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.