Mark Collins – F-35: Where’s the US Money? Plus Canada

Still no clear skies ahead:

1) Defense News:

McCain: ‘Have To’ Reduce F-35 Total Buy

The powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday [Oct. 20] the US will have to cut the numbers of F-35 fighter jets it will purchase.

In a brief comment to reporters, McCain seemed to signal that the total projected buy for the Pentagon’s most costly and ambitious program — 2,443 in total, spread across three models for the Air Force, Marines and Navy — is out of whack with budget realities. He said that cost growth in the program will mean fewer jets overall.

“We’re going to have to reduce the buy,” he said. “The number they are now quoting — there’s just not going to be that many.”

McCain, a longtime critic of the F-35, is known for hitting the program for a series of cost overruns and delays. But calling for a formal reduction in the Pentagon’s buy of the jets has been a touchy subject in the Defense Department…

2) Breaking Defense:

Billions In F-35 Upgrades Debated; Canada Election Fallout

While Congress and the media focus on immediate issues with the F-35’s ejection seat, the program has begun working on a long-range modernization plan to upgrade the Joint Strike Fighter’s combat power.

This modernization package, with the so-called Block 4 software upgrade at its core, is essential to the aircraft reaching its “full warfighting capability,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the Air Force’s F-35 integration director, told Congress yesterday [Oct. 21]. The Air Force F-35A model will reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in December 2016, but it won’t have all the advertised features — i.e. full capability — at that time. The modernization effort will cost $2.6 billion in R&D through 2020 alone.

“We will improve electronic attack [e.g. jamming]. We will improve electronic warfare [in general]. We will improve the radar,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, speaking to reporters after the House air-land forces subcommittee hearing. “We will add many weapons in Block 4, many unique weapons that the [foreign] partners need and use.” Those first two improvements are particularly important because the Air Force has said the F-35 won’t need the help of dedicated jamming aircraft like the Navy’s EA-18G Growler.

But there’s a problem, Bogdan freely admitted. With wish-lists coming from three US armed services and eight foreign partners — seven if Canada drops out (more on that below) — the upgrade package has swollen beyond what’s feasible or affordable, Bogdan said. The next six to eight months will be crucial as the program office, US services, and foreign partners wrestle over those requirements. If they can’t whittle them down, then the F-35 modernization effort may suffer the same cost overruns and schedule slips as many programs in the past, including the original F-35 program itself.

…A central selling point of the aircraft is that so many partners are buying so many planes that everyone gets economies of scale. Lt. Gen. Bogdan’s goal is to get the price of the simplest variant, the F-35A, down to $80-$85 million dollars (including engine), which in turn is tied to getting production rates up to the planned 170 planes per year.

The problem with efficiencies of scale, however, is that you start to lose them if any partner pulls out or cuts their buy. That raises the price for everyone who’s left, which causes more cutbacks and dropouts, which raise the price still further in a vicious circle. It is such a downward spiral that people worry about when they see Canada has elected a new prime minister committed to canceling that country’s F-35s…

3) Defense One:

Obama Vetoes Defense Policy Bill; Now What?

The Obama administration made a photo op of its defense-policy-bill veto, hoping to strike back at fiscal conservatives in Congress who cry that the White House is “holding the military hostage” to raise non-defense spending.

As promised, President Barack Obama vetoed the $612 billion NDAA because it didn’t help close the Guantanamo Bay prison and because it used war funding to dodge budget caps (the White House’s full list of objections to document can be found here)…

Congress still has time to match its performance in recent years — they have rarely been able to pass an NDAA until December for the fiscal year that began two months earlier. Nor have they managed to lift the budget caps installed in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which adminstration officials call embarrassing to allies and a hindrance to the military’s ability to plan.
Click here for Defense One’s complete coverage of the U.S. defense budget.

“The alternative to a budget deal, a long-term continuing resolution, is merely sequester-level funding under another name. And the longer a continuing resolution is, the worse it becomes,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter wrote in a Wednesday [Oct. 21] op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “This budget maneuver leaves the military with no reasonable basis for the long-term planning and investments needed to keep our forces modern and relevant…In this uncertain security environment, the U.S. military needs to be agile and dynamic. What it has now is a straitjacket.”..

4) Aviation Week and Space Technology:

Opinion: Euro-Canards, Boeing Likely To Fight For Canada’s Business

Canada’s election upset heralds a big fighter contest


Lockheed Martin lost 65 aircraft from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) orderbook in a matter of weeks, as Canada’s Liberal Party first pledged in writing to dump the JSF and hold a competition and then won an overall majority that no pollsters predicted [but no official withdrawal from the program until after the new government takes office Nov. 4].

It’s not a lethal blow to the JSF project, still bigger on paper than all its Western rivals combined. It was less about the merits of the airplane than the inept, arrogant and dishonest way in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (photo) Conservative administration tried to avoid a competition…

Dishonesty? One of Harper’s ministers told Parliament in 2010 that Canada could not buy the JSF through a competition, because it was already a partner. Two years later, JSF partner Denmark decided to compete its fighter buy, and Team JSF cooperated fully.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals must quickly launch a competition to replace the air force’s F/A-18, if they want to have contracts signed before campaigning begins for the next election, no later than 2020 [see also: “RCAF Hornet Life Extension Cost/Smaller Fleet“]. They have said that the JSF is ruled out because Canada’s needs have swung back toward air defense.

