Tuesday, December 31, 2013

F-35: Critic - "F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders would do fine"

Sometimes you read something that is supposedly aimed at objective criticism and you run across something so silly you just throw up your hands and say, "I'm done".  This article was one of them.  It rehashed all the old, stale arguments against the F-35 and then claimed all we needed to do was buff up our legacy aircraft (and in this case, gen 2 and 3 aircraft) a bit.

In fact:
Indeed, for many of the missions associated with the modern practice of airpower, A-1 Skyraiders and F-4 Phantom would perform perfectly well.
This is what I call the 'present conflict' syndrome.  "Thinkers" like this can't or won't look past the present conflict in which we're involved to possible conflicts of the future.  You build your force for the future, not the present.  You do it with an eye on who those conflicts might involve and what it might require to be on at least equal and hopefully superior footing.

Critics like this also tend to tell us how "expensive" a program like the F-35 is, but never seem to realize that maintaining and upgrading a raft of different lines of mission specific legacy aircraft would be prohibitively expensive.  And even then, in a world going stealth, they would be inadequate in almost every way.

Could we use F-4s and A-1 Skyraiders?  Possibly, in very special circumstances, like Afghanistan.  But against China?  Iran?  Any of a host of other hostile nations with sophisticated air defense systems (another of many potential enemy capabilities they usually ignore)?  Of course not.  Nor would we do well with our current crop of legacy aircraft.  So what then?

Warfare evolves.  It moves on.  While a critic may believe the F-35 has shortcomings, they lose all credibility when they make silly suggestions such as we should just keep what we have while other countries move into the same areas of development as the F-22/F-35 programs are involved.  If they had a valid point, I'm sure we'd still be using Gatling guns and muzzle loading cannon.  I'm sure they would "perform perfectly well" in certain circumstances.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The F-35's "very good year"

Well this will make the usual suspects foam at the mouth, I'm sure:
Thirteen is looking like the F-35 fighter’s lucky number. After struggling for a dozen years to make program realities match government expectations, in 2013 prime contractor Lockheed Martin saw everything come together. Technical risks were retired. Flight testing progressed rapidly. The price-tag for each plane continued declining. And a new management team discovered that its government customers weren’t so hard to get along with after all. So when the history of the Pentagon’s biggest weapon program is written, 2013 is going to look like the point at which the effort really took off — the year doubts melted away and the F-35 became unstoppable.
I'd say, as a short synopsis of the year, this pretty much describes it.  Loren Thompson, who wrote it and, as usual, discloses that LM is one of the contributors to his think tank, nonetheless lays out a pretty persuasive case for his lead paragraph in the remainder of the article.

In successive paragraphs, Thompson covers testing, production, cost, teamwork and orders.  In every area both progress and success are undeniable.  Well, except for the critics, who adept at denying reality on a daily basis.

Make sure to read the whole thing.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

F-35: New sortie record

Lockheed Martin public affairs has put out a press release with the following:
The joint-program reached a new single-day record for F-35 sorties Dec. 4 with 45 training missions between all three models of the aircraft. The Marine B- model completed 32 of the flights, the Air Force A-model had 10 flights and the Navy C-model flew three missions.
As you recall, the critics were telling us how unreliable they believed the F-35 would be and it would never be able to accomplish meaningful sortie rates.  It was "too complicated" and would be a "hanger queen".  Especially the "B" model.

So far, it's not working out that way at all, is it?


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The F-35 and the "dogfight" question

I see War is Boring is at it again, this time questioning the abilities of the F-35 in a "dogfight".

It's an interesting attempt to brand the F-35 as inferior to the F-22 while making it clear the F-35 isn't intended to be the F-22 ... or something.

Take this paragraph:
By contrast, there are troubling questions as to how well the F-35 would fare against the new foreign fighters. While the F-35 has air-to-air sensors and can carry air-to-air missiles, it does not have the kinematic performance of the F-22. It’s simply sluggish in comparison.
Well, yeah ... so are most of the fighter aircraft in the world, "in comparison".  And, as they attempt to point out in the article, the F-35 is a Joint STRIKE Fighter.

However, the critics have also said that what we should really be doing is buying more F-18s, remember?  And they will do well against whatever is out there, or so the argument goes.

So what does the F-35 remind pilots of?
U.S. military test pilots say the JSF is similar to the Boeing F/A-18C in speed and maneuverability.
Oh.  Gee, given the critics, I'd think that would be a plus. And it has what else?
The F-35 does have integrated avionics—in some ways more advanced than even the Raptor’s ...
And? Oh yeah, stealth.

So maybe, just maybe, it will be the plane getting the first shot, huh?

Obviously the F-35 isn't an air superiority weapon, but will it be able to defend itself?  Yes.  Will it be able to help establish air superiority?  Most likely, yes:
“You have to have the F-35 to augment the F-22 to do the air superiority fight at the beginning of a high-end conflict to survive against the fifth-generation threats we believe will be in the world at that point in time,” Welsh says. 
 Bingo. That's the point of the net-centric, information sharing advanced capabilities the 5th gen aircraft share.

The F-35 is not a dogfighter, but then we don't want the F-22 to be one either.  We want them to be "first shot, one shot, fight over" aircraft.  Working together, there's no reason they can't be.  And that's Gen. Welsh's point.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

F-35: A couple of milestones

First, the manufacturer is set to deliver the 100th F-35.  The breakdown:
The first 100 F-35s include 44 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variants, 42 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants, and 14 F-35C carrier (CV) variants. The U.S. Department of Defense will receive 95 of the first 100 jets from the F-35 assembly line here. The remaining five jets were delivered to two of the program’s partner countries. The United Kingdom received three F-35B aircraft and two F-35As have been delivered to the Netherlands.
Deliveries are ramping up as more orders come in.  Yup, that's right, we should see those economies of scale begin to kick in big time soon.

The other milestone?  A pretty important one I'd say:
An F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter aircraft successfully employed a Guided Bomb Unit-32 (GBU-32) Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon from the F-35B's internal weapons bay against a fixed ground test target on Dec. 6, completing a successful flight test and verification year for weapons integration. The latest series of weapons tests was accomplished with Block 2B software. The GBU-32 JDAM is a 1,000 pound "smart" bomb with high accuracy, all-weather, autonomous, conventional bombing capability that is guided by a Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided Inertial Navigation System (INS) to its target upon separation from the jet.
The significance?
The test was a major milestone in the F-35 program for the Marine Corps' F-35 Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2015 (employing the 2B software), Air Force IOC in 2016 and Navy IOC in 2018.
Onward and upward.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Norway orders 6 more F-35s

This is addition to those they recently ordered:
Norway's parliament authorised the government to purchase another six Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets for about 4 billion crowns ($654.7 million), the parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee said on Wednesday.

The six jets, to be delivered in 2018, bring the Norwegian order to 16 planes ...
Good news for the program and an indicator that any hesitation by Norway about the F-35 seems to have passed.
Norway plans to buy a total of 52 F-35s by the end of 2024, but purchases for each year have to be separately approved by parliament.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

US sees strong interest in F-35 among Gulf states

An interesting dilemma for the US:
Strong demand from Gulf countries for Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet has prompted Washington to grapple with the thorny question about releasing the jet to the region sooner than expected, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Washington has already approved sales of the new stealth fighter to a range of allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review given U.S. policy guidelines that call for Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Talk about selling the plane to the United Arab Emirates and other U.S. allies in the Gulf came into the open during the Dubai air show last month, with potential buyers weighing whether to buy existing planes or wait for the U.S. government to release the new radar-evading F-35. 
Obviously the F-35 is an export model, given the sales outside the original partners in the program.  However, one of the pillars of US foreign policy in the Middle East has been to ensure Israel has a qualitative edge in weaponry.  So selling to other Gulf states requires some decision making that has to take that into consideration.

On the plus side, of course, is that more sales means a lower cost per aircraft for everyone.
Decisions about releasing sensitive technologies for sale to foreign countries are made by the State Department in consultation with the Pentagon and other government agencies.

