Friday, April 29, 2011

What Now, Icarus? Is Western Combat Aviation Falling Out of the Sky?

Huffington Post
October 28, 2009

Winslow T. Wheeler

The future of Western combat aviation today rests largely on one airplane: The Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Defense Department currently plans to buy 2,456 of these Lockheed aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. As a "multi-role" fighter-bomber, it will ultimately replace almost all tactical aircraft now in our inventory, except for the F-22, for which production beyond 187 aircraft was canceled this past summer. Major allies, including Britain and much of the rest of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Israel, plan to buy the aircraft. Sales to many others are postulated, and those who do not intend to buy the F-35 plan to copy it to the extent their treasuries, government bureaucracies, and technological development permit.
There are, however, a few problems. The F-35 is unaffordable. It is a technological kluge that will be less effective than airplanes it replaces. And it will increase our own combat losses.
That is not the consensus now; many will vociferously dispute each of the assertions stated above, and below. But, in time the finger pointing will start. That's when someone will have to pick up the pieces to give our pilots a war winning aircraft. The road between here and there will be neither smooth nor pretty, but it is time to take the first step.
A financial disaster? How can that be? Visiting the F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas last August, Secretary of D Robert Gates assured us that the F-35 will be "less than half the price ... of the F-22."
In a narrow sense, Gates is right. At a breathtaking $65 billion for 187 aircraft, the F-22 consumes $350 million for each plane. At $299 billion for 2,456, the F-35 would seem a bargain at just $122 million each.
F-35 unit cost will ultimately be much higher. In 2001, the Pentagon had planned to buy 2,866 aircraft for $226.5 billion - $79 million per airplane. It was in 2007 that the expense increased and the quantity went down; resulting in the current - $122 million - unit cost.
In the next few weeks, the program will have to admit to another increase. Gates and his Deputy Secretary, William Lynn, have re-convened a "Joint Estimating Team" (JET) to reassess F-35 cost and schedule. Last year, while a part of the Bush administration, Gates basically ignored the Team's recommendations, but the new JET is about to reconfirm them: the F-35 program will cost up to $15 billion more, and it will be delivered about two years late.
Those findings address only the known problems; there's a huge iceberg floating just under the surface. With F-35 flight testing barely three percent complete, new problems - and new costs - are sure to emerge. Worse, only 17 percent of the aircraft's characteristics will be validated by flight testing by the time the Pentagon has signed contracts for more than 500 aircraft. Operational squadron pilots will have the thrill of discovering the remaining problems, in training or in combat. No one should be surprised if the final F-35 total program unit cost reaches $200 million per aircraft after all the fixes are paid for.
None of these prices is "affordable." The latest version of the F-16, heavily laden with complex electronics and other expensive modifications, costs about $60 million, twice its original price - in today's dollars. The A-10, which the F-35 will also replace, cost about $15 million in today's dollars. Thus, to replace the almost 4,000 F-16s and A-10s built with just over 1,700 F-35s, the Air Force will have to pay far more to buy half as many airplanes.
In an age when the Air Force budget looks to increase only marginally, if at all, while simultaneously planning to buy several other major aircraft (new aerial tankers, new transports, new heavy bombers, and new helicopters), this plan to distend the fighter-bomber budget is a fool's errand.
While most, but not all, in the Pentagon and Congress remain oblivious to the unaffordability of the F-35, some of its foreign buyers are becoming horrified. Despite their governments' investment of hundreds of millions, parliamentarians and analysts in Australia, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands are expressing real concerns. The F-35's single largest international partner is the United Kingdom. There, the Royal Navy and Air Force have just decided to reduce their F-35 buy from 138 aircraft to 50. The reason: "We are waking up to the fact that all those planes are unaffordable."
The problems with the F-35 are not limited to its cost.
As a fighter, the F-35 depends on a technological pipe dream. Having failed to develop in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s an effective (and reliable) radar-based technology to shoot down enemy (not friendly) aircraft "beyond visual range," the Air Force is trying yet again with the F-35, like the F-22 before it. Both have the added development of "stealth" (less detectability against some radars at some angles), but that new "high tech" feature and the long range radar have imposed design penalties that compromised the aircraft with not just high cost but also weight, drag, complexity, and vulnerabilities. The few times this technology has been tried in real air combat in the past decade, it has been successful less than half the time, and that has been against incompetent and/or primitively equipped pilots from Iraq and Serbia.
