Monday, December 12, 2011

Japanese F-35 buy would be ‘symbolic’ boost to fighter jet program: analyst Provided by iPolitics Staff

Japan is set to commit to purchasing a number of F-35 fighter jets as early as the end of this week.

The anticipated move could see Japan acquire between 40 and 60 airplanes by Friday, according to Kyodo News. However, iPolitics has learned the commitment could happen as early as Tuesday morning.

Whenever it does occur, the Japanese commitment will be a boost to the program says Philippe Lagassé, a defence analyst and University of Ottawa public and international affairs professor.

“It’s an injection of confidence in the process and the plane, which at this point seems to be lacking or seems to be falling to some degree,” Lagassé said.

© 2011 iPolitics Inc.

Earlier Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported the Israeli Air Force is now upgrading its older F-16 fighters out of concerns over delays in the Joint Strike Fighter production schedule. Israel is due to receive 20 F-35s in 2017.

That news is only the latest in a series of setbacks for the program, both internationally and in the U.S., where Congress has repeatedly called the JSF costing into question.

Last week, U.S. Vice Adm. David Venlet suggested that production of the F-35 should be slowed after fatigue tests revealed several “hot spots” that could escalate future costs.

The overall cost of each aircraft has been a sore point for the program so far, and something opposition parties in Canada have seized on in demanding that a new process is undertaken to choose a plane. But while the final cost per unit remains an unknown at this point, theoretically, the more nations that purchase the F-35, the lower it will be.

“The economies of scale really depend on the number of aircraft that the U.S. ends up buying, but we can’t overlook either the number of those smaller allies or the smaller orders that would be coming,” says Lagassé.

Another committed partner is also a boost for industry confidence. As there is no mandatory industrial regional benefit [IRB] element to the JSF program, the promise of a potentially larger pool of consumers for F-35 parts is good news.

“It’s not simply the price of the plane. You also want to know that you can end up selling the parts and taking on contracts for a wide number of aircraft,” Lagassé says. “Otherwise your IRB benefits that you will be missing from that contract would actually be fairly significant.”

In the end, while Japan’s commitment is good news for the troubled F-35 program, much still rests on both the quality of the final product and the main purchaser, the U.S. and whether it scales back the program and to what degree.

Japan’s expected commitment is “more of a symbolic thing,” says Lagassé.

“The degree to which you can have different allies and players declaring themselves supportive of the aircraft… is a good sign for Lockheed,” says Lagassé, though he cautioned that in the long term it might not mean anything if the plane isn’t up to par.

“In the end, if the aircraft is overpriced and if it does continue to suffer delays, then that’s a major problem,” he said.

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