"Eventually we're going to have to make a decision. We have a very structured process in place for doing that. And it takes a little bit of time," said the official. "But we are going to have to make decisions on a tighter timeline than we thought."
Israel gets their first F-35 in 2016.  My guess is there won't be a decision on sales to the Gulf states anytime before that.

Why the sudden interest?
"The interest in the airplane is coming about simply because it's getting more mature and people are finally realizing that it's really going to happen," said the official. 
Which means that future sales outside the Gulf states remains a solid possiblity as well.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

F-35: Interview with PacAf Gen. Hawk Carlisle

Gen. Hawk Carlisle outlined the emerging Pacific strategy in an interview.  And he was clear on what the deployment of the F-35 and F-22 mean to the success of that strategy:
He sees this reshaping approach as central to shaping the distributed operations approach emerging as the F-35 fleet is deployed over the decade ahead.

“The F-35 is the finest sensor-enabled aircraft ever built. The F-35 is orders of magnitude better than the F-22 (which is the greatest air to air fighter ever built) as an electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft. We already are working synergy between F-22s and fourth generation aircraft to provide greater fidelity of the information shaping air combat operations. With the F-22 and F-35 combination and the folding in of on-orbit information and surveillance systems, we will be able to generate more synergy across the fleet,” the general told us.

The other advantage of the F-35 is its commonality across the services. “We are already working on greater synergy among the air power services; with the F-35 and deploying common assets in a dispersed fleet, the efforts we are making now for today’s conditions will only lead to more effective capabilities for tomorrow’s crises as well.”
"Synergy", of course, is the key word here.  That synergy will take away much of any enemies potential advantage with superior numbers.  And the speed and accuracy with which battlefield intel is shared may remove the remainder of a numerical advantage.
“When you bring Raptor and F-35 into the mix you make every one of the platforms better in terms of its performance for the joint force,” he told us. “And referring back to your concept of S Cubed (Stealth, Sensors, and Speed), when you put those two together with long range strike the synergy unleashed by S Cubed will be significantly enhanced as well.”
 Make sure to read the whole thing.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

South Korean order will help drive F-35 price down

To me, that is one of the the big points about this order.   It helps provide those economies of scale that the manufacturer needs to drop the price of each aircraft:
Once Seoul - as new buyer - formally notifies the Pentagon about its planned purchases, those jets will be added to the total number of expected purchases by the U.S. military and allies that is used by defense officials to estimate the cost of each airplane.

By 2019, the Pentagon projects the cost of each new F-35 fighter plane will be around $85 million, putting it on a par with the cost of current fighter planes, said Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant. 
According to the story the South Korean order could end up saving the US military about $2 billion.   More foreign sales (outside the original allied partners) of the aircraft, the lower the cost of each for the US and it's partners. And, as the article points out, foreign buyers are showing increased confidence in the F-35 via their orders.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Navy video about the F-35

Here's an interesting video.  It's the first video I've seen of the Navy actually endorsing and talking positively about the F-35.  If you look closely, up in the right corner, you'll see the Navy YouTube subscription logo pop in eventually.

The name of the vid?

"Inside F-35 Country: Tip of the Spear for the future of Naval Aviation"

In other words, this is their "all in" video.  It should remove any doubt some may have of their commitment to the F-35.


Friday, November 22, 2013

South Korea to buy 40 F-35s

It seems official according to everything I've read.  South Korea's decision is to buy 40 F-35s:
South Korea decided Friday to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin's F-35A stealth fighters for four years starting in 2018, with an option to buy 20 more later depending on the security situation and budget, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

JCS Chairman Choi Yun-hee held a meeting of top commanders to approve the plan to buy the 40 F-35 Block 3s, which are capable of conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with internal carriage and external stations for missiles and bombs. The software configuration is expected to reach the initial operating capability around 2016, according to the U.S. Air Force.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin's F-35A stealth fighters for four years starting in 2018, with an option to buy 20 more later depending on the security situation and budget, officials said in a briefing held at the defense ministry on Nov. 22, 2013. (Yonhap)
That final paragraph leaves the door open for competitors such as Boeing and EDAS.  However it appears like the predominant fighter for South Korea in the coming future is going to be the F-35.
"The F-35A will be used as a strategic weapon to gain a competitive edge and defeat the enemy in the early stage of war," JCS spokesman Eom Hyo-sik said in a briefing. "The South Korean military will also use the aircraft to effectively deal with provocations."

"The JCS decided to buy 40 jets first to minimize the security vacuum and purchase the remaining 20 after reassessing the required operational capability in accordance with the changing security situations and aerospace technology," Air Force Brig. Gen. Shin Ik-kyun said.

Shin said the stealth jet will play a critical role in destroying major enemy targets as part of the so-called "Kill Chain" defense system, which is designed to detect signs of impending missile attacks and launch pre-emptive strikes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

F-35: The latest on South Korea

Here's a pretty succinct summary:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea will announce what the country is looking for in its $7.8B fighter jet tender tomorrow. 

What the watch: The focus will be on the extent to which the military stresses the need to for stealth capabilities.

As Bloomberg notes, it isn't exactly a secret that the country wants Lockheed Martin's F-35, but procuring 60 of the fifth generation aircraft would require an extra investment of more than ₩2T.

Boeing (BA) and EADS (EADSF) are hoping for a split order.
I think that pretty much says it all.  We should be hearing something over the next few days.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Navy again states commitment to F-35

There have been a multitude of stories in the past claiming the US Navy is less than fully committed to the F-35.  Proof of that is usually offered by citing the service's orders of F/A-18 and EA-18G aircraft to fill the gap prior to full deployment of the F-35.  And it is again being claimed since the F/A-18 is scheduled to cease production in 2014 and the Navy is interested in seeing that production deadline extended into 2016 that they're less than committed to the F-35.

I won't bore you with the various reasons for that, you likely know them as well as anyone.  But it would be foolish to say that such an interest in an extension for the F/A-18 by the Navy is tantamount to less than full commitment to the F-35.  And Dep. Asst. Sec. of the Navy for air programs, Richard Gilpin, made that pretty clear when questioned at the Dubai Air Show:
"Let me be clear. The Navy is very committed to moving to JSF. I wouldn't want you to get the impression that the Navy is not committed to JSF, because we are," Gilpin said. 
However he does mention the possibility of "budget-driven pause in procurement" of the F-35.  Thus the interest in extending the F/A-18 production deadline.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Some questions emerge about Turkey, the F-35, Chinese missiles and NATO

Interesting article from a Turkish news site:
The head of the Turkish air force said on Nov. 16 that he did not see any linkage between Turkey’s interest in buying F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and the missile defense procurement process.

General Akın Öztürk told Reuters that Turkey was poised to decide in December or January whether to proceed with an initial purchase of two F-35 fighter jets, but the exact date had yet to be set.

“I am very interested in the F-35,” Öztürk said after his speech at the Dubai International Air Chiefs. “We have enough money.”
The Turkish/NATO alliance has always been one that seemed a little odd to many.  When Turkey entered NATO, it was a different country than it is now.  More aligned with the West, it seemed to be a good fit, but since then, Turkey has shown great interest in becoming a regional power within the Middle East.

It has also attempted, because of that, to show some independence. And then there are the economic times to consider. Thus the Chinese missile buy.  However, it is troubling as well. And, it points to some possible serious degredation of the capability of interoperability among the allies:
Asked at a global gathering of air chiefs about U.S. concerns that the Chinese system would not be interoperable with those of NATO members, he said, “This is not the last position of Turkey. It may change.”
Turkey, as one might imagine, is under pressure from NATO and the West to not buy the system.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. government officials raised concerns after Ankara’s choice of the missile defense system built by China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp, a firm that is under U.S. sanctions for violating the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
The competitive US system, of course, is the Patriot Missile system:
U.S. arms makers Raytheon Co (RTN.N) and Lockheed are considering ways to sweeten their offer to build a Patriot missile defense system for Turkey, two sources familiar with the issue told Reuters earlier this week.