If the latest iteration of "beyond visual range" turns out to be yet another chimera, the F-35 will have to operate as a close-in dogfighter, but in that regime it is a disaster. If one accepts every aerodynamic promise Lockheed currently makes for it, the F-35 will be overweight and underpowered. At 49,500 pounds in air-to-air take-off weight with an engine rated at 42,000 pounds of thrust, it will be a significant step backward in thrust-to-weight and acceleration for a new fighter. In fact, at that weight and with just 460 square feet of wing area for the Air Force and Marine Corps versions, the F-35's small wings will be loaded with 108 pounds for every square foot, one third worse than the F-16A. (Wings that are large relative to weight are crucial for maneuvering and surviving in combat.) The F-35 is, in fact, considerably less maneuverable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 "Lead Sled," a fighter that proved helpless in dogfights against MiGs over North Vietnam. (A chilling note: most of the Air Force's fleet of F-105s was lost in four years of bombing; one hundred pilots were lost in just six months.)
Nor is the F-35 a first class bomber for all that cost: in its stealthy mode it carries only a 4,000 pound payload, one third the 12,000 pounds carried by the "Lead Sled."
As a "close air support" ground-attack aircraft to help US troops engaged in combat, the F-35 is too fast to identify the targets it is shooting at; too delicate and flammable to withstand ground fire, and too short-legged to loiter usefully over embattled US ground units for sustained periods. It is a giant step backward from the current A-10.
It is time to start climbing out of the F-35 hole. Needless to say, the complexities of Pentagon procurement regulations and especially the circle-the-wagons mentality of the Pentagon and Congress present serious hurdles to be overcome, most of them ethical.
First is the need is to accept the facts as they exist, rather than as Lockheed and self-interested bureaucrats in the Pentagon would prefer them to be. That will mean accepting the JET recommendations as currently written - not watering them down to make them palatable, or ignoring them as they were in 2008 under Gates' first term as SecDef.
Second would be exercising the professed spirit of the new Weapon System Acquisition Act, signed into law by President Obama last May. While the fine print of the new law is hopelessly riddled with loopholes to protect business as usual, the bill purports to control costs and inspire competition, especially the "fly-before-buy" competitive approach that has worked so marvelously well the few times it's been tried.
This is the same vision that President Obama expressed to the VFW in Phoenix last August when he said he wanted to stop "the special interests and their exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget." Clearly, no one has told the President that the F-35 is a leading poster child for the evils he condemned.
Third, the biggest step, would be to suspend further F-35 production until the test aircraft, all of them now funded, can complete a revised, much more thorough flight test schedule. Once we know the F-35's realistically demonstrated performance and problems, and the full extent of its costs, we can make an informed decision whether to put it into full production. To do that, the upside down F-35 acquisition plan -- which buys 500 aircraft before the "definitive" test report (the one that only flight tests 17% of F-35 characteristics) is on Gates' desk -- needs to be radically recast into real fly-before-buy plan -- just the kind of plan the new Acquisition Reform Act advocates, albeit feebly.
In the almost certain event that the F-35 is found by uncompromised, realistic testing to be an unaffordable loser, there are viable alternatives. If an active consensus develops to reverse the current aging and shrinking of the existing tactical aviation inventory (as opposed to today's silent conspiracy encouraging those trends to worsen), a short term, affordable fix to restore combat adequacy is needed: Extend the life of existing F-16 and A-10 airframes for the Air Force and to continue purchasing F-18E/F aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps. For the part of the inventory that most urgently needs immediate expansion, the A-10 and the close support mission, hundreds of airframes now sitting in the "boneyard" can and should be refurbished -- at extraordinarily modest cost.
Just a life-extension program will not address long term needs. Accordingly, competitive prototype fly off programs should be immediately initiated to develop and select new fighters to build a larger force that is far more combat-effective than existing the F-16s, F-18s, and A-10s. Just such programs -- that lead to an astonishing 10,000 plane Air Force within current budget levels -- are described in detail in "Reversing the Decay in American Air Power," a chapter in the anthology "America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress" (Stamford University Press).
You can almost literally hear the howls of protest right now. The F-35 is too big to fail. Gates himself seems trapped by that logic; he said "My view is we cannot afford as a nation not to have this airplane." We take the opposite view. The F-35's bloat -- in cost, leaden weight, and mindless complexity -- guarantees failure. It will shrink our air forces at increased expense, rot their ability to prevail in the air and support our ground forces, and will needlessly spill the blood of far too many of our pilots.
We have to take the first steps to better understand the extent of the F-35 disaster and to reverse the continuing decay in our air forces.
Pierre M. Sprey, a long time military reformer and a designer of extraordinarily successful combat aircraft, helped me write this commentary. Both Pierre and I are contributors to the aforementioned anthology "America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress."

