The Federal Government has denied a blowout in costs for the US-built F-35 joint strike fighter will affect Australia's mass purchase of the warplane.
The Government has placed a tentative order for 100 of the stealth aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of less capable F/A-18 Hornets and the now retired F-111 fighter-bomber.
But overnight a US senate committee heard the latest cost estimate - which has nearly doubled from initial targets - would make the fleet of warplanes unaffordable.
The Pentagon's top weapons buyer, acquisition chief Ashton Carter, said the program currently has "an unacceptably high acquisition bill".
The cost of each aircraft in the US has ballooned from US$69 million ($64.7 million) to US$103 million, and the project has been dogged by ongoing design and development flaws.
A spokesman for Defence Minister Stephen Smith says the US senate review is "standard stuff" and the cost per unit will be lower as the program goes on.
But he said the cost of the initial 14 planes, at a cost of $3.2 billion or $228 million per aircraft, was a necessary cost to buy early-build units so pilots could be trained on the advanced fighter-bomber.
He said the balance of the order would be from aircraft made later in the production cycle when prices would be lower.
However a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says delays in the F-35 are a bigger concern than the cost.
The defence and security think tank says the RAAF may have to wait a further seven years before the joint strike fighter enters service - six years after delivery was originally scheduled.
The Defence Minister's spokesman conceded most of the aircraft should arrive "in 2018 and 2019".
The Howard government ordered 24 off-the-shelf F/A-18F Super Hornets to serve as an interim multi-role fighter pending the arrival of the F-35 - a purchase at the time opposed by the RAAF.
To hedge against the prospect of further delays to the JSF program, the Gillard Government should buy more Super Hornets, the report said.
After more than a decade of pursuing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are indicating that the Pentagon’s biggest weapon program might need an understudy.
“It seems to me [prudent that] we at least begin considering alternatives,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during a hearing May 19, after hearing that current estimates show the program’s development and sustainment are unaffordable.
That idea does not sit well with the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, Ashton Carter, who says the Pentagon has no good alternative to the next-generation stealthy fighter, even though the cost to sustain the program into the future is an eye-popping $1 trillion, adjusted for inflation over its lifespan. That is less than the cost to sustain the F-22, about the same as the F-15, and more than either the F-16 or the F-18.
Carter is pledging the amount will be brought down during a “should-cost” review of the program that he will finish in the next couple of months.
Not all members of the Senate committee that sets policy for the Defense Department agree with McCain that it is time to begin looking at other options.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), from the home state of the program’s Ft. Worth production facilities, says that the Pentagon needs to do all it can to protect the JSF. “If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket, you ought to protect that basket.” Cornyn says.
Others picked up on McCain’s comment, however, including Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who pressed Carter on exactly how much cost the Pentagon would like to see removed from the sustainment estimate.
Carter says he is aiming to reduce costs by 20% to 50%. “It’s not a small amount,” Carter says.
But Christine Fox, the director of the Pentagon’s cost assessment and program evaluation office, casts doubt on that goal, saying that even if the program can speed software development to reduce costs, operation and sustainment (O&S) reductions are another matter.
“O&S is hard,” Fox says, adding that the cost of fuel, for example, will not be easy to reduce. “Whether we can get it all the way down to legacy [O&S cost levels] is something that I in my office doubt.”
Asked about the costs, Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin’s general manager for F-35 program integration, says that the next-generation fighter’s sustainment costs cannot be fairly compared to older aircraft.
He says JSF sustainment was developed on a performance-based logistics plan different than legacy sustainment processes. The JSF’s O&S estimates also go out to 2065 and are susceptible to ground rules that legacy aircraft are not bound to, he adds.
Nonetheless, committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wants Carter to report back within a week on what the Pentagon sees as an alternative to JSF if the Pentagon’s goals are not met.
“We need to know what the driver is, to succeed here,” Levin says. “Part of the driver is to have a backup plan.”
Japan may drop the F-35 stealth fighter from a shortlist for the country’s next generation fighter due to a sharp delay in the plane’s development plan, the Kyodo agency reported on Friday citing diplomatic and defense sources.
The operational test of the radar-evading F-35—being developed by Lockheed Martin and Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway—is not expected to begin until 2017 and this would not satisfy Japan’s desire to receive delivery of the next fighter by March that year, Kyodo said.
The development of the multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, due to replace various aircraft in the military fleets of both the United States and its partners, has been hampered by delays and ballooning costs.
If Japan were to drop the F-35, its shortlist will be narrowed down to Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Eurofighter is a four-nation consortium of EADS, representing Germany and Spain, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Finmeccanica .
The Eurofighter Typhoon, used by NATO nations and Saudi Arabia, would be Japan’s first European fighter jet.
But the sources reckon that Japan, which has emphasized coordination with U.S. forces, could pick the F/A-18, Kyodo said.
Japan is looking to make the selection at the end of the year. The new fighter will replace Japan’s aging F-4 Phantoms.