Both sources said no decisions had been made and it was important to allow Turkey - a member of NATO - time to make up its mind. The companies are also reviewing the offset agreements and co-production deals involved in the U.S. bid, the sources said.
Given that the F-35 will be a part of their Air Force and we know the Chinese interests in the aircraft and the technology it will bring to Turkey, it is also worrying that China would have a presence, through their missile system, in a NATO country.

If I had to guess, and this is purely speculation on my part, Turkey will eventually choose the Patriot missile system.  Like South Korea, this may be a negotiating tactic to get a better deal. 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

It appears the F-35 will be South Korea's choice

Just in, from Reuters:
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff were expected to endorse an "all F-35 buy" of 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets and an option for 20 more at a meeting on Nov. 22, two sources familiar with the competition said on Friday.

The Joint Chiefs' decision must be approved by a committee chaired by the South Korean defense minister at a meeting in early December, according to the sources, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

A decision by the Joint Chiefs to purchase only F-35s would be a setback for Boeing Co, which had hoped to sell Seoul at least some F-15 fighters as a hedge against delays in the F-35 fighter program, which is completing development.

One source said South Korea was sticking to its initial plan to buy 60 jets to preserve the terms of an industrial offset package that accompanied the Lockheed offer and included a satellite to be launched and placed in orbit. 
If true (and there's no reason to believe it isn't, given all the other reports coming out of ROK recently), that shoots my theory that it would be a mixed buy down.  Also, by agreeing to early procurement, a buy that size will help further drive the price of the F-35 down as LM will be able to ramp up production.


Friday, November 15, 2013

F-35: Engine prices keep coming down ... as expected

This one flew under the radar apparently.  It wasn't bad news so I suppose it simply bobbed to the surface for a day and then sank back into the media's vast ocean of inanity.   Anyway:
The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it had finalized a $1.1 billion contract with Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, to build 38 engines for a sixth batch of F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Pentagon's F-35 program office and Pratt said the two sides signed a $508 million contract modification on Wednesday. Added to previously awarded preliminary contracts, that brought the total value of the contract to $1.1 billion.
The contract covers 38 F135 engines, as well as program management, engineering support, sustainment and spare parts.
"This agreement represents a significant milestone for the F-35 program, and reflects the execution of cost reduction initiatives shared by the government and Pratt & Whitney," the program office and Pratt said in a joint statement.
And so it goes.  Costs continue to come down and the testing continues to go well, much to the chagrin of the critics who have been strangely silent for a while.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

F-35: the benefits of stealth and situational awareness

American Innovation has another good post up, this one discussing the benefits of stealth and situational awareness - two capabilities the F-22 and F-35 share.  While the article is mostly about the F-22, the F-35 is discussed:
The F-35 shares stealth and heightened situational awareness with the Raptor and, given all the information that has been publicly released, there is no credible reason to conclude the F-35 is incapable of preforming similar "stand-off kills" utilizing stealth and situational awareness as described by Brown. If I may be frank for a moment, while the F-35 is certainly not as maneuverable as the F-22, it still preforms favorably relative to its peers in some maneuverability performance based metrics (e.g. good subsonic acceleration, decent thrust-to weight ratio, and commendable angle of attack performance). Oftentimes the descriptions of the F-35's maneuverability characteristics made by staunch critics are more applicable to an An-225 strategic airlift cargo aircraft than the F-35.

I got a chuckle out of that and pretty heartily agree.  Go read the whole thing.


Monday, November 11, 2013

F-35: South Korea to up "stealth features" as primary standard for bid?

Here's the latest on the South Korean bid gleaned from the internet:
South Korea was widely expected to pick the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin's F-35 as its major next- generation fighter jet that will replace aging fleets from 2017, a local newspaper reported on Monday citing government and defense officials.

According to the local daily Chosun Ilbo, the country's Air Force has recently proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to apply higher standards of stealth functions and aviation electronics equipment to the next-generational fighter jet procurement program.

The stricter standards would raise possibility for the Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet to become a sole bidder at the upcoming tender bids, the newspaper said, noting that it may beat other potential bidders, including Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle and EADS' Eurofighter Tranche 3 Typhoon, in terms of stealth features. 
What that says to me is they've gotten the price they want from the US/Lockheed on the F-35 and now they have to find a way to make it the only aircraft that meets its new standards.

Another way of saying that is they always wanted the F-35 (despite reports to the contrary) but just didn't like the price.  And this bidding process was a means of getting the price in a more acceptable range.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dutch Labor Party okays purchase of 37 F-35s

In more good news for the F-35 program, the Dutch, who had been seen by some as possibly backing out of the F-35 program, have the okay to purchase 37:
The Labour Party said it supports the government’s decision to purchase 37 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), Nos television reports Wednesday.

“We give the green light” to the government, Labour MP Eijsink said.
That's the approval the Dutch government was seeking to move ahead with the purchase.

The train keeps rollin' ...


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

F-35: Ignorance is bliss among critics

My father, who was career military, said he was never able to watch war flicks because inevitably the ignorance of the writer and film producer about how the military works would shine through and ruin it for him.

I've come to that point when reading the word salad critics churn out in opposition to the F-35.

A prime example of that comes from the Financial Times, which it appears, should stick to things financial.  Here's an example of their "expertise".  First they take a shot at the F-35's stealth:
Energetic radar development in both Russia and China may see this advantage watered down by the 2020s, as ever more sophisticated radars enter the export market. 
Obviously, however, 'ever more sophisticated' jamming equipment will be left to molder, right?  And regardless, low observability coupled with "ever more sophisticated" radar jamming equipment will still be quite a plus over non-stealthy aircraft, won't it?

Strike two:
The internal weapons carriage of the F-35 is limited, meaning that for many of the missions flown by Nato jets over Libya or Afghanistan the aircraft would need to carry bombs and missiles on external pylons. 

The "internal weapons carriage" of the F-35 is not really that limited.  It can carry 18,000 pounds of weapons in the A and C variations and 16,000 in the B.  So no, it would not "need" to carry bombs and missiles on pylons to be effective, would it?  And that renders the rest of the argument moot, doesn't it?  But let's look at it anyway:
Because these weapons and their pylons protrude under the wing they eliminate the vastly expensive stealth aspect of the airframe, while the manoeuvrability penalties of stealth design remain to hamper the jet’s combat agility. 
Ah, but again, there's nothing that says the F-35 must show up in contested air with stuff hanging off its wings, given its internal combat load - so while this is true for every other 4th gen aircraft, it's not true for the F-35.

And finally:
As stealth means deleting any radar-reflecting outlines, the F-35 cockpit canopy is set low, almost flush with the fuselage. Pilots on test squadrons in the US have noted how this eliminates the fine view from raised cockpits on established fighter designs such as the F-16. Despite high-tech sensors in the F-35, clear vision is still highly valued by military air crew and is yet another sacrifice made to stealth. 
This, of course, is nonsense.  Name another jet which allows the pilot to see 360 degrees around his aircraft?  As always, while the sensors are noted, they are simply waved away as if they didn't exist to make an argument that is absurd. 

This is a perfect example of someone who really knows nothing about the fighter except what has been available from critics, takes no time to research the other side or learn about the jet's capabilities and simply regurgitates nonsense that makes them look foolish.

Much like my father viewed those who made war movies.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

F-35: Lockheed said to be confident of 8bn South Korea order

At least that's what the Financial Times is reporting:
Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest military contractor by sales, is confident of its chances of selling South Korea its F-35 fighter, despite its initial failure to qualify in a competitive tender.


 Stephen O’Bryan, vice-president of F-35 programme integration for Lockheed, said costs per aircraft were falling as production of the fifth-generation fighter increased, making it more affordable for countries such as Korea. South Korean procurement officials initially said that only Boeing’s fourth-generation F15 fighter came within its cost parameters and handed the decision on whether to purchase the aircraft to the country’s cabinet.