Follow Winslow T. Wheeler on Twitter: T. Whee

A question for the aviation experts...

A question for the aviation experts...

I've been playing catch-up on my reading and I keep running into conflicting, confusing and what I believe is misleading information.

Exhibit #1 is this post by Winslow Wheeler from Huffinton Post back in 2009.

If the latest iteration of "beyond visual range" turns out to be yet another chimera, the F-35 will have to operate as a close-in dogfighter, but in that regime it is a disaster. If one accepts every aerodynamic promise Lockheed currently makes for it, the F-35 will be overweight and underpowered. At 49,500 pounds in air-to-air take-off weight with an engine rated at 42,000 pounds of thrust, it will be a significant step backward in thrust-to-weight and acceleration for a new fighter. In fact, at that weight and with just 460 square feet of wing area for the Air Force and Marine Corps versions, the F-35's small wings will be loaded with 108 pounds for every square foot, one third worse than the F-16A. (Wings that are large relative to weight are crucial for maneuvering and surviving in combat.) The F-35 is, in fact, considerably less maneuverable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 "Lead Sled," a fighter that proved helpless in dogfights against MiGs over North Vietnam. (A chilling note: most of the Air Force's fleet of F-105s was lost in four years of bombing; one hundred pilots were lost in just six months.)
Nor is the F-35 a first class bomber for all that cost: in its stealthy mode it carries only a 4,000 pound payload, one third the 12,000 pounds carried by the "Lead Sled."
The question I have is this...
If bigger wings confer greater agility then why isn't the F-35C more agile than the F-35A.
Yes its a simple question.

But this type of thing has gained traction and is repeated by many...its even a pronouncement that I've seen on a site where the authors claim to be aviation experts and when challenged on any of the claims that they make "insist on comparing  resumes"...the comparison to the F-105 is also a much repeated phrase that I see popping up all over the internet.

So I'm asking the guys that might fly by this blog to give me the real it that cut and dry or am I being deceived?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Noisy differences, quiet agreements with Harper

JEFFREY SIMPSON | Columnist profile | E-mail
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
In this campaign, amid all the venomous attack ads and excessive rhetoric, you can hear the silence of agreement.
Most of the agreeing is on Stephen Harper’s terms. Assumptions he’s made, and policies he’s put in place, are accepted by one or more of the other parties. And they have come more to him than he to them.

The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter: "A Stealthy Price" for Canada