Joint Strike Fighter Makes First Air Show Appearance UNITED STATES - 21 MAY 2011
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- The F-35C Joint Strike Fighter made its first public appearance at an air show May 21.
Piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Magic" Buus, the F-35C made a single pass down the show line at the Joint Service Open House at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
The flight commemorated 100 years of naval aviation by highlighting the future of tactical air power for the U.S. Navy. The F-35C variant of the joint strike fighter is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B versions with its larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for greater control in the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment.
The flyover originated from the F-35C's primary test site at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. and was executed in the same manner as any controlled test sortie. The aircraft, CF-2, flew within its approved flight envelope and was accompanied by an F-18 Hornet flying chase.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program is in the system development and demonstration phase, focusing on delivering three different and new aircraft variants to the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. All three variants integrate advanced low observable stealth into a supersonic, multi-role fighter.
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. (May 21, 2011) An aircraft carrier variant of the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter flies over Andrews Air Force Base, Md., during the Joint Service Open House. This is the first public appearance of a joint strike fighter aircraft at an air show. Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Magic" Buus piloted the aircraft. The F-35C is a fifth generation strike fighter with stealth capability and has larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for the demanding carrier environment. The aircraft is undergoing test and evaluation at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Third F-35 Carrier Variant Aircraft Completes First Flight UNITED STATES - 23 MAY 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas, May 23rd, 2011 -- The third F-35 Lightning II carrier variant flight test aircraft, designated CF-3, launches from Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base on May 21 on the way to completing its first test flight. CF-3 continues its flight testing in Fort Worth, preparing to fly to NAS Patuxent River, Md., later this year. Once there, it will join two other carrier variant aircraft and four short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft as part of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps flight test program.
The F-35 is getting too complex for it's own good now. Initially it seemed to be a good strike alternative to the heavyweight F-22, but now it's just plagued with to many systems and is way to expensive to justify the stealth aspect of the plane. Honestly if the Eurofighter and Rafale are only 60% as good as the F-35, then I would say the IAF will be very happy with what they are getting for the money, not to mention the TOT we get and no strings attached.
TEL AVIV — Less than a year after it signed an agreement for procurement of the F-35, Israel fears that it would be left without an advanced U.S. fighter-jet.
Officials said the Israel Air Force and Defense Ministry have been scrambling to determine the future of the Joint Strike Fighter amid threats from Congress. They said a high-level Israeli defense delegation would travel to Washington to examine the JSF project and a delivery schedule.
"We knew there were problems with the airplane, but things are much worse than we had been told," an official said.
In August 2010, the Israeli Defense Ministry signed a Letter of Order and Acceptance for the procurement of 20 F-35s from Lockheed Martin. At the time, officials said the deal, reported at $2.7 billion, stipulated initial delivery by 2016, Middle East Newsline reported.
But technical delays could block the development of an operational JSF. Officials cited a series of problems, including avionics, engine and integration.
"The F-35 is vital to our existence and will provide a dramatic leap in capabilities," Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan said.
Since then, however, Israel has remained the only foreign country to have ordered JSF. JSF partners such as Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey have been dismayed by the performance of the F-35 as well as cost overruns and the U.S. refusal to release source codes.
Israeli officials now acknowledge that the delivery schedule could be delayed by several years and spark a crisis within the air force. They said the air force has urged the Defense Ministry to begin negotiations to lease surplus F-15 fighter-jets from the United States.
"I imagine a dialogue will start with the Americans over a new schedule and changes," Defense Ministry director-general Udi Shani said.
Shani told the Israeli daily Haaretz that an Israeli delegation would hold talks with the U.S. Defense Department over JSF. He said the delegation would also discuss such issues as technology transfer and the installation of Israeli systems on the F-35, something long opposed by Washington.
At this point, the Israel Air Force continues to project optimism. On May 25, Nehushtan told the Fischer Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies that he still believes in the JSF program despite expected delays and wants air training to begin in 2016.
"The forecasted delays in the delivery of the F-35 to [Israel] is less dramatic than what's being said," Nehushtan said.
For its part, however, Congress has placed the administration of President Barack Obama on notice that the $1 trillion JSF program could be canceled. In late May, the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the Pentagon to draft alternatives to the F-35, the cost of which has risen by more than 50 percent.
"We cannot sacrifice other important acquisitions in the Department of Defense investment portfolio to pay for this capability," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin said.
Third F-35 Carrier Variant Flies to NAS Patuxent River UNITED STATES - 3 JUNE 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas, June 3rd, 2011 -- Lockheed Martin delivered its third F-35 Lightning II carrier variant aircraft, known as CF-3, to its primary test site at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md., yesterday. Lockheed Martin test pilot Dan “Dog” Canin piloted the aircraft during its 3.3-hour flight from NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. CF-3, the 8th aircraft delivered in 2011, joins the current fleet of F-35 test aircraft, focusing on mission systems, weapons integration, survivability and carrier suitability testing.