The cabinet instead opted to reopen the tender, a move that was widely seen as reflecting convictions within the country’s military that it needed the F-35 in case of future wars. 
I think the affordability criteria was important in making the decision and the F-35's price has come down with each successive LRIP.  As reported yesterday, with increased production in FY 2015, that trend should continue and improve.

That said, I'm still not sure the final decision won't also include some Boeing F-15's as well.  I wouldn't be surprised if it did.


Monday, November 4, 2013

F-35: Program progress earns production increase for FY 2015

It appears the F-35 program is not only on track but making good enough progress that the Pentagon is going to up its production rate:
"Program progress is sufficient for the department to budget for an increase in the production rate in fiscal year 2015," Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in a memorandum dated October 28 and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

"Award of higher production rates will be contingent on continued program progress," he wrote in the memo. He cited the need for progress in software development, improvements in a computer-based logistics system that is behind schedule, and resolution of several previously identified design issues. 
So we see an acknowledgement from the Pentagon that the jet's software is still a concern which doesn't come as a huge surprise.  But progress has been good enough that production will be ramped up and that should lead to those economies of scale we've been talking about and see costs for each variant of the F-35 come down -- as promised.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

F-35 deploys first GBU-12 Paveway II

Another first for the F-35:

An F-35 Lightning II employs a Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II laser-guided weapon from the internal weapons bay against a fixed ground tank test target Oct. 29, at a test range at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The F-35's Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) enabled the pilot to identify, track, designate and deliver the GBU-12 on target.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is Qatar in the market for the F-35?

I found this cryptic little blurb in a pay-for-view on-line service called "Tactical Report". 
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani is said to be still showing determination to give priority to acquiring the Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) for the Qatari Air Force (QAF). The following 446-word report sheds light on the subject and tells what about the latest US-Qatari contacts on the aircraft in question.
I didn't buy the "446-word" report, however I had heard rumors that Qatar was very interested in buying the fighter.  This gives some credence to those rumors.  It would also add another country to the growing list of those who see the F-35 as  the fighter of their future.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Aegis and F-35: A lethal combination

In another rather thin week for F-35 news, another article to read, if you haven't, comes from the U.S. Naval Institute entitled "The long reach of Aegis" and talks about how networking Aegis and the F-35 will provide capabilities presently unavailable.

Think "synergy":
As the Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, integrating it with Aegis will provide a powerful capability for the United States and its allies. Because significant numbers of our partners are in the Aegis-deployed fleet, several joint Aegis and F-35 allies are likely in the Pacific.


Upcoming tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data, increasing the coverage area and responsiveness. Once this capability is fully developed, SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradable weapon systems. Combining Aegis with the F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. Together, the F-35 and Aegis greatly expand the defense of land and sea bases.

The commonality across the combat systems of the F-35’s three variants provides a notable advantage. Aegis is a pilot’s wingman, whether he or she is flying an F-35A, B, or C. Eighty percent of the F-35s in the Pacific are likely to be As, many of them coalition aircraft. Therefore, building an F-35 and Aegis global enterprise provides coverage across the Pacific. 

It is these sorts of capability the critics never seem to talk about as they continue to dwell on capabilities in a 4th generation world vs. adding this new generation's capabilities and what that means.  Pretty awesome capabilities that, frankly, are beyond the apparent understanding of most critics.


Monday, October 28, 2013

F-35: The comprehensive case for the fighter

Not much in the news lately about the F-35 (unless you're interested in reading the "Socialist Worker's" take on the fighter - yeah, I didn't think so).

So I thought I'd re-post a link to the American Enterprise Institute's piece entitled "Mass and supremacy: A comprehensive case for the F-35".

I often talk about critics who don't "get it".  This particular piece points out many of the capabilities and features the critics don't "get".  If you haven't read it, take a few minutes and do so.  It is well worth your time.

Then send it to the folks at the Socialist Worker, will you?


Thursday, October 24, 2013

South Korea may be on the brink of ordering F-35s

I don't think this will come as a huge surprise to anyone who has been following this closely:
South Korea is nearing a decision to buy some Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, but may keep its options open for a limited purchase of Boeing Co's F-15, sources familiar with the country's fighter competition said on Wednesday.

South Korean officials could announce their plans as early as November to secure the funding needed to ensure initial deliveries of the F-35 in 2017, according to multiple sources who were not authorized to speak publicly. They cautioned that the decisions were not yet final, and an announcement could still be postponed if the decision-making process hits a snag.

South Korea's fighter competition has been closely watched given its importance to Boeing, which is keen to extend its F-15 production line beyond 2018, and to Lockheed, which is trying to drive down the price of the F-35 by securing more buyers.
I've mentioned before I thought they'd buy both aircraft.  But it is clear that the F-35 is the clearly desired aircraft, especially by the ROK Airforce.  I'm of the opinion that the former bidding process was used to get the ROK a better deal on the F-35.  But in the end, especially considering that the US, Japan, Singapore and Australia all will be flying the F-35, the decision was all but obvious. 

And, as the last paragraph points out, a South Korean order will indeed help build that economy of scale that should see prices continue to come down.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sequestration hits Lockheed, but not F-35

Interesting.  It appears sequestration has had a negative effect on Lockheed Martin overall:
The defense giant said the sequester will reduce 2013 revenue by $400 million-$450 million, slightly more than half of what it initially estimated.
Aeronautics unit sales fell 2% to $3.62 billion on fewer aircraft deliveries of its F-16 and F-22 jets. But F-35 sales are growing as Pentagon orders ramp up, and Lockheed expects sales to climb 15% in 2014.

Executives were also upbeat about a Pentagon review of the troubled fighter program and were confident defense officials would OK further increases in production. 
Given the declining costs thru LRIP 7, the passing of the 10,000 hour milestone,  resolution on the helmet and the uptick in orders from allies, I'd say they're probably right.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Singapore likely to go with F-35B

Well it seems like it is international partner week.  A nice little tidbit of news about Singapore and the F-35.  It appears they're going to go with the B variant:
In a wide-ranging interview with the Defense Writers Group in late July, General Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle was asked about Singapore’s interest in the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and if an initial sale had been made. He had this to say:

“I talked to their CDF (Singapore’s Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Ng) Chee Meng. I was just in Singapore. Singapore’s decided to buy the B model, the VSTOL variant to begin with. But I don’t know where they’re at in putting it into their budget.

I know that’s a decision that’s been made and that’s why they’re part of the program, but I don’t know where they’re at in putting that in the budget” That portion of the interview has mostly escaped the attention of media covering the event as coverage zeroed in on the U.S. Air Force’s plans for the Pacific pivot, which was also discussed at length. If General Carlisle is right, it would mean that Singapore will become the fourth operator of the F-35B, after the United States Marine Corps, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Why the "B"?  Space and tempo:
With the number of available runways in Singapore to be reduced by one, having an air combat asset on hand capable of STOVL operations would assume a greater importance in the mind of Singapore’s defense planners. It will be just one of many factors to consider, but the upgrades to Singapore’s existing fighter bases will likely include building thermally coated “lilypads” that would enable F-35Bs to land vertically without the hot exhaust gases damaging the tarmac.
Strategically, the F-35 seems to be the choice for other reasons:
With Singapore’s strategic limitations in mind, the F-35B would appear to be a very prudent option to consider. A fleet of easily-dispersed STOVL-capable assets capable of taking off fully loaded from a 168m (550ft) runway would ensure that the RSAF would be able to keep up combat air operations even without operational, full length runways in the event of an enemy first strike. Such a capability would certainly complicate any adversary's calculations in attempting a first strike to nullify Singapore's defenses.
And, just as importantly:
Having the United States and Australia, both of whom have close defense ties with Singapore, also planning to operate F-35s in the neighborhood, it would be no surprise if Singapore was keen to follow in their footsteps. Together with Japan’s (and possibly South Korea’s) aircraft, the type’s network-enabled capability and integrated sensor suite is a definite plus for interoperability with allied F-35s in the event of a need to conduct joint operations in the region. 
Makes sense.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Turkey moves F-35 order up for earlier delivery

Turkey had previously delayed their initial order for F-35s citing cost and technical problems.  Apparently they're feeling much better about the program and are now eager to begin receiving their aircraft.  It plans on a total order of 100:
Turkey’s procurement authorities will reissue an order for the first two F-35 joint strike fighters the country intended to buy but suspended at the beginning of this year.