Harper’s Stealth Campaign to Purchase Not-So-Stealthy F35 Fighter-Bombers

Stephen Harper’s campaign to persuade Canadians of the merits of the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter has been a stealthy one. But has he successfully evaded the BS-detector radar defences of the Canadian electorate?
1. A stealthy price?
Mr. Harper has told us—in that bored-Sunday-school-teacher tone of patient exasperation that seems to be his native accent—that the 65 F-35As he bargained for at a cost of just $75 million Canadian each are a “good deal” for this country.
But there are problems with that price-tag—a figure which, as defence journalist David Pugliese notes, “is nowhere to be found in official U.S. government reports on the aircraft.”[1]
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) “has warned about serious ongoing problems with the aircraft and rising costs,” and estimates “that the F-35 model that Canada is buying will cost between $110 to $115 million per plane.”[2]
US Vice Admiral David Venlet, who heads the F-35 Joint Program Office, testified to a US congressional committee in March 2011 that his confident “procurement cost estimate” for the F-35A, the conventional take-off and landing model that Stephen Harper wants, is “$126.6 million (including $15 million for the engine).”[3]
Winslow Wheeler, a former defence procurement analyst with the GAO and currently Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Washington, DC Center for Defense Information, warns that the F-35As, including their engines, will probably cost Canada “around $148 million” each.[4]
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has proposed that the price per unit will amount to some $156-million US when a maintenance contract is included.[5]
Steven Staples, President of the Rideau Institute and founder of, noted in January 2011 that “Canadians are being asked to spend between $16 and $21 billion of public dollars in initial purchase and maintenance costs, according to Department of National Defence estimates, […] without a clear explanation of why [F-35s] are needed for our protection.”[6] According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, however, the DND estimates are misleading: the F-35 program’s full cost to Canada will be more like $29.3-billion, or $450-million for each plane over its planned lifetime.[7]
Stephen Harper does indeed have supporters in this debate. Prominent among them is retired General Paul Manson, former Chief of the Defence Staff—who in January 2011 stealthily neglected to say, when he co-authored an Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece pushing the F-35 deal, that he is also a former Chairman of Lockheed Martin Canada, and a former member of the Board of that same company.[8]
When he’s not in stealth mode, General Manson’s default posture seems to be bluster: his notion of refuting Winslow Wheeler’s critique of the F-35 deal is to denounce it as “a low-credibility rant by an American visitor from a left-wing Washington organization renowned for its anti-defence posture.”[9] (That would be the Center for Defense Information, “an organization founded by retired American generals and admirals.”[10])
2. Stealthy engines?
There may be problems not just with the F-35A’s price, but with its engine as well. The Pentagon’s original procurement plans called for the development of two competing engine models, one by Pratt & Whitney, and the other by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Shortly after the Pentagon cancelled the second engine program in March 2011, all twelve of the F-35 test planes had to be grounded due an in-flight failure of both electrical generators in one of the Pratt & Whitney engines.[11]
That little glitch may evoke unhappy memories among retired air force pilots of another Lockheed single-engine fighter, the CF-104 Starfighter, which entered service with the Canadian air force in 1962. Canada had a total of 200 CF-104s, of which fully 110 were lost in accidents, many of them engine flame-outs. The surviving Lawn Darts, or Widowmakers, as pilots called them, were replaced by two-engine CF-18s during the 1980s.[12]
We should be asking whether it makes sense for an air force that flies fighter planes, sometimes in difficult weather conditions, out of bases like Cold Lake, Alberta and Goose Bay, Labrador, to send its pilots up in single-engine aircraft.
But Stephen Harper appears to have finessed the engine question by quoting a price for the F-35A that includes neither the program’s rapidly escalating development costs over the past several years nor—more basically—the cost of supplying these aircraft with engines.[13]
Is it possible, one might wonder, that Harper actually means it when he sits down at the piano to warble out John Lennon’s peace anthem, “Imagine”?[14] Is he willing to buy fighter-bombers, yes, but not the engines that would get them into the air, where they might harm other human beings—or even other fifth-generation fighter aircraft, like the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Sukhoi 35S and T50 PAK SA? Or are Harper’s “Imagine” and his fiddling with F-35 figures just two more instances of stealth behaviour?[15]
3. A not-so-stealthy aircraft?
There appear to be problems, finally, with the F-35s performance. Perhaps most strikingly, the plane’s geometry means that it is significantly stealthy (that is, able to avoid early detection and ‘lock-on’ by enemy radar) only from directly in front. Together with recent and ongoing improvements in air defence radar systems, this suggests that the F-35 will be unable to reliably carry out its primary ground-attack role unless air defences have already been disabled by more capably stealthy fighters like the F22.[16]
In other respects as well the F-35 has been harshly criticized. Winslow Wheeler has called the aircraft a “gigantic performance disappointment,” with sluggish aerodynamics and merely average performance as a bomber.[17] Although it is being marketed as a multi-role aircraft, the F-35 appears to be overmatched by other currently available fighter aircraft, in terms both of the weaponry it can carry and its powers of evasion. One expert has quoted Major Richard Koch, chief of the USAF Air Combat Command’s advanced air dominance branch, as saying: “I wake up in a cold sweat at the thought of the F-35 going in with only two air-dominance weapons.”[18] And in a recent computer-simulation wargame conducted in Australia which matched F-35s against new-generation Russian fighters, the F-35s were outmaneuvered, out-climbed, and outrun[19]—or, as one report brutally put it, they were “clubbed like baby seals.”[20]
Some of the basic facts about the F-35’s limitations have been usefully summarized by the Australian expert, and F-35 opponent, Carlo Kopp:
“The F-35 is an aircraft which was defined as a battlefield interdictor, intended to attack and destroy hostile battlefield ground forces, once opposing air defences have been stripped away by the much more capable, and now cheaper F-22 Raptor. The JSF aircraft was defined for a very narrow niche role, and its intended performance and capabilities were constrained to avoid overlapping other US Air Force capability niches, such as ‘deep strike’ occupied by the F-15E and F-22A, and ‘air dominance’, occupied by the F-22A.
“The actual F-35 aircraft, as it has ‘devolved’ through a problematic and protracted development process, shows all the signs of falling well below the promised and mediocre performance targets set in the original definition document.
[….] What is remarkable about the Canadian government decision to pursue the F-35 is that it occurred during a period where the failure of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is patently obvious, well documented publicly, and provable by reading a myriad of US and non-US public documents.”[21]
A lucid alternative to the F-35A program has been advanced by Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He proposes, first, abandoning so-called “expeditionary” roles for the Canadian air force. (And why not? Since the Cold War that justified Canada stationing interceptors and fighter-bombers in Western Europe is long past, of what conceivable use are F-35s abroad, unless to participate in dubious and illegal resource wars like the one currently underway in Libya?)
Staples suggests extending the life of Canada’s existing CF-18s by restricting them to a domestic air defence and air surveillance and control role, and considering less expensive alternatives to the F-35. (These might include modernized versions of the current CF-18 Super Hornet, or other aircraft such as the Saab Gripen or the Dassault Rafale—and, for other purposes, the coming generation of long-range, long-endurance pilotless aircraft.)
We could then, Staples says, use the money saved by these measures “to contribute to Canadian and global security in more effective ways.”22
Michael Keefer is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, the University of Toronto, and Sussex University. He is a Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph, where he has taught since 1990, and former President of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English

