers.
And much more, like the ability to integrate with the Aegis system:
Of central relevance not only to the program but to global security, Aegis coupled with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will provide unprecedented modular flexibility at sea for U.S. command authority and our allies as they shape responses to inevitable future crises.
Yes, that's right, Aegis.  Axe relies on a limited and outdated RAND simulation in 2008 on which to base his conclusion that the F-35 is a dog.  Of course, the simulation apparently never considered this:
Upcoming tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradable weapon systems. Combining Aegis with the F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. Together, the F-35 and Aegis greatly expand the defense of land and sea bases. 
Name a 4th gen fighter which has these capabilities?  There are none.  Had this capability been mirrored in the 2008 RAND simulation, what would have been the outcome?  Probably much different that the claimed outcome.

When you consider these sorts of capabilities, suddenly "can't climb, can't turn, can't accelerate",  even if true,  seems relatively unimportant, doesn't it?   This isn't a 4th generation fighter operating on its own and it isn't going to be engaging in classic dog fights.  In fact, it will be the fighter, given its capabilities, which will likely get the first shot (or Aegis will) regardless of whether it can climb, turn or accelerate.  And in modern aerial combat, that's usually the decider. 

I'll be looking at a few of Axe's arguments, such that they are, over the next couple of days.  But suffice it to say, the gruel critics are passing out now is even more thin than it has been in the past.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

F:35 South Korean next generation fighter bidding ends tomorrow

An update on the bidding for South Korea's next generation of fighters. has it. The three day process is to be concluded tomorrow. Some insight:
The [South Korean] Air Force is keen to purchase the F-35 to balance military power across the Asia-Pacific region considering its stealth capability. Currently, China is developing stealth fighters and Japan plans to acquire a total of 42 F-35s.
So they recognize the value of stealth technology.  Even Boeing understands it to the point they're willing to change the design of the F-15.  That should tell you all you need to know about the critics who blather on about the unimportance of low observability aircraft:
In order to catch up with the F-35 stealth jet, the Chicago-based Boeing “conceptually” patched up its F-15 Strike Eagle with a few features for low-observable capability. What it has proposed are conformal weapons bays (CWB), radar-absorbent material and canted vertical tails ― although they still cannot stop critics from casting doubt on the functionality of these.

According to DAPA, the introduction of twin vertical tails set outward at 15 degrees requires direct Korean investment. “The Silent Eagle is so named because of its stealth function, but without tilting the vertical tails, the aircraft will not be able to reduce its radar cross section (RCS) from the side,” Shin In-kyun, president of the Korea Defense Network said. “The F-15 is an aircraft whose RCS is high along with the Sukhoi Su-27.
Once again, no matter how hard you try, if low observability hasn't been engineered into the airframe from the beginning, all you can do is try to take marginal steps to lower the RCS.  But it will never be equal too or superior too an aircraft which was engineered to be LO.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cutting-edge F-35 pushs innovation for the future

One of the intangibles of any cutting-edge development program involving new technology is how the technological development eventually comes to benefit everyone.

Battery technology has a way to go before it can fulfill the role many would like to see it fulfill, i.e. powering systems and vehicles safely, at low cost and for extended periods of time.  The F-35 is one project that will help further that area of technological growth, specifically, Lithium-ion batteries:
Saft will produce a state-of-the-art, high-power battery that provides the back-up power for electro-mechanical actuation for the flight control surfaces. The battery will provide in-flight emergency backup power to the aircraft’s critical systems.

Each ship set consists of one JSF 270V and one JSF 28V battery per aircraft. As part of the contract, Saft will meet More Electric Aircraft (MEA) industry objectives that aim to optimize aircraft performance and reduce gas emissions.
One of the things critics like to claim is nothing of any worth comes from building war gear.  Of course that's nonsense.  Much has come from the state-of-the-art technological development that the military does through contractors that finds its way into every day life (see GPS for instance).  To pretend otherwise is just deliberate ignorance.   You had better believe that successful development, improvement and deployment of these batteries will find its way into the civilian market and improve everyone's lives.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Video: F-35 high speed flyby

I thought a nice video would be a good palate cleanser.  Here's a high speed flyby with an F-35C:


Monday, August 12, 2013

F-35: Critics rehash same tired arguments

I stumbled upon an article in the Huffington Post that was highly critical of the F-35 program.  But a quick skim of the article revealed the same old stuff - dated opinion, cliche and partial facts.  Even the title wasn't original or fresh - "The Massive Government Train Wreck Nobody's Really Talking About".

"Train Wreck?"  That's so 2009.  Certainly anyone who has followed the program understands that it, like every program, had its problems early on.  But it has been pretty clear that the program has righted itself, testing has gone very well, it has met its milestones, production costs are coming down and we even have IOC dates set.