“We will submit a request to the Defense Industry Executive Committee in December or January to renew our order for the first two aircraft,” Turkey’s top procurement official, Murad Bayar, said.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the ultimate decision-maker on procurement. Its other members are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and Bayar.
So, the program continues to gather momentum and pick up orders.  That's a good thing.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

F-35: Implementing the "Pacific Pivot"

Matt over at American Innovation has begun a series of articles about fighter aircraft employment and the difference among countries.  He deals with the US first and addresses the possible threat in the Pacific.  It's a good read.  Among the points he makes:
The F-35 will comprise a substantial portion of these deployed aircraft over the next decade. Both the USAF and USMC will give the Pacific stationed units priority in the deployment of the F-35. Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), announced the F-35 will be stationed from four of the most important Pacific air bases: Misawa (J), Kadena (J), Kunsan (SK), and Osan (SK). Carlisle also indicated that the USAF sought to increase its presence in Australia with the addition of a rotational force of bombers, tankers, and fighter aircraft (Defense News, 2013). The presence of F-35 aircraft at these bases would significantly increase the US military's deterrent in the region. Numerous high value PLA military facilities are within the unrefuled combat radius of the F-35 from both Osan and Kunsan including targets within the Beijing and Shenyang military regions.
Take a moment to go read the whole thing.  He makes some very good points about the overall method of employment and he also talks about the F-35's role in executing it.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Norway budgets to purchase 6 more F-35s

The F-35 train keeps on rolling with Norway budgeting to purchase 6 more F-35s in addition to the 6 they've already ordered:
The Scandinavian nation had already ordered six of the jets this year, but it wants six more. If approved by the Norwegian Parliament, the deal would be worth 7.38 billion kroner, roughly $1.23 billion.

The Norwegian government announced its intentions to procure 52 of the F-35 fighter jets in 2008 for a $64 billion price tag. Norway had already purchased four F-35 fighters in 2011. The fighter jets would be delivered by 2018 with the six already approved.

Monday’s proposal came as part of the outgoing parliament’s 2014 budget. The current government is stepping down after losing last month’s parliamentary elections with the Conservative Party’s Erna Solberg defeat of the Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
Meanwhile, Dutch pilots begin their F-35 flight training at the end of this month:
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is to shortly begin training air and ground personnel on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the country's Defence Minister disclosed on 9 October.

Speaking to parliament in the Hague, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said that RNLAF pilots and technicians will begin training at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida at the end of October. The disclosure comes weeks after she announced that the Netherlands will procure a total of 37 JSFs to replace the RNLAF's Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The pilots will start off with theoretical training and begin flying with the JSF in December. The training aims to prepare pilots and maintenance personnel for the operational test phase beginning in 2015.
 They'll train on the two Dutch F-35As delivered this year and last year.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Australia's first F-35 goes into production

Another ally sees the production begin on it's first aircraft:
Lockheed Martin begins the production of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)’s first F-35 Lightning II yesterday.

The aircraft, designated as AU-1, officially began the mate process, where major components of the aircraft are joined together to form the aircraft's structure. AU-1 will then make its way down the assembly line and roll out of the factory for delivery to the RAAF in the summer of 2014. 
FYI, there are actually two Aussie F-35s in production - both to be delivered in the summer of next year.  Both are CTOL variants.  They are the first two of 100 for the RAAF.


Monday, October 14, 2013

DoD settles on F-35 helmet design

I recently gave you a helmet update which, at the time, said that the development of the alternative helmet would continue, but that good progress had been made in the original design.  Well apparently more than "good progress" is apparent as DoD had decided to drop development of the alternative according to DefenseWorld.net:
The Pentagon decides to put on hold the F-35 helmet development in order to further mature the Rockwell Collins-Elbit Systems’ America Vision Systems Generation 2 helmet currently used in training and testing.
The helmet they're continuing to "mature" is the original design which was suffering from some problems such as latency and night vision acuity.  But, according to the Wall Street Journal:
The Pentagon now regards the technical issues as having been resolved, while the competition from the rival BAE offering helped secure a cost guarantee from Lockheed that is 12% lower than the previous helmet price.

The F-35 oversight team also said it would save the $45 million earmarked for BAE to continue work on adapting its helmet—which is already operational on some other jets. 
So it is full speed ahead on the original design with an added savings of $45 million to the program.

Something else to note, that could get lost in the shuffle:
Beginning with aircraft in Low Rate Initial Production lot 7, the program will introduce a Gen 3 helmet that features an improved night vision camera, new liquid crystal displays, automated alignment and software enhancements.
Right now, the helmet is "Generation 2".  With LRIP 7, the most recent contract that Lockheed Martin executed with DoD, the "Generation 3" version of the helmet will go operational.  Everything I've read says the Gen 2 helmet is more than adequate for Marine Corps IOC date.

Finally, in case you wondered:
"To date, more than 100 F-35 pilots have flown more than 6,000 flights and 10,000 hours with the helmet, and their feedback has been very positive."


Thursday, October 10, 2013

F-35 passes cumulative 10,000 flight hour mark

The F-35 flight testing program just marked it's 10,000th flight hour:
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program continues its operational maturation, surpassing 10,000 flight hours in September.

More than half of the total hours were accumulated in just the past 11 months. Through September, F-35s flew 6,492 times for a total of 10,077 flight hours. The new milestone effectively doubles the safe flight operations of the F-35 in a year, compared to reaching 5,000 flight hours in six years.
The last paragraph is significant.  It shows not only marked progress with the program and testing, but it points to a very reliable and safe aircraft - 5,000 combined flight hours in 11 months.

Say what they will, but critics are going to continue to have a tough time dissing this aircraft as a probable "hanger queen" and they're certainly going to have a tough time claiming that it isn't making progress.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

F-35: Pratt & Whitney hit with 5% witholding penalty

I mentioned yesterday that Lockheed Martin had seen it's EVM withholding reduced from 5% to 2% because of the progress they've made within the management system (designed to save money for the contractor - DoD).

Pratt & Whitney, on the other hand, were told that they would see 5% withheld until they address some improvements within that system.  P&W provides the engines for the F-35:
The Pentagon's F-35 program supports DCMA's decision to withhold some funding from Pratt, said spokesman Joe DellaVedova. He said Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who heads the F-35 program, met with Pratt & Whitney executives on Friday to discuss measures to improve the internal system.

"The EVM requirement is meant to protect taxpayers from over-billing and focuses on the business systems defense companies use to estimate costs for bids, purchase goods from subcontractors, manage government property and materials, and track for costs and schedule progress," he said.

Bates, the Pratt & Whitney spokesman, said his company was focused on delivering a highly capable propulsion system for the F-35 on time, and at an affordable cost for our customers.

He said DCMA identified "room for improvement" in four areas: updating documentation to better align with manufacturing processes; improving management and integration of scheduling tools; better estimating and forecasting of costs; and improving work package planning.

He said the company's corrective action plans to address those problems were being reviewed by the agency. 

Like I said yesterday, this is pretty normal stuff (audits, I mean).  And I like the incentive created by withholding a percentage to spur the contractor, any contractor, to improve their efficiency and their management with the goal of reducing costs.

It will be interesting to see how critics attempt to spin this as another example of - well, you decide what they'll claim.  But it will be out there - just watch.  That's not a prediction, it's a promise.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

F-35: Progress on EVMS

Costs continue to come down in the program.  Here's another example:
The Pentagon has reduced its withholding of progress payments on Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet program to 2 percent from 5 percent after the company made "significant progress" toward fixing a deficient internal business system, according to a document obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office, said the action had been taken at the end of August. He gave no details on the exact amount of money affected by the decision by the Defense Contracts Management Agency (DCMA).

