Monday, January 30, 2012

F-35 story shows why it's so hard to cut a federal program

Congress in battle over F35 program

An employee of Fatigue Technology in Tukwila, Wash. demonstrates a cold expanding a fuel fitting for a Joint Strike Fighter. | Lui Kit Wong/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT


Jobs connected to F-35 fighter

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WASHINGTON — For all its high-tech stealth and record price tag, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter embodies the droll military motto, "Hurry up and wait."

Conceived in the heady post-Cold War 1990s, the futuristic fifth-generation jet fighter was to be a technological marvel built in a rush and paid for with "peace dividend" dollars.

But now with the economic crash, the fighter is billions over budget and years behind schedule.

Here's part of the problem: axing the F-35 would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in 47 states. Few members of Congress are willing to go along.

Here's another part: The jet fighter is needed to replace aging U.S. military planes, but — already the most costly weapons system ever, at $385 billion and rising — it might be more expensive than the nation can afford.

Despite criticism from defense secretaries, government investigators and powerful senators, the Pentagon still wants the Joint Strike Fighter — but the Defense Department might want more plane than it needs.

"A lot of times, the Pentagon just wants to sexy these things up and make them do wow stuff when wow is not required," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy.

In the current budget crisis, with the Pentagon facing $1 trillion in possible cuts, the F-35's high price tag makes it a prime target. But thanks in part to campaign contributions from its main contractors and their jobs spread across the country, the fighter plane has its own congressional caucus of 48 lawmakers dedicated to saving it at all costs.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Jan. 20 that he wouldn't kill the F-35 program outright, there were sighs of relief across the country for subcontractors and parts suppliers that the jet's main manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, has promised will provide 127,000 jobs in 47 states.

Think of the F-35 as the military's version of Medicare: There are huge potential spending cuts, but also powerful constituencies demanding the plane.

The struggle over the Joint Strike Fighter reflects the broader challenge that lawmakers and President Barack Obama face: The biggest budget savings come from large government programs that are popular and, in some cases, needed.

Rep. Norm Dicks, a Washington state Democrat, calls the F-35 jet "the big enchilada," the most advanced stealth aircraft in the world and a great investment in U.S. national security.

For Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Joint Strike Fighter is a scandal and a tragedy, beset by delays and huge cost overruns.

Evading radar systems at supersonic speeds, the sleek aircraft would be the first to serve three of the main U.S. military services — the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps — each of which has always had its own special plane.

Panetta's clemency for this futuristic fighter is hardly a new lease on life.

In releasing the Pentagon's budget priorities this month, Panetta restated the Defense Department's commitment to the troubled Joint Strike Fighter while delivering an endorsement that felt more like kissing a second cousin.

"In this budget, we have slowed procurement to complete more testing and allow for development changes before buying in significant quantities," he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Cater provided a blunter assessment.

"The Joint Strike Fighter is not ready to go into full-rate production," he told PBS late Thursday.

It was the third slowdown in as many years for the beleaguered program.

Now many of the 6,000 workers at Lockheed Martin's F-35 final assembly plant outside Fort Worth, Texas, will have time on their hands. The state-of-the-art factory, which had expected to be churning out 100 of the jet fighters annually, will be lucky to make 30 this year.

The new slowdown means that most of the jobs Lockheed Martin promised haven't materialized yet in Texas, California, Florida, Illinois and other states that need them in a slow economy.

Most of all, it means that the Pentagon may fall well short of its initial pledge to buy 2,443 of the F-35s; that a dozen allied and other foreign countries eager to buy the plane could end up, combined, owning more of the aircraft than the United States does; that instead of an anticipated hundreds of the jet fighters flying in the U.S. military by now, it probably will be 2016 or beyond before they're deployed.

All this explains why Graham, who backs the program, sounds like a jilted groom describing why he still loves his runaway bride.

"It's probably one of the most mismanaged programs in the Pentagon, but the aircraft is mission essential for our country," Graham said. "When people say the F-35 is very costly and behind schedule and over budget, they're right. Part of the blame is the military; part of it's the contractor," a reference to Lockheed Martin.