Hardly a "train wreck".  But then when you are committed to a certain line of reasoning or want to convey a certain opinion, such exaggerations are permissible,  even when it is clear that the current program is anything but that.

And, of course, there is this ancient canard:
An exclusive report from Reuters, published on March 29 2012, indicated that the total cost to build, develop and operate the planes over the next half-century would be $1.5 trillion.

What's $1.5 trillion? Well, even if you reduce the figure to take into account inflation, it's enough to cover any estimate of the outstanding student loan debt in America or patch up much of our the nation's aging infrastructure. 
Two points.  One, as pointed out many times, this is an apples and anvils comparison.  Defense is a Constitutional responsibility of the United States government.  It is required to both fund and field the best defense available.  What its responsibility is in the area of "student loans" is one that has been assumed for political reasons and it really has no business involving itself.  Infrastructure, on the other hand, was, until recently, mostly the responsibility of the states.   We talk about mission creep in the military - well, this author compares a real mission of the US government to an assumed one.  It's certainly not about saving money, which is clear - he just wants to spend it on other stuff.

Secondly, he never mentions that the $1.5 trillion cost is simply unsupportable as a valid number.  In fact, many of the assumptions that went into that cost estimate are no longer operative. Plus, it assumes inflation over a 50 year period which is nothing more than a guess at best.  More importantly, the F-35 program is the first program ever to have seen a cost put to it over a 50 year time frame.  As others have pointed out, if we looked at the B-52 fleet's total cost over half a century it would be just as costly.  And then there is the cost of 11 carrier battle groups over 50 years.  Or our strategic missile defense over the same time period.  

This is a propaganda point that is meaningless in reality.  We've always paid the price of having a premier defense.  This program is no different in that regard.

He then spends a bit of time telling us not to be too impressed with the falling price of the plane, because if you are, you are likely not going to believe the rest of the dated stuff he's tossing about.  Of course he never mentions the fact that costs are headed exactly where the manufacturer said they would.

Finally, we get to the real sigh-worthy reason he thinks we ought to scrap the F-35:
At the end of the day, constant investment in military technology is at best a crutch and more likely a self-fulfilling prophecy. While the current debate surrounding the F-35 program mostly involves the most cost-effective way to purchase the jets, perhaps our focus should be on how we can create a world where no country feels compelled to own 2,400 state-of-the-art killing machines. 
Well, Mr. Treadway, we're not going to see a world like that anytime soon.  And anyone who believes that skimping on defense is going to move us toward that idealistic hope is simply a fool.  These "killing machines" are designed to save lives - the lives of your countrymen.

And that doesn't come cheap.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Marines about to begin round two of F-35B sea trials

You recall the F-35B's first round of ship trials in 2011.  Well round two is about to start:
Lockheed Martin's F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft recently completed its 500th vertical landing. The aircraft that completed the achievement also accomplished the plane's first vertical landing in March 2009 at Naval Air StationPatuxent River, Md.

The landing comes just as Lockheed is readying for sea trials scheduled to begin next week for the F-35B variant onboard the USS WASP. The test is the second of three aimed and showing the F-35B's shipboard abilities and a key to declaring the F-35's initial operating capability for the Marine Corps in 2015.
Remember, the Marines have the earliest IOC date.

So on we go ...


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

F-35: Australia sees price of F-35s drop

I hate to continue to beat this drum, but if you recall, this was one of the main points of criticism. Critics of the program claimed that the manufacturer's promise of dropping prices was a myth and that prices would remain sky high regardless of production numbers.

You can put the stamp of "not true" on that one.
US Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who heads the JSF acquisition program for the US military, said improved affordability was critical to success of the program.

"These agreements are proof the cost arrow is moving in the right direction," he said in a statement.
He's talking about LRIPs 6 and 7 in which Australia's first two aircraft are included.  Their cost?
While a final price hasn't been disclosed, an estimated four per cent price reduction means Australia is likely to pay around $US101 million ($A112 million) per fighter.
And, as production continues to ramp up?
General Bogdan has suggested the average cost for the Australian JSFs will be about $US90 million ($A100 million) each.
The point, of course, is the critics have yet again been shown to be wrong.   Not that anyone should be particularly surprised by that.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

F-35: Cancel the program? Probably not

The rumor mill is in full swing with all sorts of interesting rumors flying about.  In the wake of DoD approval of LRIPs 6 and 7, we now have some in the media claiming the Pentagon is considering cancelling the F-35 program in order to weather the 500 billion 10 year defense spending cut.
In a briefing held on July 31, Pentagon officials laid out a number of ways in which Pentagon would deal with $500 billion in automatic budget cuts required over the next ten years. Defense secretary Chuck Hagel, however, didn’t disclose the option of scrapping the fighter to the reporters during the briefing. He said Pentagon may have to choose between a decade- long holiday from modernizing its technology and weapon system and a much smaller force.
Or, in other words, "we read between the lines and have concluded he was talking about the F-35 program".

