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
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.