The agency told Lockheed in a letter dated Aug. 30 that it decided to reduce the withholding amount after seeing "significant progress" toward improvements in the company's earned value management system (EVMS), which helps the company track cost, schedule and other risks to the F-35 program.

It said Lockheed had made progress on 15 of 16 capabilities required to regain certification of the system, and the company was expected to show continued improvement.
Funny how this all works.  You have audits, you address the problems the audits find, you make progress.  That's how every program works, although to listen to critics, it is only this program which has had any problems.


Monday, October 7, 2013

F-35: comparing "apples and pumpkins"

Burlington VT has had an activist part of their community that has been fighting the possible basing of F-35s there for years.  There's an interesting article at a Vermont news site that gives good examples of how critics will play with facts to turn them into talking points that, if dissected, will be found to not support the critical contention.  For instance here's an Air Guard officer addressing their concerns:
“The critics of the F-35 are using flawed assumptions to incorrectly present safety concerns to our community,” Caputo said.

These assumptions, he said, include selectively using data from the EIS and not understanding the meaning of a “class A” mishap, which does not always involve an injury.

The Final EIS defines a class A mishap, which are the most severe variety, as an accident involving property damage totaling $2 million or more or a fatality or permanent disability. However, Caputo said this is not synonymous with a “crash.”

To provide another perspective on the safety record of military aircrafts operated by the Guard, Caputo compared the safety record of the F-16s with commercial aircraft at the airport.

Using data from the U.S. Air Force, the National Transportation Safety Board, Burlington International Airport and Air National Guard safety statistics, Caputo said the airport’s commercial aircraft are 8.5 times more likely to have an accident than the planes used by the Guard, such as the F-16. 
One of the critics claims that is like comparing "apples and pumpkins" since F-16s and so different than commercial aircraft.   But we're talking about a commercial airport that hosts an Air Guard squadron that flies F-16s and the critics claim to be concerned about safety.  So if you can show factually that the highest safety risk to the airport is actually the commercial traffic, why is that like "apples and pumpkins?"

Because to admit it isn't a bad comparison is inconvenient to the overall argument of the critic, of course.  With safety being the common denominator, the safety record of the F-16 (being flown now by the Guard unit) and the commercial aircraft that land there seems pretty "apples to apples" to me.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

F-35: China will export one of its 5th Generation fighters

For those who continue to claim we don't need 5th generation fighters, China dashes cold water all over that silliness:
A PLA Navy official has confirmed to state-run media outlets that China will export the Shenyang J-31 twin-engine fifth generation fighter jet.

According to the Taiwan-based Want China Times, Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong told the People’s Daily this week that the J-31 was never built with China’s military in mind, and it was highly unlikely that the PLA would ever operate J-31s off of its aircraft carriers. Instead, the J-31 was designed for export to China’s strategic partners and allies, particularly those that couldn’t purchase the F-35.

The J-31, often referred to as the Falcon Hawk, Falcon Eagle, F-60 or J-21, is one of China’s two prototype fifth-generation aircraft, the other being the J-20. It is built by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, and images of the aircraft first began appearing on the internet around this time last year.
So the J-31 will be their 5th generation export model.

Now, obviously we don't know how good the J-31 will be nor what sort of advanced capabilities it will have.  But just as obviously, neither China nor Russia are letting any grass grow under their feet.  They see a compelling need to develop advanced capability 5th generation fighters.  And not only are they going to do that, but they plan on exporting a version of their fighter.

That also kicks another cherished criticism in the rear end - that which begins by claiming the F-35 (and also the F-22) is an aircraft looking for an enemy.  Again, obviously, that's not really the case.  Client states of both China and Russia will have access to export models of their 5th gen fighters.

That makes the case even more strongly for full funding and full fielding of the F-35.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

F-35: Helmet update

More from the AIN article cited yesterday, this time about the helmet:
Meanwhile, the F-35 program is continuing the development of two different helmet-mounted display systems (HMDS) from Vision Systems International (VSI) and BAE Systems after encountering problems with the original VSI system. While Lockheed Martin has reported progress in fixing the VSI system, the two systems will compete in a “fly off,” after which the program will choose one HMDS. Bogdan said there is a business calculation in resolving HMDS problems before making a final selection. Bogdan told Vanity Fair, “Lockheed Martin would very much like to influence my decision-making here in favor of the [VSI] helmet. I’m not letting them do that.” He told the magazine that the BAE helmet costs “$100,000 to $150,000 less.” According to Vanity Fair, the VSI helmet costs $500,000.
You have to chuckle a little about that - it would be rather strange for any contractor not to try to convince a decision maker to take their product.  However, it appears that the problems that have been noted about the helmet have/are being addressed.  Frankly, I don't care which one wins as long as they're equally capable.   That has yet to be determined and I think a "fly off" is probably a good idea.  Let the pilots do the rating - after all they have to live with the result.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

F-35: Software update

AIN has an article out which informs us that "software is the biggest risk" as pertains to the F-35.  Well that depends on which critic you listen too, but for those who've been following the program I think this is pretty much a given.  It is new, at the present, only partially complete as well as partially tested.  And, software is always the biggest risk in a netcentric system like the F-35.  That's not to say, however, that the testing isn't making progress.  Last week it was noted that the AirForce has gotten it's first F-35 at Hill AFB which will primarily be focused on OT&E for the block 2B software.  That's the software version that makes the F-35 combat capable (albeit somewhat limited).

AIN tells us:
Lockheed Martin’s scheduled delivery of the full-capability Block 3F software in 2017 “highly depends” on the performance of interim Block 2B and 3I software releases, Bogdan said. Block 2B is the “initial warfighting” software that adds sensor capabilities missing from the current training software releases, plus the AIM-120 AAM, GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, and the GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). Block 3I is the same software, but hosted on new processors.
And what will follow is:
The U.S. Air Force plans IOC of the F-35A version by December 2016, which is before the Block 3F software is available, Bogdan noted at AFA. Block 3F adds weapons such as the AIM-9X AAM and AGM-154 Joint Standoff Attack Weapon (JSOW), and sensor capabilities such as full radar synthetic aperture radar mapping (SAR), plus expansion of the flight envelope. The Navy plans to declare IOC of the F-35C carrier variant in February 2019.
So that's the schedule.  The AirForce, as I understand it, will begin its OT&E of 2B in 2015, well ahead of its IOC date.  As for the Marines:
[T]he Marine Corps said it will achieve initial operational capability (IOC) with the F-35B equipped with Block 2B by only six months later, in December 2015. In his AFA presentation, Bogdan said he is “confident” that the Marine Corps would achieve its planned IOC date. 
If it all tests out well, I see no reason that IOC date can't be met either.


Monday, September 30, 2013

F-35: LRIP 7 contract signed

Finalized last week, the contract for LRIP 7, which includes jets for Italy and Norway, was signed:
The Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $3.4 billion contract for 35 F-35 joint strike fighters, a contract that includes the first aircraft orders for Italy and Norway.

The deal is the DoD’s seventh production order for the stealth jets, which have experienced numerous issues throughout their development.

Four jets are for the US Navy, six for the Marine Corps and 19 for the Air Force. Italy’s first three and Norway’s first two conventional F-35A jets are part of the deal, which also includes one short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35B model for the UK.
So, the program continues apace.   And, as we've been noting, there may soon be an order from South Korea.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

F-35: More on the South Korean decision to reopen the bid

As mentioned the other day, it appears that internal pressure may have pushed the government to rethink buying F-15SE's for South Korea:
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Eurofighter’s Typhoon were both in contention for the contract, but both were knocked out when they couldn’t meet budget requirements. Still, as South Korea’s decision date neared, some in the country urged the Defense Ministry to reconsider, including 15 retired Air Force chiefs of staff who urged President Park Geun-hye to buy a stealthier plane capable of striking targets in neighboring North Korea, if necessary.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said officials there ultimately decided their nation needed better air power in line with an international trend to develop “fifth generation” fighters, and said the rejection of Boeing’s bid was made in consideration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and other factors.

