‘YET ANOTHER SWITCH’
Critics say European military purchases are already often dictated less by strategy than by the conflicting needs to reduce deficits while supporting “national champion” defense firms like Britain’s BAE or Italy’s Finmeccanica.
When Britain’s newly elected government began its strategic defense review in 2010, it found itself severely limited by the cost of cancelling expensive pre-agreed contracts such as the purchase of two new aircraft carriers.
Already over budget, costs surged further this year after the government changed its mind twice on whether to fit one of the ships with catapults for conventional aircraft or to simply rely on vertical-takeoff jets.
One key reason costs escalate so fast, defense executives argue, has always been the shifting and excessively complex demands from government and military buyers.
“The war fighter almost always wants to add yet another switch,” said Petters at Huntington Ingalls. “I think it’s our greatest challenge as an industry.”
Former Lockheed chief executive Norm Augustine famously predicted in 1984 that by the middle of the 21st century, a single fighter aircraft could be so expensive that the U.S. Air Force and Navy might only be able to afford a single airframe that they would share between them on alternate days.
Now, with coffers emptying, governments may have no choice but to ask themselves whether something less than “best at all costs” could get the job done.