[1] David Pugliese, “Canadian Public Has Been Provided With F-35 Information, Says Harper. Conservative Leader Says Stealth Fighter Purchase a ‘Good Deal’ For Canadians,” Ottawa Citizen (11 April 2011),  
[2] David Pugliese, “Will F-35s include engines? Defence Department report raises questions,” Winnipeg Free Press (17 April 2011),  
[3] Quoted from a statement issued by Alan Williams, former Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) of the Defence Department, in response to the Conservative Party’s April 10, 2011 media release; reproduced by Pugliese, “Canadian Public Has Been Provided.”
[4] David Pugliese, “Canada’s F-35s: Engines not included. Government will be required to provide powerplant for stealth fighters, documents show,” Ottawa Citizen (17 April 2011),  
[5] Max Munsle, “Canadian Politians Lack Problem-Solving Skills in F-35 Debate,” Canadian Affairs by Suite 101 (26 April 2011),  
[6] Steven Staples, “Harper’s F-35 stealth fighter purchase confirms Eisenhower’s warning,” (17 January 2011),  
[7] Munsle, “Canadian politicians”; and Mary Bourrie and Zhang Dacheng, “F-35 purchase continues to dominate debate in Canadian election, (11 April 2011),  
[8] “Ottawa Citizen Article by Paul Manson and Angus Watt,” F-35: Canada’s Next Generation Fighter (24 January 2011),  
[9] Paul Manson, “Don’t lecture us about defence,” Ottawa Citizen (13 April 2011),
[10] I derive this information from, which is linked to the Rideau Institute—described in Manson’s letter as “farleft.” See “Manson: Stop ranting!!!” (17 April 2011),
[11] Bob Cox, “F-35 engine debate rages; plane’s cost deepens political flap in Canada,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram (24 March 2011),,0_  
[12] “Canadair CF-104 Starfighter,” Wikipedia, The German Luftwaffe made less intensive use of its 916 Starfighters, but still lost 292 planes—and 115 pilots—to accidents. See “List of F-104 Starfighter operators,” Wikipedia,  
[13] Pugliese, “Canada’s F-35s: Engines not included.”
[14] Stefan Christoff, “Imagine that, Yoko Ono nails Stephen Harper for copyright infringement,” (7 April 2011), .
[15] Harper’s repertoire also includes the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”; see “Harper rocks Tory party with musical performance,” Toronto Star (8 December 2010), For one musician’s response, see Dick Overdale, “Hey Stephen, you can’t play in my band,” (27 April 2011), The best available dissection of Harper’s behaviour is by Murray Dobbin, “Harper’s Hitlist: Power, Process and the Assault on Democracy,” The Council of Canadians (15 April 2011), .
[16] Noah Shachtman, “$337 Billion Stealth Jet Not So Stealthy: Report,” Danger Room: What’s Next in National Security (7 January 2009), The report in question is by Dr. Carlo Kopp, “Assessing Joint Strike Fighter Defence Penetration Capabilities,” Air Power Australia (10 April 2011), .
[17] Greg Markey, “U.S. Expert says F-35 purchase is wrong deal for Canada,” Ottawa Citizen (13 April 2011), .
[18] Quoted by Bill Sweetman, “JSF Leaders Back in the Fight,” Ares: A Defense Technology Blog, in Aviation Week (22 September 2008), pickController=Blog&pickScript=blogScript&pickElementid=blogDest&pickBlogPage=BlogViewPost&pickPostid=Blog%3A27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7Post%3Ab1c3536a-8d96-481f-aef5-d6428ec6f9ca.  
[19] Jeroen Trommelen, “2016: Russen overweldigen JSF,” (20 September 2008), “Volgens de analyse zal hij ook directegevechten moeten leveren. Daarin es hij ‘dubbel inferieur’, omdat hij ‘niet kan draaien, niet kan klimmen en niet kan rennen’.”
[20] Quoted by Sweetman, “JSF Leaders Back in the Fight.”
[21] Dr. Carlo Kopp, “F-35 JSF: Can It Meet Canada’s Needs?” Air Power Australia (19 October 2010), .
[22] Steven Staples, “Pilot Error: Why the F-35 stealth fighter is wrong for Canada,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (14 October 2010), available at .

