Monday, September 30, 2013

F-35: LRIP 7 contract signed

Finalized last week, the contract for LRIP 7, which includes jets for Italy and Norway, was signed:
The Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $3.4 billion contract for 35 F-35 joint strike fighters, a contract that includes the first aircraft orders for Italy and Norway.

The deal is the DoD’s seventh production order for the stealth jets, which have experienced numerous issues throughout their development.

Four jets are for the US Navy, six for the Marine Corps and 19 for the Air Force. Italy’s first three and Norway’s first two conventional F-35A jets are part of the deal, which also includes one short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35B model for the UK.
So, the program continues apace.   And, as we've been noting, there may soon be an order from South Korea.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

F-35: More on the South Korean decision to reopen the bid

As mentioned the other day, it appears that internal pressure may have pushed the government to rethink buying F-15SE's for South Korea:
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Eurofighter’s Typhoon were both in contention for the contract, but both were knocked out when they couldn’t meet budget requirements. Still, as South Korea’s decision date neared, some in the country urged the Defense Ministry to reconsider, including 15 retired Air Force chiefs of staff who urged President Park Geun-hye to buy a stealthier plane capable of striking targets in neighboring North Korea, if necessary.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said officials there ultimately decided their nation needed better air power in line with an international trend to develop “fifth generation” fighters, and said the rejection of Boeing’s bid was made in consideration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and other factors.

“It’s pretty simple,” said defense analyst Loren Thompson at the Washington-area think-tank The Lexington Institute. “You can’t let cost decide the outcome of a weapons competition when national survival is at stake. The F-15 has better price. The F-35 has better performance.”
Let's face it - it's the future.  That's where it is all headed.  And South Korea's airforce knows how powerful the capabilities and interoperability will be among allies (think synergy of the type they've never enjoyed before).

And even though Boeing claims the F-15 is still relevant, one has to wonder:
The company said Tuesday that “interest remains high” from countries in the Middle East and Asia. But defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of The Teal Group said any new orders [for the F-15] would probably be small.

“It’s always been a very limited user pool,” he said, noting that only five countries, including the U.S., fly the F-15. “I don’t think you’re going to add a new user at this point. Maybe the Saudis will buy a few more. Conceivably a few more for Singapore. That’s it.”


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Belgium may be next country to buy F-35

A Reuters report says:
U.S. government officials have briefed the Belgian government about the capabilities of the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 fighter jet, as Brussels prepares to replace its aging fleet of 60 F-16s, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Belgium was considering buying 35 to 55 of the new radar-evading F-35 jets. No decisions are expected until late 2014 at the earliest.
Another looking at the networking capabilities/interoperability for future defense.  If they buy, it will be in the 2020 timeframe (they plan on retiring their F-16s between 2015 and 2025).


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

F-35: South Korea reopens bidding for its new fleet of fighter jets

This doesn't at all come as a surprise to me:
South Korea will restart an $8bn tender for a new fleet of fighter jets after a three-way race between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the Eurofighter consortium failed to produce a winner.

The defence ministry’s announcement on Tuesday followed weeks of domestic controversy. The government, under pressure to meet ambitious social spending pledges, had looked set to choose Boeing’s F-15 jet as a cheaper alternative to Lockheed Martin’s more advanced F-35.

Instead Seoul has reopened one of the year’s most lucrative bidding wars in the defence industry, as it seeks to upgrade its ageing air force with 60 new jets. New bids will be invited and a final decision made within the next year, with a possibility of procuring planes from more than one bidder, said the defence ministry.
If you've read any of the history of the bidding you know that the South Korean Airforce wants the F-35, not the F-15.  And you also know that they have been putting unending pressure on the politicians to get them that aircraft.

So, there's a method to this madness, or so it seems:
Other analysts have continuously cautioned that South Korea’s comments regarding Boeing’s favoured position were not to be taken seriously and were simply a negotiating tool to push the Washington to drop its price of the F-35.

