Sunday, July 17, 2011

F-35 - Past, Present ... Future?

As you all know, the F-35 project was created on the 26th October 2001, when Lockheed Martin won the Joint Strike Fighter competition, beating rivals Boeing with their X-32.

The aim of the competition, and subsequent contracts, was simple - replace the current disparate families of aircraft operated by the US Navy, US Airforce and US Marine Corp with one single, maintenance friendly family of aircraft.

The aircraft was to replace the F-16, F/A-18C/D and E/F, the Harrier II, and the A-10, and also be exportable to other countries in an export-friendly variant.

The original commitment from the US DoD was for the purchase of 2,443 aircraft, with the price point of $30M set when the JSF project was initiated in 1996, and even then the project cost was raising eyebrows, with warnings that commitments to numbers would have to be cut if the per-unit cost rose much above the planned price. However, when Lockheed won the contract, the per-unit cost of the F-35 was set at an average of $69M, well above the 1996 price - but the argument was made that the aircraft was more capable, and the commitment to the purchase stood.

Last year, the GAO revealed that the F-35s per unit cost had doubled in real terms, from $69M per aircraft to just over $138M on average, leaving the DoD with a bill of $340B for their commitment. Quite an increase, and one which has put Lockheed on notice.

Lockheed only survived an outright program cancellation under US law (Nunn-McCurdy provision) by replacing a high level oversight officer from the DoD, otherwise they would have fallen foul of the 25% increase cap.

In April 2011, a report was leaked which suggested that the per unit cost of each F-35 variant was as follows:

F-35A - $111M
F-35B - $109M
F-35C - $142M

Excluding engine costs, which are $15M for the A and C versions, and $32M for the B version.

And the cost is still rising - Lockheeds prices for the Lot 5 buy are $6M higher per unit than that for Lot 4.

With the F-35B being put on a 2 year probation in 2010, and the USMC shifting some of its F-35B purchases to F-35C models, as well as various international buyers reducing their buys or suspending their purchases altogether, the F-35 project as a whole is in hot water.

A figure worth noting is that the F-35 project is already at forecasted double the cost of the entire F-22 Raptor programme, including that aircrafts 187 unit total purchase. The JSF is turning out to be one expensive aircraft.

Attributions: Facts and figures for this post was taken from various sources on the internet, including the GAO, DoD and Lockheed. However, it was an article in this months Airforces Monthly that led me to write this post, and as such this post bears some similarity to that article.

The F-35 was never meant to replace the F/A-18 Super Hornet. It was meant to be used in conjunction, providing stealth capabilities when needed.

In the future, a carrier air wing will consist of the Lightning II, the Super Hornet, and the EA-18G Growler. Each one has it's role to play.

Do they need a VTOL variant? Probably not. But without one, they would be limited to operating from the 12 current aircraft carriers in the fleet and not the 10 LHDs they could also be launched from. Given that the LHD is the flagship for every Amphibious Ready Group and is tasked with delivering the US Marine Corps to their destination, you would be effectively cutting the force capability in half.

Now do the cost overruns mean doom for the project? Only time will tell. More importantly, can this aircraft compete with the Sukhoi PAK FA or Chengdu J-20?