Michael Keefer is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by Michael Keefer

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Monday, April 25, 2011

F-35 service costs may be more than double Ottawa’s estimate

OTTAWA— The Canadian Press

Another U.S. report suggests the F-35 stealth fighter could cost billions of dollars more to operate than previously thought.

An estimate by a Pentagon cost-analysis unit projects it will cost $915-billion to keep the U.S. fleet of 2,443 jets flying for 30 years.

The document, leaked to Bloomberg News in Washington, forecasts a lifetime maintenance bill of roughly $375-million per aircraft

Alan Williams, a former senior Canadian defence official, says the costs would be comparable for the 65 planes the Conservative government intends to purchase, starting in 2017.

Using the Pentagon numbers, the 65 planes would cost more than $24-billion to maintain over 30 years, well above government estimates.

The cost-analysis group works directly for the U.S. Defence Secretary and challenges the numbers and assumptions of the Pentagon's project offices. It based its projection on the operating costs of the existing fleets of F-18s, F-16s and U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jump jets.

Much of the debate in Canada over the highly automated fighter-bombers has centred on the eye-popping purchase price, which could range between $75-million and $151-million per aircraft, depending upon who is doing the estimate.

But only passing attention has been paid to long-term maintenance and service, which the Conservatives have projected at no more than $7-billion over 20 years.

No one was available at National Defence on Monday to comment on the report.

In a report just before the Harper government was defeated, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page pegged service for the F-35 at $19.5-billion over 30 years – or roughly $301-million per plane.

Mr. Page incurred a furious response from the Conservatives in March for suggesting the overall program could cost taxpayers $29.3-billion, but if the new figures from the Pentagon hold, the price tag could go even higher.