The US is acting as Lockheed Martin’s broker and is keen to sell its most advanced fighter to help reduce its own $1.5tn bill for the aircraft by gaining economies of scale, or having the option of redirecting aircraft earmarked for the US to others. Despite many delays and cost overruns, the F-35 is the Pentagon’s main fighter of the future and it wants a common fleet among its closest allies. 
I think this analysis is pretty spot on and is likely to be how it all turns out.  Note too, that Boeing may not be completely shut out of this.  South Korea may order a mixed fleet, with the F-35 being the predominant aircraft.  But anyone who believed the South Korean bidding process was over when Boeing was announced as the "winner" wasn't paying close enough attention to the internal politics of the situation.  We'll see if the ROK Airforce eventually gets its way.


Monday, September 23, 2013

F-35 to Hill AFB for Block 2B OT&E

Another significant step along the way for the F-35:
The U.S. Air Force's Air Logistics Complex (ALC) at Hill Air Force Base, Ogden, Utah, hosted a ceremony today marking the arrival of the first Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II aircraft to a depot facility.

The aircraft ferried from Nellis AFB, Nev., and will be the first Air Force F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant used in the Block 2B Operational Testing & Evaluation (OT&E) program in 2015. The aircraft will receive a series of structural and systems modifications at Ogden to enhance critical capabilities needed during OT&E testing. This marks the second depot opened this year. In July, the U.S. Marines welcomed the first F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant at Cherry Point, N.C.

"For decades the shared partnership between Lockheed Martin the Ogden ALC team has taken our legacy platforms, the F-16, C-130 and F-22, to the next level, and the same will hold true for the F-35 Lightning II," said Lorraine Martin, F-35 vice president and general manager. "This aircraft was designed from its inception to evolve through modifications and upgrades so that our warfighters can continually outpace their opposition. I look forward to what the future holds for the F-35 and am excited to see that evolution unfold."
Block 2B software is the begining of making the F-35 combat capable.  In fact, it does make it combat capable:
“With Block 2B you can provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM {Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile}, JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition] or GBU 12 [laser-guided aerial bomb]. This allows the plane to become a very capable weapons system,” he said. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dutch order F-35

The order was announced Tuesday:
The Netherlands plans to buy 37 F-35 joint strike fighter planes from Lockheed Martin, the European country announced on Tuesday.

The Dutch government will use the planes, which are made at Lockheed's facility in Fort Worth, to replace their aging F-16 fleet which they expect to phase out by 2023.
Reason?  The Dutch understand the capabilities, both present and future, the decision brings to them:

Read more here:
The F-35 is a well-considered choice for a high-tech, future-oriented air force. From a military operational perspective, the F-35 offers the greatest number of options. It is also the most future-proof option. The aircraft is best able to deal with the proliferation of mobile air defence systems and offers vastly improved observation capabilities, which are of great value in any type of mission. In addition, the aircraft offers great potential for follow-on development, particularly in the area of network-enabled operations. Also important are the possibilities for international cooperation in areas such as training, sustainment and deployment. NATO’s analyses underpin the Netherlands’ decision. 
Future proof.  Follow on development.  Network-enabled operations.  Enhanced possibilities for international cooperation in various areas.

The Dutch also retained the option of ordering more if the price kept coming down and their budget constraints are lifted.  They become the 7th nation to order the F-35.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

F-35: A look into the future

Rebecca Grant has an article in "The Hill" which brings out some important points about the F-35 that are often neglected or ignored by the critics.  But she first quotes USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh:
“Whether you are competing against a single airplane or competing against a system on the ground, [the F-35] allows us to operate in places we could not before and complete the mission we’ve been assigned,” says General Mark Welsh, who should know. He flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and is now Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, says of the F-35: “we need its stealth, we need the advanced electronic warfare sensors, the weapons and perhaps more importantly, the command and control capability that this aircraft brings.”
Consider this scenario:
You are flying combat air patrol near the South China Sea in the 2020s. Suddenly your GPS goes out. Your favorite datalink to other aircraft and ships floods with confusing signals. Your cockpit radar is a grey blur. The air operations center drops offline in a cyber attack.

You are experiencing a first-wave information attack, probably by China.

A RAND report warned China’s military is on track to be far more sophisticated than the Soviet Union ever was. Chinese military doctrine promotes a broad information warfare assault that could yank away traditional American advantages. Cyberspace attacks are part of that, but expect megawatt power jamming, fried satellite communications and disruption of sensors, networks and command and control also. China’s information warfare strategy aims to blind and confuse, stripping U.S. forces of the tremendous information advantage they’ve enjoyed for so long.

