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  • F-35 Proponents Say The Darndest Things
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:00 PM on Dec 30, 2011

    As a distant Auld Lang Syne steals on our ears, it's time to look back on December's crop of statements by Joint Strike Fighter supporters.

    First up is Dr Loren Thompson, consultant for Lockheed Martin. In a piece for Forbes, Thompson notes correctly that Washington has flushed away hundreds of billions of dollars on canceled weapons. It seems to be a warning to not do this sort of thing again -- and what program might he be thinking of?  Thompson sees the falling axe as "devaluing past investments":
    A promising Airborne Laser project for shooting down hostile ballistic missiles at the speed of light was effectively terminated by Secretary Gates in 2009 after 13 years and billions of dollars in development outlays. 
    Promising exactly what? It had become obvious, several years before the program was cancelled, that a chemical laser was not the answer for any combat mission.

    The F-22, says Thompson,

    "at least delivered 187 very capable aircraft before biting the dust — half of the service’s operational requirement — but as with other canceled programs, failure to agree on requirements and stick to a plan resulted in money being spent wastefully."

    Without being persnickety, F-22 has delivered 40-some training and test aircraft, 60 sorta-combat-capable jets, and 80-some that have the new radar that should enable the aircraft do some of what was hoped for in the early 2000s -- after more billions have been spent. Wastefully or otherwise.

    Thompson and I would probably agree that part of the problem is the billion-dollar incentives for contractors to promise to do what the customer wants, for the price the customer wants to pay. And that another root cause is that the customer's program managers get promoted for getting programs started, so they have no incentive to question the rosy pre-Milestone B promises.

    But when overruns -- or rather, underestimates -- are endemic, the choices are to further bloat the acquisition budget (impossible); to under-fund everything, stretching schedules and increasing costs; or to refer the least healthy patients to Dr Kevorkian. But once a program is in a full-blown time/money overrun, throwing unlimited funding at it is like putting out a fire with rocket propellant.

    Speaking of rocket propellant, Robbin Laird of SLDInfo got the fan base excited with a piece for AOLDefense, in which he said this not once, but twice:

    The F-35 is the first aircraft in history with a 360 degree field of vision out to 800 miles, managed by an integrated combat system.

    Now, this is not inaccurate but is missing a whole lot of context. The target detected at 800 miles by the infrared Distributed Aperture System was a Falcon 9 booster. Or more precisely, the 3,000+ pounds of burning LOX and RP coming out of its back end every second. It's 20+ times the size of a DF-31 missile. And there's also a reason that the Missile Defense Agency used a Raytheon MTS-B sensor for its missile-tracking tests: the mission requires the ability to track the target consistently after burnout, which is a different kettle of fish entirely.

    This isn't the only hydrocarbon-related oddness of the month, as Brad Perrett reports:

    The (Japanese) ministry says the F-35A also was the cheapest, because the competing Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet would have needed modification for flying-boom inflight refueling.

    Good grief, nobody has ever done anything like that before. Except they have. In St Louis. 50 years ago. Seriously, does anyone think that the costs of the modification would be a significant fraction of the overall program?

    And from hydrocarbon to carbonfibre, here's Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 business development vice president.

    “With the F-35 they get advanced composite work, automated milling and machining [and] they also get advanced avionics.”

    Well, raise my rent. We know that Japan is way behind the curve on automated machining -- that's why they import so many Detroit-made cars. But if Japanese industry gets all this composite technology, they could end up -- who knows? -- maybe even building complete composite wings for large Boeing transports! Wait, what?

    But does the Japan win herald an emerging Asia strategy? Singapore-based US academic Richard Bitzinger thinks so.

    It was the second win in Asia for the JSF (in 2007, Australia placed an initial order for 24 F-35s).

    Dang, how did we miss that?

    More critically, the JSF could snatch a major deal away from the Europeans to sell 126 new fighter jets to India. In April 2011, after years of testing and evaluation, New Delhi shortlisted the Typhoon and the Rafale... The US countered with an offer to sell the F-35 to the Indians, including possibly the short-takeoff version to operate off Indian aircraft carriers.

    Unmentioned: India wants full technology transfer and domestic manufacture. It is working on co-development of the T-50. The "offer" was not communicated to India, but to Congress, and was actually a statement of willingness to supply information if India asked for it. India has not shown any interest in doing so. 

    However, selling even 15 JSFs to India would mean that the US forces' order would cost nothing at all, according to James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation:

    Every F-35 sold to allies would reduce the Pentagon's purchase price by $10 million per plane.

    Carafano is arguing against pulling back the throttle on the F-35 production ramp, as suggested in the Quick Look Review report:

    Concerns about retrofitting the first production models ... are overblown. Industry experts say the Pentagon has probably overestimated these "concurrency" costs by 75 percent.

    That's odd, since nobody, as far as I know, has tried to estimate the concurrency costs in the first place. That's the problem: Nobody knows what they are, because nobody knows what will be discovered in future testing. What we do know is that the old assumption, that such discoveries would be few and minor, was invalid.

    So where do all these tales come from? Check out an Australian government audit report, released on December 20. In its discussion of Australia's JSF program (p261), it notes that one of 11 "major challenges" to the project, on the same level as dealing with schedule and cost changes, is to

    "appropriately manage JSF misinformation in the media".

    Do they mean correcting misinformation, or maintaining misinformation at an appropriate level?

    Happy New Year!

    Tags: ar99, tacair, jsf

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