“It’s pretty simple,” said defense analyst Loren Thompson at the Washington-area think-tank The Lexington Institute. “You can’t let cost decide the outcome of a weapons competition when national survival is at stake. The F-15 has better price. The F-35 has better performance.”
Let's face it - it's the future.  That's where it is all headed.  And South Korea's airforce knows how powerful the capabilities and interoperability will be among allies (think synergy of the type they've never enjoyed before).

And even though Boeing claims the F-15 is still relevant, one has to wonder:
The company said Tuesday that “interest remains high” from countries in the Middle East and Asia. But defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of The Teal Group said any new orders [for the F-15] would probably be small.

“It’s always been a very limited user pool,” he said, noting that only five countries, including the U.S., fly the F-15. “I don’t think you’re going to add a new user at this point. Maybe the Saudis will buy a few more. Conceivably a few more for Singapore. That’s it.”


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Belgium may be next country to buy F-35

A Reuters report says:
U.S. government officials have briefed the Belgian government about the capabilities of the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 fighter jet, as Brussels prepares to replace its aging fleet of 60 F-16s, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Belgium was considering buying 35 to 55 of the new radar-evading F-35 jets. No decisions are expected until late 2014 at the earliest.
Another looking at the networking capabilities/interoperability for future defense.  If they buy, it will be in the 2020 timeframe (they plan on retiring their F-16s between 2015 and 2025).


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

F-35: South Korea reopens bidding for its new fleet of fighter jets

This doesn't at all come as a surprise to me:
South Korea will restart an $8bn tender for a new fleet of fighter jets after a three-way race between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the Eurofighter consortium failed to produce a winner.

The defence ministry’s announcement on Tuesday followed weeks of domestic controversy. The government, under pressure to meet ambitious social spending pledges, had looked set to choose Boeing’s F-15 jet as a cheaper alternative to Lockheed Martin’s more advanced F-35.

Instead Seoul has reopened one of the year’s most lucrative bidding wars in the defence industry, as it seeks to upgrade its ageing air force with 60 new jets. New bids will be invited and a final decision made within the next year, with a possibility of procuring planes from more than one bidder, said the defence ministry.
If you've read any of the history of the bidding you know that the South Korean Airforce wants the F-35, not the F-15.  And you also know that they have been putting unending pressure on the politicians to get them that aircraft.

So, there's a method to this madness, or so it seems:
Other analysts have continuously cautioned that South Korea’s comments regarding Boeing’s favoured position were not to be taken seriously and were simply a negotiating tool to push the Washington to drop its price of the F-35.

The US is acting as Lockheed Martin’s broker and is keen to sell its most advanced fighter to help reduce its own $1.5tn bill for the aircraft by gaining economies of scale, or having the option of redirecting aircraft earmarked for the US to others. Despite many delays and cost overruns, the F-35 is the Pentagon’s main fighter of the future and it wants a common fleet among its closest allies. 
I think this analysis is pretty spot on and is likely to be how it all turns out.  Note too, that Boeing may not be completely shut out of this.  South Korea may order a mixed fleet, with the F-35 being the predominant aircraft.  But anyone who believed the South Korean bidding process was over when Boeing was announced as the "winner" wasn't paying close enough attention to the internal politics of the situation.  We'll see if the ROK Airforce eventually gets its way.


Monday, September 23, 2013

F-35 to Hill AFB for Block 2B OT&E

Another significant step along the way for the F-35:
The U.S. Air Force's Air Logistics Complex (ALC) at Hill Air Force Base, Ogden, Utah, hosted a ceremony today marking the arrival of the first Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II aircraft to a depot facility.

The aircraft ferried from Nellis AFB, Nev., and will be the first Air Force F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant used in the Block 2B Operational Testing & Evaluation (OT&E) program in 2015. The aircraft will receive a series of structural and systems modifications at Ogden to enhance critical capabilities needed during OT&E testing. This marks the second depot opened this year. In July, the U.S. Marines welcomed the first F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant at Cherry Point, N.C.

"For decades the shared partnership between Lockheed Martin the Ogden ALC team has taken our legacy platforms, the F-16, C-130 and F-22, to the next level, and the same will hold true for the F-35 Lightning II," said Lorraine Martin, F-35 vice president and general manager. "This aircraft was designed from its inception to evolve through modifications and upgrades so that our warfighters can continually outpace their opposition. I look forward to what the future holds for the F-35 and am excited to see that evolution unfold."
Block 2B software is the begining of making the F-35 combat capable.  In fact, it does make it combat capable:
“With Block 2B you can provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM {Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile}, JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition] or GBU 12 [laser-guided aerial bomb]. This allows the plane to become a very capable weapons system,” he said. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dutch order F-35

The order was announced Tuesday:
The Netherlands plans to buy 37 F-35 joint strike fighter planes from Lockheed Martin, the European country announced on Tuesday.

The Dutch government will use the planes, which are made at Lockheed's facility in Fort Worth, to replace their aging F-16 fleet which they expect to phase out by 2023.
Reason?  The Dutch understand the capabilities, both present and future, the decision brings to them:

Read more here: http://blogs.star-telegram.com/sky_talk/2013/09/dutch-to-buy-the-f-35-jet-fighter.html#storylink=c
The F-35 is a well-considered choice for a high-tech, future-oriented air force. From a military operational perspective, the F-35 offers the greatest number of options. It is also the most future-proof option. The aircraft is best able to deal with the proliferation of mobile air defence systems and offers vastly improved observation capabilities, which are of great value in any type of mission. In addition, the aircraft offers great potential for follow-on development, particularly in the area of network-enabled operations. Also important are the possibilities for international cooperation in areas such as training, sustainment and deployment. NATO’s analyses underpin the Netherlands’ decision. 
Future proof.  Follow on development.  Network-enabled operations.  Enhanced possibilities for international cooperation in various areas.

The Dutch also retained the option of ordering more if the price kept coming down and their budget constraints are lifted.  They become the 7th nation to order the F-35.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

F-35: A look into the future

Rebecca Grant has an article in "The Hill" which brings out some important points about the F-35 that are often neglected or ignored by the critics.  But she first quotes USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh:
“Whether you are competing against a single airplane or competing against a system on the ground, [the F-35] allows us to operate in places we could not before and complete the mission we’ve been assigned,” says General Mark Welsh, who should know. He flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and is now Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, says of the F-35: “we need its stealth, we need the advanced electronic warfare sensors, the weapons and perhaps more importantly, the command and control capability that this aircraft brings.”
Consider this scenario:
You are flying combat air patrol near the South China Sea in the 2020s. Suddenly your GPS goes out. Your favorite datalink to other aircraft and ships floods with confusing signals. Your cockpit radar is a grey blur. The air operations center drops offline in a cyber attack.

You are experiencing a first-wave information attack, probably by China.

A RAND report warned China’s military is on track to be far more sophisticated than the Soviet Union ever was. Chinese military doctrine promotes a broad information warfare assault that could yank away traditional American advantages. Cyberspace attacks are part of that, but expect megawatt power jamming, fried satellite communications and disruption of sensors, networks and command and control also. China’s information warfare strategy aims to blind and confuse, stripping U.S. forces of the tremendous information advantage they’ve enjoyed for so long.

Only the F-35 can deal with all of this.

F-16s and F-18s and all the other 1970s-design fighters are marvelous aircraft, but they don’t bring enough advantages to cope with the problems from here on out. Back to you, in the future cockpit. What you need is the F-35’s mix of electronic warfare capability, sensors in the infrared, protected communications and in-flight data links that can’t be hijacked, and other tools to comb through the haze that adversaries will throw at you.
And that is the critical point so many critics want to brush past with their "upgrade cheap '70s era aircraft" argument.  With the technology being developed by ourselves and our potential adversaries, future combat will not at all be the same as what we have experienced to date.  The scenario outlined here is not only probable, but likely should we ever have to go to war with China.  '70s era aircraft are not going to be up to the task.