“The Pentagon’s new forecast represents a significant increase even over what the U.S. expected,” said Mr. Williams, who is an outspoken critic of the program. “The simple fact is we just don’t know how much we’ll spend. It just lends more weight to the argument that we should wait.”

Repeated warnings about costs spurred the F-35 project office at the Pentagon to commit last week to a sweeping review of what it will take to maintain the aircraft over the long haul.

The study, ordered by project executive officer Vice-Admiral David Venlet, will look at the design of the aircraft to try and figure out what is driving the costs into the stratosphere.

“The service chiefs look at the estimates of the maintenance cost and it makes their knees go weak,” said Adm. Venlet, according to an April 22 transcript of his remarks. “There is an estimate. We know that is not the right number.”

A second, separate report prepared two years ago by the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command said long-term support could hit $443-billion, but that estimate was in 2002 dollars.

Adm. Venlet said even that is too high.

Mr. Williams said there is a lot of uncertainty in the numbers because the plane is still in development and has no maintenance history

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lockheed Martin F-35 Operating Costs May Reach $1 Trillion

It may cost as much as $1 trillion to operate the military’s fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-35 aircraft for several decades, according to a preliminary Pentagon estimate sent to Congress.

The figure is 9.3 percent more than the $915 billion estimate by the Defense Department in its 2009 Selected Acquisition Report to Congress.

The long-term cost estimate, which includes inflation, was submitted to Congress on April 15 in a report obtained by Bloomberg News. It assumes 8,000 hours of flying time for each of the 2,443 aircraft over a 30-year period. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have their own variations of the aircraft, with the last in the fleet to be produced in 2035.

The estimate was calculated by the Pentagon’s independent cost analysis group based on models using historical data from other fighters, David Van Buren, Air Force service acquisition executive, said in an interview today.

“We are taking the challenge” posed by the $1 trillion estimate and “saying we’ve got to drive this down fast,” said Van Buren, who oversees F-35 management. “Do we drive down it down based on reliability projections? Do we drive it down based on technologies that we developed for the F-35” that reflect lessons learned from the F-22, he said?

Older Aircraft

For example, the latest estimate assumes that F-35 components will break more frequently than older aircraft, he said. The Pentagon is trying to develop “a more refined number,” he said.

The $1 trillion estimate is in addition to an estimated $382 billion in development and production costs.

The long-term maintenance estimates were projected based on costs incurred to support the military’s fleet of F-16s, F/A- 18s, and AV-8B Harrier jets, the Pentagon said in its report

Almost all government, analyst and media attention on the Pentagon’s biggest program has focused on cost growth and technical issues in the $54 billion systems-engineering phase.

The Pentagon’s top weapons official, without citing figures, said yesterday that the military must start focusing on controlling the long-range costs.

Sustaining the Fighter

“It’s not too early to think of sustainment for the Joint Strike Fighter,” Undersecretary for Acquisition Ashton Carter said yesterday. “Most of the cost of our programs is in ‘having’ them, not in ‘acquiring them,” he said at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“We are at the point with the Joint Strike Fighter where we have wrestled with the development issues,” Carter said. “We are trying to manage down some of the cost associated with the production, and it’s not too early to look at sustainment, because the projected bills also have increased.”

The Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation group is updating its $1 trillion figure for a major F-35 review next month intended to revise all of the program’s costs, including overrun estimates on the first three low-rate aircraft production and engine contracts, according to the report to Congress.

Operations and support costs, when calculated in base-year 2002 dollars, were estimated at $420 billion, according to the document.

Baseline Review

“This is the year to focus on sustainment costs,” Vice Admiral David Venlet, the F-35 program executive officer, told reporters today. The estimates thus far “have all been predictions without any actual” data to back up the figures, he said.

The program office will begin a so-called baseline review of the sustainment cost, similar to the F-35 design and production review conducted last year, Venlet said.

The review will examine “all aspects of sustainment, from repair to transportation and illuminate the consequences” for the U.S. and the international partners, he said.

The Pentagon will look for ways to maintain the F-35 fleet with work split between military depots and performance-based logistics contracts with Lockheed, Venlet said.

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