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"If you don't follow the defense business closely, then you can be excused for believing that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is in trouble." So says Washington defense uber-source Dr Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, in a new issue brief on the JSF. "But the F-35 program isn't really all that troubled," he reassures us. That settles it. I feel much better now. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have tagged Dr Thompson as a Lockheed Martin consultant in the past few months, but we know that he would never allow such considerations to color his views. The more serious concern is that the issue brief makes no sense.The first of four points in the brief is that "there is no alternative" to the JSF. Even if that's true (Boeing would disagree in the case of the Navy, and lots of people in the case of export customers) it does not mean that the program is going well. At best, the trashing of alternatives implies that JSF will be continued no matter what, at any cost and on any timescale. But that's not success: with flat budgets, such an outcome will gut US and allied air power. The good doctor's second point is that other programs (like the A400M) are doing worse than the F-35, which is "months behind schedule".What schedule exactly? The F-35 is months, in some respects almost a year, behind the schedule established in May 2008, which was a year later than the 2005 schedule, which in turn was 18 months behind the original schedule that was set in 2001. Next: "The design concept is sound". This statement is broad enough to sound good without meaning a lot. Thompson appears to be suggesting that the F-35 is a low-risk project - but if so, why is it taking so long? And it's exactly where he cites advantages - in building a family of aircraft in large numbers - where the program faces challenges. Finally, "the development strategy is refined". The development team, Thompson says, has learned lessons from the F-22, spent money to reduce risks and used new tools to manage the program. But look at the results. The F-35 has been in full-scale development for just over eight years. At its own eight-year point, by mid-1999, the F-22 had logged 275 flight hours, over twice the F-35's total, supercruised at Mach 1.5, and was preparing for tests at 70 degrees angle of attack - compared to which, the F-35 hasn't made it to baby steps. Neither is there much argument that the F-22 was a bigger step forward in aircraft design than the F-35 - a supercruiser, the pioneer of the F-35's avionics integration, more agile, probably stealthier, and with all-new engines. So I'm a little unclear about what beneficial lessons have been learned.
ar99, loren thompson, jsf
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