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The U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command has results from a Booz Allen Hamilton study commissioned to explore whether an alternative ejection seat for the Joint Strike Fighter could produce savings over the life of the aircraft for the service.But the command is neither releasing the study nor discussing its findings. Spokesman say the data is “predecisional” and others suggest the data in the study is proprietary.However, a source familiar with the results suggests that the study did find savings if the Air Force opts to switch away from the Martin Baker US16E design now planned for all three F-35 variants. The alternative is Goodrich’s ACES 5 seat, which is designed from the ACES 2 seat family now operating on F-16, F-15, F-22, B-1 and B-2 aircraft. At issue for the Air Force, which is slated for now to buy 1,763 F-35As, is whether savings can be garnered through a family of systems approach to ejection seats. Some officials suggest that common training, support, maintenance and management of the seats are worth the switch for the service.Adding to the rationale is that Goodrich is the sole remaining ejection seat supplier in the United States. The ACES seat family, originally designed by McDonnell Douglas, was later purchased by Goodrich and is now marketed by that company. Without a ride on the F-35, which many say could be the last manned fighter purchased by the U.S. Air Force, Goodrich’s ejection seat business could be at its end.A USAF decision away from the UK-made Martin Baker seat, however, could be viewed as a snub by the Pentagon against its top tier partner, London.As the largest single buyer of the F-35, an Air Force shift to a new seat is also being seen by some JSF advocates as potentially disruptive during an already precarious time for a program already under the microscope.As the single largest defense program, the Joint Strike Fighter is under extreme financial scrutiny now. And, its sheer size makes it a sure thing for budget cuts; this leaves F-35 advocates scrambling to protect the project as much as possible. The idea of a new seat is seen as rocking the boat at a time with the need for stability is paramount.In the meantime, the U.S. military services are combing their portfolios looking for savings. So, if there are indeed savings to be had by adopting a new seat, the Air Force could offer that up as a way to provide value back to the Pentagon and taxpayer. And, perhaps, it could save from having to cut too many tails out of the buy.
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