Only the F-35 can deal with all of this.

F-16s and F-18s and all the other 1970s-design fighters are marvelous aircraft, but they don’t bring enough advantages to cope with the problems from here on out. Back to you, in the future cockpit. What you need is the F-35’s mix of electronic warfare capability, sensors in the infrared, protected communications and in-flight data links that can’t be hijacked, and other tools to comb through the haze that adversaries will throw at you.
And that is the critical point so many critics want to brush past with their "upgrade cheap '70s era aircraft" argument.  With the technology being developed by ourselves and our potential adversaries, future combat will not at all be the same as what we have experienced to date.  The scenario outlined here is not only probable, but likely should we ever have to go to war with China.  '70s era aircraft are not going to be up to the task.

Certainly if we were the only power in the world developing advanced technology, an argument could be made for the critic's choice - at least for a while.   But we're not.  We know Russia and China are developing 5th generation aircraft.  We also know that China is hip deep in developing an advanced cyber-warfare capability.  Budget-wise, we are indeed in an era where it might seem to be "penny wise" to cut this program - at least in the short run.  But in the long run, we would find out, in a most horrifying way, that it was extraordinarily"pound foolish" to do so.  


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

F-35: Vanity Fair trots out the same old tired arguments

There's an extensive article in Vanity Fair that, as usual, has lots of the old news and critical arguments about the F-35, but also as usual, doesn't quite understand what the F-35 is all about.

Sample paragraph:
Take the matter of stealth technology, which helps an airplane elude detection. Charlie explained that while stealth is helpful for deep-strike bombing missions, where planes must remain unobserved while going “downtown” into enemy territory, it doesn’t serve much purpose in a Marine Corps environment. “The Joint Strike Fighter’s forte is stealth,” he said. “If it’s defending Marines in combat and loitering overhead, why do you need stealth? None of the helos have stealth. The Marines’ obligation is not to provide strategic strike. Look at Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq. Marine aviators did close air support and some battlefield prep as Marines prepared to move in. Not deep strike. Ask the commandant to name the date and time the Marines struck Baghdad in Desert Storm. Sure as hell wasn’t the start of war. Why invest in a stealth aircraft for the Marines?”
No, the F35's "forte" isn't stealth.  I think we've pointed this out any number of times.  It is an advanced capability strike fighter which happens to be stealthy. Very stealthy. And the one operation they don't look at?  Why Libya, of course.  Because with the USS Kearsarge laying offshore, it is quite possible, in a slightly different scenario, that Marine aviation would have flown nothing but SEAD and deep strike missions, at least initially.  As a Marine pilot said:
I would say low observability is a capability set or is an asset to the platform, but the platform as a whole brings a lot by itself. There are situations where low observability will be very important to the mission set that you’re operating in. And then there will be situations where the ISR package or the imaging package that comes with that aircraft, the ability to see things, will be more important; that will change based on the mission set and how you define the mission.
Bingo.  Isn't "Charlie" ("Charlie" a name given to the author's source to keep him anonymous), by fiat, simply limiting the missions that Marine aviation may fly in the future to only a couple?  In a joint environment? That's insular thinking and I don't think that will fly.

If the F-35B's mission was and would only be "defending Marines", he might have an argument that stealth isn't necessary (that assumes, however, that air defenses have been destroyed and we have air superiority or dominance).  But in any number of other very plausible scenarios, it simply doesn't wash.  Stealth has a purpose that is indeed dictated by mission.  What this guy is saying is there is really only one role for Marine aviation in any environment. 


Given that, we're supposed to read all the rest of "Charlie's" guff and nod in agreement?  In essence, as you read this lengthy article, it is just another iteration of the "we need to build cheap, non-stealthy fighters" argument and to heck with keeping a technological edge on our opponents (who, by the way, are working very hard to close that gap - so why don't we help them?).  We even see the usual suspects cited:
Pierre Sprey, who began working in the Pentagon in the 1960s as one of Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids” and spent decades helping design and test two of the airplanes the F-35 is supposed to replace (the A-10 and F-16), contends that, even if designers can deal with latency and jitter, the resolution of the video is “fatally inferior” compared with the human eye when it comes to confronting enemy aircraft.
Pierre Sprey is about as much as "whiz kid" as he was a designer of either jet he continues to contend he helped design.  And anything he has to say about the F-35 simply isn't worth listening too.  But he's apparently sold himself to another critic who doesn't know any better (no real surprise, he listened to "Charlie" didn't he?) and bought his "creds" at face value.  Big mistake.