allenidaho; a member of

U.S. F-35 cost hike raises from $771M to $1.15B

Earlier this week, Lockheed Martin told the Pentagon that the first batch of F-35 fighter jets would cost approximately $771 million more than anticipated. Lockheed was mistaken. The real cost increase is roughly $1.15 billion.
The “higher figure includes the roughly one-third share of the overrun absorbed by Lockheed Martin and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney,” according to
Meanwhile, The Hill reports that Arizona Senator John McCain plans to oppose “a Pentagon request to transfer $264 million from other accounts” to start paying for that original estimated $771-million increase. According to The Hill, McCain issued a statement in which he said that he will oppose reprogramming requests “unless they can be fully justified to the American taxpayer.”
Elsewhere, in the New York Times, Gordon R. England, former secretary of the Navy and deputy secretary of defense under George W. Bush, suggests ways that the government could cut spending at the Pentagon.
England recommends that Washington should “cut the [defense] department’s civilian workforce before reducing the size of the military force”; “do more to encourage the sale of defense equipment to our friends and allies abroad” and “put a moratorium on starting any new procurement programs. Instead, it should use the money to increase the rate of production on existing ones.”
Apart from echoing steps that the Joint Strike Fighter program has already taken (selling to allies abroad), a moratorium on new procurement programs and more money for existing ones would certainly bode well for the F-35.
But as Mark Thompson at Time Magazine’s Battleland blog points out, that thinking makes sense considering England’s former employers: Honeywell, Litton, General Dynamics, and — you guessed it — Lockheed Martin.
Over at the Huffington Post, Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists, is calling for the U.S. government to show its support for American workers by fully funding the F-35 program.
Buffenbarger lauds the F-35’s potential technological and tactical advantages, and makes the case that “when the F-35 takes wing, working Americans will benefit from tens of thousands of high-skill, high-wage, high-tech, family-supporting jobs.” Even now, he says, the F-35 program contributes “at least 127,000 American jobs and creates over $12 billion in economic activity.”
He continues: “Make no mistake: Congress must continue to support the F-35 program which maintains our global leadership, militarily and economically, while keeping our commitments to our closest allies.”
All of this highlights an interesting crossroads in the debate over the fighter program. Where does the U.S. government turn when stuck between an increasingly expensive and delayed military acquisition, and the potentially positive (and necessary) economic impact the program could have for a country that is in ever more need of one?
© 2011 iPolitics Inc.

More indecision on F-35 in Europe

Some things, at least the preferred fighter jets to buy, apparently are never really decided in Europe. Not without major reviews and re-thinking which, given the economic and government budgets situation across the Atlantic (and on this side too?) may not be unwarranted.
Aviation Week reports that an upcoming election could either clarify or further muddy the picture in Denmark, where the staunch U.S. ally and longtime F-16 operators has hedged a bit on its previous commitments to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
Denmark last year delayed a decision on whether to buy the F-35 , Boeing F/A-18E/F or Saab Gripen NG. The fall electionas well as Denmark's role in aiding the NATO operations in Libyan could put new momentum behind the Dane's aircraft shopping plans. Although Denmark was an original partner nation in the F-35 development consortium, the country has since opted to hold a competition for its next tactical aircraft purchase.
Meanwhile, over on AvWeek's Ares blog, the ever vigilant Bill Sweetman reports the Dutch are leaning towards delaying purchases of F-35 production jets until late in the decade, not taking first delivery until around 2019.
- Bob Cox

Monday, July 4, 2011

Government should create defence procurement agency: report

By David Pugliese, Postmedia News July 4, 2011

The Harper government should create a new defence procurement agency to oversee the estimated $240 billion worth of military equipment the Conservatives want to purchase, says a federal report obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
The report, produced by a review team brought in to analyze recommendations from the country’s defence industry, points out that the current government system doesn’t allow for any one person or organization to be held accountable for how equipment purchases are handled.
It agrees with a recommendation put forward by the Ottawa-based Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, or CADSI, that there has to be “a single point of accountability for defence procurement.”
“The Team suggests that a Defence Procurement Agency is the most appropriate option, and offers a model agency for government/industry consideration,” concludes the analysis.
Currently, defence procurement is divided between the ministers responsible for Public Works, the Defence Department and Industry Canada.
The review team’s recommendations were obtained from the Defence Department under the Access to Information law. The team was put together to analyze a 2010 CADSI report on how to improve military procurement.
The review team noted that military procurement was secretive and that the government did not communicate with the public or industry on such matters.
“Defence procurement and defence trade are neither free, open, nor transparent,” the review team noted.
It concurred with many of the recommendations put forward by CADSI in its report.
Alan Williams, who oversaw Defence Department procurement before retiring from the bureaucracy in 2005, said both the review team and CADSI’s recommendations support his previous proposal to create one procurement agency.
Williams, however, is not optimistic that such a recommendation will be followed for a number of reasons. Various ministers and bureaucrats want to hold on to the power they have, he said.
“The only way there would be one organization responsible for procurement is if the prime minister steps in says ‘Do it,” said Williams, DND’s former assistant deputy minister for materiel. “Otherwise you’ll just have infighting among the departments and resistance to any change.”
The Defence Department referred the Citizen to Public Works for comment on what recommendations, if any, are being followed from the CADSI report. Public Works could not respond.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently named Julian Fantino as associate defence minister, giving him the job to deal with military procurement at DND.
An email from Fantino’s office stated that the Conservative government received a mandate in the last election “to continue to provide our troops the equipment necessary to do the jobs asked of them and we are committed to delivering on that promise.”
Fantino, the email noted, would be “liaising with other appropriate ministers, in addition to other duties assigned in support” of Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The Conservatives have said they will be spending around $240 billion acquiring or maintaining military equipment and other materials over the next 20 years. That equipment includes new stealth fighters, warships, supply ships and armoured vehicles.
The CADSI study was commissioned after the Harper government faced widespread complaints from MPs and industry representatives that the military procurement system was broken. A number of high-profile multibillion-dollar defence equipment programs have fallen far behind schedule or have been derailed.
The review team was brought in to examine the CADSI report’s findings. According to the team, the CADSI study provided an accurate overview of the military procurement situation.
Defence Department, Public Works and Industry Canada officials have in the past praised the system and their own efforts, citing numerous achievements in purchasing equipment for the Canadian Forces.
But the CADSI report, which draws on interviews and submissions from company representatives and others across the country, described a heavily bureaucratic process run by inexperienced public servants who have little knowledge of the capabilities of Canadian firms.
“Urgent attention was deemed necessary to remedy a procurement process currently defined by frustration, confusion, inconsistency, layers of built-in redundancy, systemic risk avoidance and a perceived lack of transparency,” noted the report.
The defence industry employs around 70,000 Canadians, and generates $10 billion a year in sales, according to CADSI. Fifty per cent of that is exported, notes the association.

Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, July 2, 2011

F-35: An Expensive Mistake For Canadian Forces – Analysis

Will the F-35 Lightning II cost the Canadian tax-payers USD 29.3 billion or USD 14.7 billion for 65 aircraft? The controversy remains between the PBO and the DND.
The F-35 is designed for the U.S. air force to meet their needs and goals. Its main function is a "day one stealth" bomber. Experts contend that Canada does not require the aircraft.

During the 2011 Canadian federal election, there was an intense focus on Conservative party Prime Minister Stephan Harper's decision to purchase 65 new F-35 Lightning II fighter planes. The story around the F-35 is filled with controversy over the cost and appropriateness of the aircraft. Both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) promised to halt the purchase of the aircraft and re-examine its suitability in relation to the military's budget.[i] The F-35 contract is a key cornerstone of the Conservatives' plan to revitalize the Canadian armed forces. One of the crucial issues has been the disagreement over the already high price of the F-35, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) and the Department of National Defense (DND) calculated two different figures. The PBO estimated the total cost of the F-35 is USD 29.3 billion or USD 148 million per unit, while the DND assessed the total program would cost USD 14.7 billion or USD 75 million per unit. The discrepancy between the two departments is attributed to the fact that both the DND and the Conservative Party are committed to increasing the size of the armed forces and replacing Canada's current aircraft with the F-35. On the other hand, the PBO is an independent organization that provides analysis to the Senate and House of Commons "on the state of the nation's finances."[ii] In this fashion, the Conservatives lacked the ability to provide transparency by not disclosing the actual cost of the F-35 and giving a lower estimate to the public. This begs the question: Is the glamour of the F-35 worth the expense? Its critics say that Canada has no need for this incredibly expensive and versatile 5th generation aircraft in their arsenal. The F-35 is unsuitable for Canadian military operations and marks an unfortunate shift in Canadian foreign policy towards single-mindedly backing the U.S. military.
F-35: A Technological Marvel
Military analysts acknowledge that the F-35 represents the next generation in technological advances in avionics and stealth fighter capability. It is an amazing piece of engineering technology filled with the newest avionics system and advanced computerized equipment. In fact, the F-35 is estimated to contain "approximately 5.7 million lines of code, more than double that of the F-22A Raptor."[iii] Both the F-35 Lightning II and F-22A Raptor are the world's only 5th generation aircraft.[iv] This showcases the fact that the F-35's computer system is incredibly complex and in-depth. The defense industry has labeled the F-35 as the "fifth generation," which Lockheed Martin defines as incorporating "advanced stealth, fighter agility, integrated information and sensor fusion, and a new level of reliability, maintainability and deployability."[v] Military planners argue that the F-35 is the future, and the Canadian military sees it as an important asset, as it plans to gradually replace its fleet of CF-18s in the next decade. Canada has already invested USD 160 million in development, and, according to the Defense Industry Daily, Canada plans to contribute an additional USD 500 million over the next forty years.[vi] In emphasizing the key role that the F-35 will play in defending Canadian sovereignty, the Conservative Prime Minister Harper has announced that the F-35 "is the only fighter available that serves the purposes that [Canada's] air force needs."[vii] Supporters also argue, although that purchasing fourth generation aircraft to replace the CF-18 would be cheaper, the technology is already obsolete.[viii]
What is the Real Cost of the F-35 to Canadian Taxpayers?
The Tory government has been accused of intentionally misguiding the public in order to gain popular approval for the purchase of the F-35. As previously mentioned, two departments came up with vastly different numbers. The PBO estimated the F-35, including maintenance and upgrades, would cost USD 148 million per unit, while the DND has estimated USD 75 million per unit. Yet the Conservatives did not specify if the price tag set was the fly-away cost, which is the factory production cost of the F-35, or the average procurement cost, which includes research and development, documentation, training, support systems, and spare parts.[ix] According to Alan Williams, an experienced federal employee in the business of defense procurement, the USD 75 million is the "unit recurring fly-away cost."