Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pentagon budget plan expected to trim F-35 program Provided by iPolitics Staff

The U.S. secretary of defence is set to release a proposal this week on how the Pentagon can deal with the proposed cuts to the country’s defence budget over the next decade, according to The New York Times.

Last summer’s bipartisan debt deal set out a plan to immediately enact “10-year discretionary spending caps generating nearly US$1 trillion in deficit reduction; balanced between defense and non-defense spending.” That included a plan to shave at least US$350 billion from the defence budget over the same time period.

That deal also had a caveat if the committee charged with reaching a bipartisan agreement (the super committee) failed to enact a further US$1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction November 23, 2011. If that were to be the case – which, in fact, it was – an automatic sequester would be enacted and “add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made” – an outcome that was qualified at the time as being “unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike.”

From the Times:

So, where are we now?

“Mr. [Leon] Panetta is expected to outline plans for carefully shrinking the military – and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.

Instead, he will say that the military will be large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to ‘spoil’ a second adversary’s ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone.”

Among the programs likely to come under the knife is the Joint Strike Fighter – the program under which the F-35 fighter jet is being developed. During the last few months of 2011, the F-35 came under fresh scrutiny in the U.S., mostly due to its increased cost and continually delayed development. It is still, says theTimes, the “chief target” of weapons spending cuts.

Again, from the Times:

“The debate centers on how necessary the advanced stealth fighter really is and whether missions could be carried out with the less expensive F-16s. The main advantage of the F-35 is its ability to evade radar systems, making it difficult to shoot down — an attribute that is important only if the United States anticipates a war with another technologically advanced military.

‘It would matter some with Iran, it would matter a lot with China,’ said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book, The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.”

What this might mean for Canada remains to be seen, but, as it’s been said many times, any change in the number of planes being produced and purchased will ultimately affect the price Canada pays for each of its jets.

The program received a boost just before Christmas when Japan signed on to buy 42 jets. On December 20, Japan’s defence ministry announced it expects to pay roughly US$114 million per plane in the initial stage of procurement, according to Reuters. That ministry also allowed for that cost to rise should backup parts be necessary.

Back at home, Canada’s government has remained firm in its commitment that the entire cost of the program – the planes, along will the follow-on costs – will be CAN$9 billion. However, Associate Minister of Defence, Julian Fantino, told the Canadian Press the number of planes Canada ultimately procures could be less than 65. What could ultimately change that number – cost or otherwise – is also still unclear.

Meanwhile, over at Time magazine, Mark Thompson decided to price out the engines that are currently being purchased for the three variants of the plane.
Here’s what he came up with:

  • The Navy is buying six engines – 20% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $167 million. That’s 15% of the total $1.1 billion contract. Works out to $28 million per engine.
  • The Air Force is buying 21 engines – 70% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $521 million. That’s 46.3% of the total $1.1 billion purchase. That’s $25 million per powerplant.
  • The Marines are buying three engines – 10% of the 30-engine deal – and are paying $387 million. That’s 34.5% of the total $1.1 billion contract. That’s $129 million per engine.

Which to him sounds like an awful lot.

“There are probably some complicating factors involved not reflected in the contract announcement. And the Marines are buying fewer engines, which makes each one more expensive. They’re also developing theirs for short takeoffs and vertical landings, which increases the price. But by more than 300%?”

Luckily for Canada, anyway, that number probably won’t matter, no matter what it ends up being, as it doesn’t apply to the planes set to come north; Canada won’t be buying the Marine variant.

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.

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