All this to say that those inclined to not want the F-35 will eat the usual arguments up and those who've looked into the aircraft and "get it" will be shaking their head and wondering how these old tired arguments continue to retain legitimacy in some circles.


Monday, September 16, 2013

F-35: Comparing future Russian and American fighter deployment

Matt, over at the American Innovation blog, begins a series of articles that looks at the future deployment of air assets, specifically the F-35.  He's doing it by comparing the Russian model to the likely American model.  He feels, rightfully so, that critics simply don't take into considerartion a lot of what makes the F-35 unique instead, as I've pointed out, using 4th generation criticism in a 5th generation world.  Or if you like a simpler analogy, comparing cow chips to anvils.

Says Matt:
This article will examine both the Russian and American solutions to maximize the effectiveness of their respective air forces given the variables listed above. From comparing these models, it becomes clear that each approach is uniquely tailored to the host country and calls to eliminate the JSF in favor of mass producing 4.5 generation aircraft, like the Russian model advocates, will be extremely detrimental to maintaining the technological and qualitative edge the USAF currently maintains over many of its competitors. A measure to replace the F-35 with existing 4.5 generation aircraft will not meet current American national security objectives, ignores the strengths and weakness of the American defense industry, and does not account for the robust pilot training programs and initiatives of the United States. Once pilot training, combat philosophies, and the broader combined arms approach is factored in, it becomes apparent that much of the criticism regarding the F-35 is unfounded.
As you might imagine, I agree.  I've pointed out many times that most of the critics, including those he sites, simply don't "get it" ... or don't want too.  That's not surprising in particular, but it is frustrating.  It becomes clear that in order to continue their line of criticism it is necessary for them to ignore what Matt points out.

Read the whole thing and stay tuned for the follow on info.  Matt does an excellent job with his research and narrative.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Forecast: F-35 will likely fare well even in times of tight budgets

An interesting forecast in light of budget constraints everywhere:
Market research and analysis firm Forecast International said the downturn will primarily affect Western-built aircraft, but some segments of military aircraft production are anticipated to grow as Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter and Airbus Military's A400M transport/tanker enter full production.

"According to FI's Platinum 2.0 Forecast System, about 11,940 military aircraft, worth an estimated $480 billion, will roll off production lines during the 2013-2022 period," the company said. "Yearly production will peak at 1,367 units in 2014, drop to a low of 1,095 in 2018, and then rise slightly to 1,122 by 2020 before tapering off for the remainder of the period. 
"Rotorcraft will account for 52 percent of all units produced during the 2013-2022 timeframe, with fixed-wing aircraft accounting for the remaining 48 percent.

"However, in terms of value of production, the more expensive fixed-wing group will outpace the rotorcraft segment by a wide margin over the 10-year timeframe: 72 percent to 28 percent.
Note too the final sentence forecasting for the next 10 years.  Of course that's when, as mentioned in the article, fixed wing aircraft like the F-35 will be in full production.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video: F-35B night landing at sea

There's been precious little in the way of news or even criticism this past week as Syria seems to have stolen all the air in the room.  So let's again enjoy the first night landing of the F-35B on the deck of the USS Wasp.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Claim: F-35 delays supercarrier program... or something

Name it these days, and the critics are likely to try to blame it on the F-35.  Latest example:
Production delays on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 fighter aircraft have contributed to major cost increases and schedule delays for the $43 billion Navy program to build three aircraft carriers, and could eventually lead to pricey retrofits to the initial ship after it's delivered.
And we get paragraph after paragraph of how it's all the F-35 programs fault. Well, until you get to the next to the last paragraph on page 2:
Delays from F-35 production were not the only issue with the supercarrier program noted by GAO. According to the report, in an effort to meet required installation dates, the Navy has produced some shipbboard systems prior to demonstrating their maturity, "a strategy that GAO’s previous work has shown introduces risk of late and costly design changes and rework," the report states. It went on to note that progress constructing the first ship has also been plagued by "inefficient out-of-sequence work driven largely by material shortfalls, engineering challenges and delays developing and installing critical technology systems." 
Oh, so maybe the headline was a bit misleading?  Perhaps, the F-35 won't be the issue? Perhaps the supercarrier program itself will be the issue?  Yeah, but what kind of headline does that make?