While I'm sure that it was probably an "option" some action officer in the Puzzle Palace appended to any study they did of ways to survive the cuts, that's an action officer's job - to put all the options, whether really viable or not, on the list.  It is then up to leadership to winnow those options down to those which are indeed viable.  Oh, and another suggestion that the F-35 program really isn't on the line?
More than 2,400 manufacturing jobs could be added at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth over the next several years if production ramps up as expected on the F-35 joint strike fighter, officials say.

Currently, Lockheed Martin has more than 10,000 employees working on the F-35 program, including about 1,600 production workers involved in building the jet fighter at the company’s west-side plant.

In six years, the company expects that the program’s “ramped-up rate” will require an additional 2,417 workers to manufacture more than 150 fighters a year. That’s four times the current rate of production of three aircraft per month. 
Lockheed is a pretty careful company not prone to releasing information unless they're pretty sure it's accurate or probable.  Apparently they are privy to enough information about their future with the F-35 that they're talking about adding jobs -- good, high paying, technical manufacturing jobs in a time when those are sorely needed.

Then consider that the US has 9 allied nations who too are depending on the F-35 and committed to its purchase.

Hardly a scenario that screams "cancel" is it?


Monday, August 5, 2013

F-35 v. S-400

Over at the American Innovation blog, Matt does a an outstanding job of discussing how one would have to go about defeating China's anti-access strategy, a large part of which would be anchored by the S-400 (SA-21 "Growler") surface-to-air missile system.  It is a well researched and well presented effort.  Here is the salient part concerning why the 5th generation of aircraft are critical to any future strategy that involves A2 strategy given the sophistication of SAM systems these days:
The deployment of the S-400 would be problematic for the United States as 4th generation aircraft would be unable to safely operate near China (which is already the case but to a lesser extent with the S-300 PMU2 and HQ-9) but the USAF maintains the capability to overcome the S-400 with stealth aircraft. The LSR-B, B-2, F-22, and F-35 should all be stealthy enough to destroy S-400 sites if equipped with the right munitions. For example, the F-35 is cited to have a frontal radar cross section around .0015m^2 and a rear of .01m^2 (Global Security, 2011). Thus, the F-35 would be able to approach the 92N2E Grave Stone without being detected until 40 nautical miles (after weapons release the F-35 will have to turn around exposing the larger rear rcs hence 40 nm not 20 nm). If the F-35 is equipped with the GBU-39/B small diameter bombs (SDB) which have a stand-off range in excess of 60 nautical miles (Boeing, 2013), the F-35 is more than capable of getting the job done. However, the F-35 would be unable to use JDAMs to destroy S-400 sites as the stand-off range is insufficient. The Raptor is considerably stealthier than the F-35 with a frontal radar cross section of .0001m^2 with a side and rear of between .01-.001m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2011). Thus, the Raptor might be able to employ JDAM's against S-400 sites if it drops the 1,000 pound JDAM's from altitude and at maximum supercruise speed of mach 1.5-1.8 which gives a standoff range of at least 24 nautical miles (Hanlon, 2006). However, using SDB's would likely be preferred as it gives a much greater margin of safety for F-22 pilots. 
Unless we plan to cede the air near China to China, we had better have aircraft that can operate in the environment they're steadily building.  Anything less and we may as well dump the "Pacific Pivot", or rename it the "Part of the Pacific Pivot".


Thursday, August 1, 2013

F-35: With new contract, prices continue to drop

I've pointed out numerous times that full production of F-35s means lower cost F-35s.  The latest contract seems to bear that out.  LRIP's 6 and 7 will see F-35s produced at a lower price than previous LRIPs.  And this is a continuing trend:
[T]he company says that unit cost of each variant will be reduced by about 4% lot over lot. Based on the pricing targets for LRIP 5, which was inked late last year — $105 million for the F-35A, $113 million for the F-35B and $125 million for F-35C — the per-unit targets can be projected for these new LRIP 6 and 7 jets.

The F-35A variant, designed for conventional takeoff and landing (and the version with greatest appeal to international partners) is projected to cost $100.8 million in LRIP 6 and $96.8 million in LRIP 7. This is the first time since the program began production that the projected unit cost will be under $100 million.

The F-35B, optimized for short takeoff and vertical landing, is expected to cost $108.5 million in LRIP 6 and $104.2 million in LRIP 7.

Finally, the F-35C, designed with a larger wing for aircraft carrier operations, is expected to cost $120 million in LRIP 6 and another $115.2 million in LRIP 7. 
So in LRIP 7, the CTOL variant goes below $100 million.  This is the cost trend LM told DoD that production would take (if the pipeline was kept full and the full buy was made) and critics claimed would never happen.