That decision may well stick because the JSF is as popular as week-old poutine: Former Hornet pilot and rookie politician Stephen Fuhr, who launched his campaign on the JSF issue, just dislodged a nine-year incumbent from a district in British Columbia that had voted Conservative for 45 years [more here].

It is a good time to be in the marketAnd if yours is the biggest fighter order in play, the competitors are checking the price tags on their grandmothers…


F-35 and Canadian Election: Liberals Loose With Fighter Costs

US Congress: “Budget Threats Return To Haunt F-35 Ramp-up”

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


12 thoughts on “Mark Collins – F-35: Where’s the US Money? Plus Canada”

  1. More Canada:

    [F-35 program head USAF Lt. Gen] Bogdan said it is still unclear what will happen to Canadian firms who are currently building parts for the stealth fighter. “We do not have a set rule as to what happens to that industrial participation if a partner reduces airplanes, adds airplanes or leaves the program,” said Bogdan.

    “But it is my opinion that the remaining partners and our industry partners are going to have a discussion about what to do with all of the industry in Canada that is building parts for the airplane.”

    Officials with Lockheed Martin have told the Citizen they could drop Canadian suppliers if Canada doesn’t buy the plane.

    Alan Williams, the former procurement chief at the Department of National Defence, said that might happen but Lockheed could find it difficult to acquire replacement systems as production of the planes is now underway…’

    Mark Collins

    1. And more Canada:

      ‘Bogdan: Canada Pullout Would Drive Up F-35 Cost

      If Canada pulls out of the Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program, the remaining international partners will be forced to pay a higher price for each plane, according to the head of the Joint Program Office…

      On Capitol Hill today, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, JPO chief, said the remaining international partners would see a million-dollar increase in price per plane if Canada pulls out of the program. That country had planned to buy 65 F-35s.

      “If any partner, or any service, moves airplanes to the right, takes airplanes out, the price of the airplane for all the other partners and all the other services goes up,” Bogdan told the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces on Wednesday. “We have estimated the increase in price is 0.7 to 1 percent [or] about a million dollars a copy for everybody else.”

      If Canada pulls its F-35 buy, there would be no impact to the development program, which ends in 2017, Bogdan stressed. However, the international partners would be forced to absorb Canada’s 2.1 percent share in the cost of future sustainment and follow-on modernization, he said…’

      Mark Collins

  2. Some USAF, USN views on stealth etc.:

    “…the service’s [USAF’s] own air warfare experts at Nellis AFB, Nev., freely admit that stealth works best when complemented with other capabilities like electronic attack—and those officers recognize the need for a platform like the EA-18G Growler. Detection via radar is decided by the signal to noise ratio—stealth reduces the signal while jamming increases the noise. That’s just basic physics—ideally, one works both sides of the problem to achieve the best results.

    At the tactical level—as I recently discussed with a good friend who is an Air Force Weapons School grad with lots of stealth experience—a four-ship of F-35Cs supported by Growlers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and other naval assets is likely to be more effective than a four-ship of Super Hornets operating with the same support assets. While the F-35C does not have good kinematic performance, it does (or will eventually) have stealth, excellent sensors and phenomenal electronic warfare capabilities. Indeed, combining the F-35C with the Super Hornet might work very well in a scenario where the Joint Strike Fighter is used as a spotter for the F/A-18E/Fs. Indeed, the Navy’s director of air warfare Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told me as such a couple of years ago when I was at the U.S. Naval Institute.

    But the problem for the Navy is that the F-35C is expensive both to buy and sustain onboard a carrier. There are many in the Navy that simply don’t believe that any added performance benefits the F-35C brings to the table would be worth the massive additional cost. Moreover, there is a growing understanding in the naval community that the F-35C fundamentally does not have the range or payload needed to keep the carrier relevant in the anti-access/area denial environment of the Western Pacific. Indeed, there have been suggestions that the Navy truncate or cancel its portion of the Joint Strike Fighter buy. But only time will tell…

    Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.”


    “US Navy: Slow F-35C Arrival=Super Hornet Life Extension”

    Mark Collins

  3. This could be very significant:

    “U.S. Considers Up To 72 New F-15s Or F-16s

    LONDON — The U.S. Air Force may solicit bids for 72 new Boeing F-15s, Lockheed Martin F-16s or even Boeing F/A-18E/Fs as budget issues put planned production rates for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter out of reach, according to senior service and industry officials at the Defense IQ International Fighter Conference here.

    F-15s and F-16s are now expected to serve until 2045, when an all-new aircraft will be ready, and plans to modernize F-16s with active electronically scanned array radars and other improvements are being revived.

    The conference was run under Chatham House rules that prohibit identifying specific speakers.

    The U.S. Air Force “is struggling to afford 48 F-35s a year” for the first years of full-rate production, a senior officer says. The program of record shows the service buying 60 aircraft in 2020, rising to 80 per year soon after that. Consequently, F-15s and F-16s will serve longer and will outnumber F-35s and F-22s through the late 2020s…”

    Mark Collins

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