Thursday, September 5, 2013

F-35: So are lifetime cost estimates so much garbage?

That's sort of the impression I got reading this article about what Frank Kendall said concerning them:
In late August, Bloomberg News reported that Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 program, estimated that O&S costs have dropped to $857 billion. Previous government estimates have put the lifetime O&S costs at $1.1 trillion, a number proponents of the fifth-generation fighter have said suffers from unfair projections of inflation over a 50-year period.

When asked about that report, Kendall indicated that estimate may be overly optimistic.

“I do expect it to come down. I don’t know if it will come down as much as [Bogdan’s] number, but we’ll take a look at it,” Kendall said. “He has a basis for it. The problem with that number is there are so many different assumptions you can make and too many different ways to calculate it. I don’t want to be overly optimistic and I don’t want to be overly conservative.”

“So, we’ll take a look at the assumptions he made and we’ll look at what CAPE comes up with and see what we want to use as an official estimate.”
"... so many different assumptions you can make and too many different ways to calculate it."

Then what is such a number worth if it is open to that many different assumptions and way's to calculate it?

Legitimate question.  As Kendall points out, at least Bogdan's number uses actual data (his "basis for it").  The rest?

Pretty much assumptions that may or may not be worth much.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

F-35 promises situational awareness advantage

While reading an article about the F-35 amusingly entitled "Test-flying next fighter a glamour job for nerds", I came across this succinct description of another reason why the F-35 is superior to 4th gen fighters:
The pilots say the F-35 will be ready for battle and its pilots well-trained. “It’s probably the easiest aircraft ever flown,’’ Gigliotti said.

Unlike its predecessors, the F-35 is equipped with battlefield data, via integrated sensors and fused missions systems, that can predict an enemy’s next move, the pilots said.

The aircraft’s sensors amplify the user’s “situation awareness,’’ a military theory that dates back to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”

“SA” is also described as the “ace factor” — an observation skill that enables a pilot to anticipate an enemy’s next move a fraction of a second before the enemy can observe or anticipate the pilot’s own move.

“To the pilot, it’s intuitive,” Norman said. “It’s a visual environment ... and the pilot gets all the information they need.”

A special helmet for F-35 pilots displays flight data.

“We don’t have to look down at a dashboard anymore,’’ Bachmann said. “That information is represented on the heads-up display that we have. ... We can see the information in front of us, and we can see it at night, and night looks like day.

“We have cameras and sensors around the plane that can see.” 
Enhanced situational awareness is absolutely critical to success in air combat or any of the other missions the JSF will be carrying out.  Period.  

If a pilot has superior situational awareness his decision loop is much quicker than other pilots who don't have that advantage.  One of the things the F-35 does is fuse the sensor data for the pilot.  In a 4th gen fighter that fusion takes place in the pilot's brain as he monitors all of his systems and puts that intel together in order to make decisions.  Meanwhile the F-35 pilot has already made his based on the fused data presented in the F-35 and acted upon it.  Add the fact that the F-35 pilot also has high speed access to data from other F-35s and systems and it becomes clear which aircraft will enjoy the advantage of enhanced situational awareness and which won't.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Critics really stretching for bad things to say about F-35

This time Syria provided the opportunity for a most asinine point:
As the military is considering what assets it may need to conduct a potential strike on Syria, the most advanced and most expensive weapons system history will be watching from a hanger.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a do-it-all fighter for three service branches that is estimated to cost in total $395.7 billion, is simply not ready to fly into combat, despite promises from the Department of Defense early in the program. 
Anyone know what other aircraft will be sitting this one out?  Yup, the F-22 Raptor.  And likely most other fighters.


Because this is a TLAM show.  That's how, if it happens, the US is likely to strike Syria.  There are 5 destroyers loaded with Tomahawk missiles off the coast of Syria for a reason. 

Funny stuff, but an indicator of how bankrupt the arguments against the F-35 have become.