"But we need the fighter," he said. "To stop production of the F-35 now after finally getting the kinks worked out would make no sense."

Dicks, who founded the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus in November with Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, said the F-35 wasn't the first major new weapons system to encounter problems.

"Everybody would like to see a low-cost, no-problem development," Dicks said in an interview. "But there's never been one. We have to do this: The Marine Corp needs stealth, the Air Force needs stealth and the Navy needs stealth. ... I think it's going to turn out to be a good airplane. We've got to work hard to get the fixes."

Lockheed Martin and the F-35's three other primary contractors — Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Pratt & Whitney — are using generous campaign contributions to tilt the political field in their favor.

Those four aerospace giants contributed $326,400 to the 48 members of the F-35 caucus last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, a research center that tracks money in politics.

Each member of the caucus received an average amount that's nearly double the average that the companies' political action committees gave to other lawmakers.

Dicks said there was no connection between the $29,500 he got from the contractors and his advocacy of the Joint Strike Fighter.

"I try to call these things on the merits and support the programs that I think that are going to add to the security of the country, he said. "Campaign contributions have nothing to do with it."

Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a research center in Washington, said the F-35 was being built on the fly and funded by lawmakers who — partially because of the project's jobs in their districts — didn't want to kill it but couldn't afford to provide enough money to meet the constantly shifting technological challenges.

"The program plan has changed every year for a decade," Donnelly said. "We've had to invent it and build it at the same time. So you're going to take some technological risks, but you're going to keep building and fixing. Inventing something that's never been made before is inherently risky."

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

With the Cold War over, the Joint Strike Fighter was designed to amaze the world and cement the United States' status as the sole remaining superpower. The new plane would ensure that Americans "own the skies" during the stealth dogfights Pentagon planners predicted would dominate the wars of the future.

Just after F-35 design work began in earnest, terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. Then came the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have drained a combined $1 trillion from Pentagon coffers and produced new priorities in the "war on terror."

With lawmakers scrambling to find deep spending cuts to ease the debt crisis, the rising cost of the Joint Strike Fighter, plus its production and test problems, have made the program a prime target.

"In a nutshell, the JSF program has been both a scandal and a tragedy," McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, said last month on the Senate floor.

"We are saddled with a program that has little to show for itself after 10 years and $56 billion in taxpayer investment," he said.

While McCain stopped short of calling for the program to be axed, his criticism is all the more remarkable since Arizona's Yuma Marine Corps Air Station is slated to get six F-35B squadrons with 88 aircraft.

The specter of the ill-fated F-22 program hangs over the Joint Strike Fighter.

Conceived during the Cold War, the F-22 was designed to combat Soviet planes in a potential Third World War.

But when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, the F-22 became a plane without a mission. The Pentagon purchased only 187 of a planned 750 of the aircraft, and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended the program in 2009.

(Bob Cox of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, and Patrick Donohue of The Island Packet/The Beaufort Gazette in Beaufort, S.C., contributed to this account.)

Read more here:

Australia reviews timetable for buying 12 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters amid ballooning costs

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is reviewing its timetable for buying 12 troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the defense minister said Monday after the United States announced a rethink of its purchase schedule for the futuristic warplanes.

Australia is a funding partner in developing the JSF, which the U.S. Defense Department describes as the largest fighter aircraft program in history. The Lockheed Martin Corp. JSF program has been troubled by repeated blowouts in cost as well as delivery schedules.

United States, while Canada, Turkey, Britain, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are also funding partners.

Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said Monday that Canberra is only contractually obligated to take delivery of two of the warplanes. They will be based in the United States and be available from 2014 for training Australian pilots.

Smith said Australia is reconsidering its schedule of buying another 12 during the following three years.

“We will now give consideration to whether the timetable for the purchase of those 12 Joint Strike Fighters should occur on the same timetable,” Smith told reporters.

Smith is concerned that any decision by the U.S. to reduce the number of jets it produces for its own forces would create another cost blowout.

Smith said in August last year that he would announce in 2012 whether Australia will invest in an alternative fighter such as the Boeing Co. Super Hornet to ensure that schedule delays do not compromise Australia’s air force capabilities.

Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is building 2,400 of the next generation fighter jets for the U.S. as well as the partner nations. But the cost of the program has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion. Some estimates suggest that it could top out at $1 trillion over 50 years.

Australia had planned to buy as many as 100 of the fighters for 16 billion Australian dollars ($17 billion).

But the government will announce this year whether any more than 14 will be bought for about AU$3 billion.

Australia has 71 standard F/A-18 Hornets that are due to retire around 2020.

Australia last year took delivery of the last four of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets for AU$6 billion. The Super Hornets, built by Boeing in conjunction with Northrup Grumman, GE Aircraft Engines and Raytheon, were ordered in 2007 to maintain Australia’s air force capabilities during the transition to the JSF over the next decade.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Air Force F-35s, Drones May Square Off in Budget Battle

Air Force F-35s, Drones May Square Off in Budget Battle:

'via Blog this'

Wide Range of F-35 Costs Vary Depending on the Government Doing the Talking – Canada Appears to Have One of the Lowest Estimates But Some Question Why? - RP Defense

Wide Range of F-35 Costs Vary Depending on the Government Doing the Talking – Canada Appears to Have One of the Lowest Estimates But Some Question Why? - RP Defense:

'via Blog this'

Mark Collins - F-35 Testing: Half-Full or Half-Empty? Plus Dutch and Koreans

Mark Collins - F-35 Testing: Half-Full or Half-Empty? Plus Dutch and Koreans:

'via Blog this'

With fighter jet costs, the sky’s the limit - Canada -

With fighter jet costs, the sky’s the limit - Canada -

'via Blog this'

DOD officials to review, update F-35 program plans - Washington Business Journal

DOD officials to review, update F-35 program plans - Washington Business Journal:

'via Blog this'

MoD News - New F35-C Fighter's 'Future In Doubt'

MoD News - New F35-C Fighter's 'Future In Doubt':

'via Blog this'

F-35 gets mixed results; ‘C’ variant in trouble? | iPolitics

F-35 gets mixed results; ‘C’ variant in trouble? | iPolitics:

'via Blog this'

F-35 JSF Flight Tests Highlight New Problems, Risks of Excessive Concurrency | Air Force News at DefenceTalk

F-35 JSF Flight Tests Highlight New Problems, Risks of Excessive Concurrency | Air Force News at DefenceTalk:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

F-35 Eric Palmer blog: More alternate reality from the alternate universe

Eric Palmer blog: More alternate reality from the alternate universe:

'via Blog this'

RBC downgrades Lockheed; think-tank pushes for more F-35 production Provided by iPolitics Staff

RBC Capital Markets downgraded Lockheed Martin over the possibility for future challenges related to the production of the F-35 fighter jet and further potential cuts to the program looming in the U.S.

Lockheed was downgraded to underperform, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. RBC had “previously rated the military contractor at sector perform,” says the WSJ.

In a note to clients, RBC said it expects to see further pressure on the F-35 program in 2012.

The news comes a day after Aviation Week unearthed an August 2011 presentation by director of engineering Doug Ebersole, a new addition to the JSF team.

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.

Bill Sweetman notes Ebersole describes that his challenge in the role is to “transition engineering community of practice from one that ‘reviews and reports’ to one that ‘engages and influences.’”

Over at AOL Defense, Colin Clark hints — thanks to “one close observer of the program” — the move may “mark a fundamental shift in the program.”

Clark expands on that:

“Traditionally, the government monitors what a company does and then reports to senior defense officials and Congress as to what is happening and how well — or not — the program is doing. But these slides seem to indicate that the Joint Program Office will send people to Fort Worth, where the Lockheed Martin program is headquartered and where the planes are actually assembled, and engage in oversight and rapid intervention on the floor and in the design process.”

In other words, it might be a move to try to bring the program to heel. We’ll see.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation released a listof five necessary defense-related moves that it thinks the U.S. ought to make in 2012:

“Iran is rattling sabers. Iraq may be falling apart. In North Korea, one of the world’s most inexperienced and unpredictable leaders has his thumb on the country’s nuclear button. Talks with the Taliban look like an instant replay of the Paris peace negotiations with Hanoi. The Arab Spring has turned into a long winter of discontent. Now is not the time to be gutting defense.”