[x] Other countries and independent studies indicate that the F-35 will cost twice what the DND estimated it would be. According to the Rideau Institute, a Canadian institute that provides independent research, advocacy, and consultation, the higher estimate published by the PBO was peer-reviewed by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and Queen's University.[xi] Several purchasing reports from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries also provide evidence that the PBO's higher estimate is more accurate. For instance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report indicating that the average cost of the F-35 climbed from USD 69 million to 133 million, while the Israeli government cemented a deal with Lockheed to buy 19 F-35A's at the cost of USD 121.7 million per unit.[xii] Countries planning to purchase the F-35 are rethinking alternative and cheaper options. The Dutch parliament is now planning to cancel their deal with Lockheed Martin, after finding out that the F-35 is going to cost USD 120 million.[xiii]
Beyond deliberately misleading the public about the estimated cost of the F-35 and the taxpayer burden, the Conservative government provided incomplete information regarding the purchase and the contract process. The Conservative government awarded the contract to Lockheed Martin without partaking in any competitive bidding process, which infuriated other companies like Boeing and Eurofighter. These companies criticized the lack of an "open and transparent" competition; the uncompetitive bidding process may have further driven up the costs in purchasing the F-35s.[xiv]
Additionally, the F-35 contract is Canada's most expensive military purchase.[xv] Buying the F-35s was a financially risky decision because of Ottawa's small military budget and USD 48.5 billion government deficit.[xvi] In contrast to the U.S., which plans to spend USD 1 trillion on the purchase and maintenance of 2,456 aircraft over the next forty years, the F-35 purchase would overwhelm Canada's military budget of USD 19.2 billion.[xvii] The high costs associated with the F-35 purchase make it an important financial decision that could gravely affect future Canadian citizens. Not only should Canadians scrutinize the costs, but they should also examine the reasons for purchasing the F-35. Such an important, multi-billion dollar program must be soberly justified by the Canadian government to the nation.
Does Canada Need the F-35 for Its Current and Future Military Operational Needs?
Although the F-35 is a remarkable aircraft, it is unsuitable for the Canadian military. According to Steven Staples from the Rideau Institute, the current CF-18 fulfills two important roles of the Canadian Forces: surveillance and control of the Arctic, along with expeditionary operations including "air-to-air combat, precision guided munitions/bomb delivery, and close air support of the ground."[xviii] The traditional Cold War concept of Arctic sovereignty applies to defending Canadian airspace against Russian bombers. Yet, supporters of the F-35 still maintain that this threat is real and that Canada needs the F-35 to protect Canadian and American airspace. Defense Minister Peter MacKay highlighted the Russian threat in 2010, when he praised two CF-18s for intercepting the two Russian TU-95 long range bombers on the edge of Canadian air space. However, critics like defense and foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis, said that this incident was routine and that "it's nothing to get excited about, [because] there's much less to this than meets the eye."[xix] In addition, Staples points out that if Russia were to go to war with the United States, "air defense would be irrelevant in any case, since the primary delivery vehicle would be intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles."[xx] The fear that Russia would launch an aerial attack on North America is an outdated notion with its roots in the Cold War mindset. Even if this were to occur, the 65 F-35s that Canada plans to purchase are entirely inadequate in patrolling the grand expanse of the Canadian tundra. A research analyst from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives observes that, "Canada is located in a very benign region of the world facing essentially no military threat to its own territory."[xxi] Therefore, the highly acclaimed stealth abilities and air-air combat interdiction of the F-35 are entirely inapplicable when it comes to Arctic sovereignty. Furthermore, Canada is not in any danger from other countries, as some proponents of the purchase may argue.
The second potential role that the F-35 would play is supporting NATO operations, such as the counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the stealth capabilities and advanced avionics of the F-35 are suited for a different catalogue of operations. According to Dr. Carlo Kopp from Air Power Australia, the best performing aircraft in past COIN operations were the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15E Strike Eagle, B-52H Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer, all of which are "simple, rugged, easy to deploy and support from remote sites, and capable of delivering good firepower and endurance with a robust sensor payload."[xxii] Unlike the previous aircraft, the F-35 lacks the payload capacity and required endurance to deliver sufficient ordinance for Close Air Support (CAS) missions.[xxiii] Therefore, the F-35 is unsuitable for performing a number of roles that the Canadian Forces require.