Certainly if we were the only power in the world developing advanced technology, an argument could be made for the critic's choice - at least for a while.   But we're not.  We know Russia and China are developing 5th generation aircraft.  We also know that China is hip deep in developing an advanced cyber-warfare capability.  Budget-wise, we are indeed in an era where it might seem to be "penny wise" to cut this program - at least in the short run.  But in the long run, we would find out, in a most horrifying way, that it was extraordinarily"pound foolish" to do so.  


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

F-35: Vanity Fair trots out the same old tired arguments

There's an extensive article in Vanity Fair that, as usual, has lots of the old news and critical arguments about the F-35, but also as usual, doesn't quite understand what the F-35 is all about.

Sample paragraph:
Take the matter of stealth technology, which helps an airplane elude detection. Charlie explained that while stealth is helpful for deep-strike bombing missions, where planes must remain unobserved while going “downtown” into enemy territory, it doesn’t serve much purpose in a Marine Corps environment. “The Joint Strike Fighter’s forte is stealth,” he said. “If it’s defending Marines in combat and loitering overhead, why do you need stealth? None of the helos have stealth. The Marines’ obligation is not to provide strategic strike. Look at Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq. Marine aviators did close air support and some battlefield prep as Marines prepared to move in. Not deep strike. Ask the commandant to name the date and time the Marines struck Baghdad in Desert Storm. Sure as hell wasn’t the start of war. Why invest in a stealth aircraft for the Marines?”
No, the F35's "forte" isn't stealth.  I think we've pointed this out any number of times.  It is an advanced capability strike fighter which happens to be stealthy. Very stealthy. And the one operation they don't look at?  Why Libya, of course.  Because with the USS Kearsarge laying offshore, it is quite possible, in a slightly different scenario, that Marine aviation would have flown nothing but SEAD and deep strike missions, at least initially.  As a Marine pilot said:
I would say low observability is a capability set or is an asset to the platform, but the platform as a whole brings a lot by itself. There are situations where low observability will be very important to the mission set that you’re operating in. And then there will be situations where the ISR package or the imaging package that comes with that aircraft, the ability to see things, will be more important; that will change based on the mission set and how you define the mission.
Bingo.  Isn't "Charlie" ("Charlie" a name given to the author's source to keep him anonymous), by fiat, simply limiting the missions that Marine aviation may fly in the future to only a couple?  In a joint environment? That's insular thinking and I don't think that will fly.

If the F-35B's mission was and would only be "defending Marines", he might have an argument that stealth isn't necessary (that assumes, however, that air defenses have been destroyed and we have air superiority or dominance).  But in any number of other very plausible scenarios, it simply doesn't wash.  Stealth has a purpose that is indeed dictated by mission.  What this guy is saying is there is really only one role for Marine aviation in any environment. 


Given that, we're supposed to read all the rest of "Charlie's" guff and nod in agreement?  In essence, as you read this lengthy article, it is just another iteration of the "we need to build cheap, non-stealthy fighters" argument and to heck with keeping a technological edge on our opponents (who, by the way, are working very hard to close that gap - so why don't we help them?).  We even see the usual suspects cited:
Pierre Sprey, who began working in the Pentagon in the 1960s as one of Robert McNamara’s “whiz kids” and spent decades helping design and test two of the airplanes the F-35 is supposed to replace (the A-10 and F-16), contends that, even if designers can deal with latency and jitter, the resolution of the video is “fatally inferior” compared with the human eye when it comes to confronting enemy aircraft.
Pierre Sprey is about as much as "whiz kid" as he was a designer of either jet he continues to contend he helped design.  And anything he has to say about the F-35 simply isn't worth listening too.  But he's apparently sold himself to another critic who doesn't know any better (no real surprise, he listened to "Charlie" didn't he?) and bought his "creds" at face value.  Big mistake.

All this to say that those inclined to not want the F-35 will eat the usual arguments up and those who've looked into the aircraft and "get it" will be shaking their head and wondering how these old tired arguments continue to retain legitimacy in some circles.


Monday, September 16, 2013

F-35: Comparing future Russian and American fighter deployment

Matt, over at the American Innovation blog, begins a series of articles that looks at the future deployment of air assets, specifically the F-35.  He's doing it by comparing the Russian model to the likely American model.  He feels, rightfully so, that critics simply don't take into considerartion a lot of what makes the F-35 unique instead, as I've pointed out, using 4th generation criticism in a 5th generation world.  Or if you like a simpler analogy, comparing cow chips to anvils.

Says Matt:
This article will examine both the Russian and American solutions to maximize the effectiveness of their respective air forces given the variables listed above. From comparing these models, it becomes clear that each approach is uniquely tailored to the host country and calls to eliminate the JSF in favor of mass producing 4.5 generation aircraft, like the Russian model advocates, will be extremely detrimental to maintaining the technological and qualitative edge the USAF currently maintains over many of its competitors. A measure to replace the F-35 with existing 4.5 generation aircraft will not meet current American national security objectives, ignores the strengths and weakness of the American defense industry, and does not account for the robust pilot training programs and initiatives of the United States. Once pilot training, combat philosophies, and the broader combined arms approach is factored in, it becomes apparent that much of the criticism regarding the F-35 is unfounded.
As you might imagine, I agree.  I've pointed out many times that most of the critics, including those he sites, simply don't "get it" ... or don't want too.  That's not surprising in particular, but it is frustrating.  It becomes clear that in order to continue their line of criticism it is necessary for them to ignore what Matt points out.

Read the whole thing and stay tuned for the follow on info.  Matt does an excellent job with his research and narrative.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Forecast: F-35 will likely fare well even in times of tight budgets

An interesting forecast in light of budget constraints everywhere:
Market research and analysis firm Forecast International said the downturn will primarily affect Western-built aircraft, but some segments of military aircraft production are anticipated to grow as Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter and Airbus Military's A400M transport/tanker enter full production.

"According to FI's Platinum 2.0 Forecast System, about 11,940 military aircraft, worth an estimated $480 billion, will roll off production lines during the 2013-2022 period," the company said. "Yearly production will peak at 1,367 units in 2014, drop to a low of 1,095 in 2018, and then rise slightly to 1,122 by 2020 before tapering off for the remainder of the period. 
"Rotorcraft will account for 52 percent of all units produced during the 2013-2022 timeframe, with fixed-wing aircraft accounting for the remaining 48 percent.

"However, in terms of value of production, the more expensive fixed-wing group will outpace the rotorcraft segment by a wide margin over the 10-year timeframe: 72 percent to 28 percent.
Note too the final sentence forecasting for the next 10 years.  Of course that's when, as mentioned in the article, fixed wing aircraft like the F-35 will be in full production.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Video: F-35B night landing at sea

There's been precious little in the way of news or even criticism this past week as Syria seems to have stolen all the air in the room.  So let's again enjoy the first night landing of the F-35B on the deck of the USS Wasp.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Claim: F-35 delays supercarrier program... or something

Name it these days, and the critics are likely to try to blame it on the F-35.  Latest example:
Production delays on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 fighter aircraft have contributed to major cost increases and schedule delays for the $43 billion Navy program to build three aircraft carriers, and could eventually lead to pricey retrofits to the initial ship after it's delivered.
And we get paragraph after paragraph of how it's all the F-35 programs fault. Well, until you get to the next to the last paragraph on page 2:
Delays from F-35 production were not the only issue with the supercarrier program noted by GAO. According to the report, in an effort to meet required installation dates, the Navy has produced some shipbboard systems prior to demonstrating their maturity, "a strategy that GAO’s previous work has shown introduces risk of late and costly design changes and rework," the report states. It went on to note that progress constructing the first ship has also been plagued by "inefficient out-of-sequence work driven largely by material shortfalls, engineering challenges and delays developing and installing critical technology systems." 
Oh, so maybe the headline was a bit misleading?  Perhaps, the F-35 won't be the issue? Perhaps the supercarrier program itself will be the issue?  Yeah, but what kind of headline does that make?