Given that, James Jay Carafano writes that “rather than slowing production of the F-35… the Pentagon ought to be ramping up production. It is time to reap the benefits of the $50 billion taxpayer investment in the program.”

At the same time, he says the Pentagon should “reopen the recently cancelled F-22 production,” given the two fighters were, he says, meant to operate together.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pentagon budget plan expected to trim F-35 program Provided by iPolitics Staff

The U.S. secretary of defence is set to release a proposal this week on how the Pentagon can deal with the proposed cuts to the country’s defence budget over the next decade, according to The New York Times.

Last summer’s bipartisan debt deal set out a plan to immediately enact “10-year discretionary spending caps generating nearly US$1 trillion in deficit reduction; balanced between defense and non-defense spending.” That included a plan to shave at least US$350 billion from the defence budget over the same time period.

That deal also had a caveat if the committee charged with reaching a bipartisan agreement (the super committee) failed to enact a further US$1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction November 23, 2011. If that were to be the case – which, in fact, it was – an automatic sequester would be enacted and “add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made” – an outcome that was qualified at the time as being “unacceptable to many Republicans and Democrats alike.”

From the Times:

So, where are we now?

“Mr. [Leon] Panetta is expected to outline plans for carefully shrinking the military – and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.

Instead, he will say that the military will be large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to ‘spoil’ a second adversary’s ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone.”

Among the programs likely to come under the knife is the Joint Strike Fighter – the program under which the F-35 fighter jet is being developed. During the last few months of 2011, the F-35 came under fresh scrutiny in the U.S., mostly due to its increased cost and continually delayed development. It is still, says theTimes, the “chief target” of weapons spending cuts.

Again, from the Times:

“The debate centers on how necessary the advanced stealth fighter really is and whether missions could be carried out with the less expensive F-16s. The main advantage of the F-35 is its ability to evade radar systems, making it difficult to shoot down — an attribute that is important only if the United States anticipates a war with another technologically advanced military.

‘It would matter some with Iran, it would matter a lot with China,’ said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book, The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.”

What this might mean for Canada remains to be seen, but, as it’s been said many times, any change in the number of planes being produced and purchased will ultimately affect the price Canada pays for each of its jets.

The program received a boost just before Christmas when Japan signed on to buy 42 jets. On December 20, Japan’s defence ministry announced it expects to pay roughly US$114 million per plane in the initial stage of procurement, according to Reuters. That ministry also allowed for that cost to rise should backup parts be necessary.

Back at home, Canada’s government has remained firm in its commitment that the entire cost of the program – the planes, along will the follow-on costs – will be CAN$9 billion. However, Associate Minister of Defence, Julian Fantino, told the Canadian Press the number of planes Canada ultimately procures could be less than 65. What could ultimately change that number – cost or otherwise – is also still unclear.

Meanwhile, over at Time magazine, Mark Thompson decided to price out the engines that are currently being purchased for the three variants of the plane.
Here’s what he came up with:

  • The Navy is buying six engines – 20% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $167 million. That’s 15% of the total $1.1 billion contract. Works out to $28 million per engine.
  • The Air Force is buying 21 engines – 70% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $521 million. That’s 46.3% of the total $1.1 billion purchase. That’s $25 million per powerplant.
  • The Marines are buying three engines – 10% of the 30-engine deal – and are paying $387 million. That’s 34.5% of the total $1.1 billion contract. That’s $129 million per engine.

Which to him sounds like an awful lot.

“There are probably some complicating factors involved not reflected in the contract announcement. And the Marines are buying fewer engines, which makes each one more expensive. They’re also developing theirs for short takeoffs and vertical landings, which increases the price. But by more than 300%?”

Luckily for Canada, anyway, that number probably won’t matter, no matter what it ends up being, as it doesn’t apply to the planes set to come north; Canada won’t be buying the Marine variant.

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.