The Conservative government endorsed the F-35 purchase in order to support future U.S. aerial operations. The F-35 is capable of daylight bombing on enemy air defense systems, an ability NATO's operations frequently requires. For instance, the capacity to stealthily bomb targets was imperative in the Libya campaign, and has likewise become crucial to all aerial operations. As the PBO reports,
"…the [F-35] was to reflect key lessons derived from the 1991 Gulf War. Stealth was seen as immensely valuable in the first day of the war; however, after the first day's operations, the Iraqi integrated air defense system never recovered, and Pentagon planners believed that stealth would be less vital as any campaign continued. All this led to a 'day-one stealth' concept, where the aircraft would carry a restricted internal load at the start of the campaign but then switch to non-stealthy operations with a larger load of external weapons afterward in order to deal with bigger target sets."[xxiv]
The F-35 was built to penetrate and neutralize air defense on the first day of bombardment, after which the military would switch to a strategy that relied less on stealth. The day-one stealth concept was a strategy where the F-35 performed the initial attack on an enemy air defense system. However, while these operations were very important for U.S. missions, Canada has no need for an initial strike capacity on enemy air defenses. The F-35 was built to fulfill a niche role in the American military to conduct first-strike capability, "for which there is no requirement for Canadian participation" in NATO operations.[xxv] Because the F-35 is inadequate in conducting COIN operations and patrolling the Arctic, one has to conclude that the Conservatives are shifting to an interventionist foreign policy similar to the U.S.
Canada's foreign policy should not be tied closely to that of the U.S., especially when conducting Canadian military operations. The goals and orientations of these two militaries are completely different. The F-35's fundamental role is a day-one stealth bomber used to penetrate enemy air defense, which later secures air cover and provides the opportunity to bomb important military targets. Therefore, the F-35 purchase suggests that the Conservative government is willing to conduct further NATO operations in bombing or suppression of air defense. However, Canada lacks the capacity to follow through with this type of invasion or large-scale operation. The Canadian government should have instead used its resources to invest in areas that would benefit Canada overseas, such as the land forces. Steven Staples points out, "as the second largest country in the world, a significant portion of [Canada's] military spending should be dedicated to disaster relief, search-and-rescue, and constabulary patrols along [Canada's] three coasts. [Canada's] potential military contribution to expeditionary missions will be neither necessary nor sufficient for the success of operations involving significant use of force."[xxvi]
With the current budget deficit and Canada's historical role in peacekeeping missions, the Canadian Forces should focus on missions sanctioned by the United Nations. Canada could make a greater contribution to UN missions by having the Canadian Forces specialize in general use capabilities.[xxvii] General specialization will allow Canada to offer greater support for humanitarian missions – an option that investing in concepts such as "first-strike capabilities" renders impossible. However, even though these UN missions are very important, Canada has dramatically reduced its contributions to UN operations since 1997, partly because of the NATO-led mission in Bosnia. By 2005, Canada committed only 83 military personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, in comparison 500 Canadian soldiers participated in stabilizing Haiti from 1993 to 1996.[xxviii],[xxix] Once again, Staples recognizes that Canada stopped operating strategic bombers after the end of the Second World War, and retired the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonadventure forty years ago.[xxx] Until recently, previous administrations reoriented the Canadian Forces to conduct smaller peace-keeping operations. Its critics say that the F-35 purchase marks a grave mistake by the Conservatives, as Canada does not need the F-35 in any shape or capacity in its inventory. Instead, Canada's scarce resources should be invested in existing sectors of their armed forces.
References for this article can be found here.
About the author:
COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.