Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Japan warns it may cancel plans to buy F-35 fighters

In this photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches an F-35 Lightning II approach for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force, Samuel King Jr.)

In this photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches an F-35 Lightning II approach for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force, Samuel King Jr.)

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Date: Wednesday Feb. 29, 2012 5:33 AM ET

TOKYO — Japan's defence minister says Tokyo may cancel its plans to buy dozens of F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States in a multi-billion dollar deal if the prices continue to rise or if delays threaten the delivery date.

Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka told Parliament Wednesday that failure by manufacturer Lockheed Martin to deliver on time at the current price levels would force Tokyo to consider switching to a different aircraft.

Japan announced late last year that it would purchase 42 F-35 jets in a deal expected to cost more than $5 billion. The F-35 is set to become the centerpiece of the U.S. military and allied air forces around the world. But the program has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Canada’s F-35 purchase and ‘global economic realities’

  • © 2012 iPolitics Inc

The U.S. Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz said Tuesday that the Joint Strike Fighter program’s international partners are committed to buying the jets “as soon as their economic circumstances permit,” according to a report from Reuters.

That comment came ahead of a meeting Canada will host Friday with the international partner nations of the JSF in Washington, D.C..

The comment is a strange one, given the Conservative government’s continued claims that it remains committed to buying the jets. In the House of Commons ministers Fantino and MacKay have, however, dropped specific numbers from their answers, no longer stating how many planes Canada intends to purchase, nor enumerating the budget within which they claim they will continue to work.

The Canadian Forces website continues to state that Canada the $9 billion dollar budget “will cover the purchase of 65” conventional take-off and landing variant F-35s, along with the carry-on logistical support, associated weapons, infrastructure, project management and contingency costs.A Department of National Defence representative Tuesday those numbers are still current.

However, that answer, which eventually came after I’d asked how many planes Canada is currently planning on buying and for how much, came on the heels of a prepared statement from DND which made similar allusions to global economic forces that Schwartz mentioned to Reuters.

National defence’s initial reply to my query as to how many planes Canada would buy and for how much was the following:

As an answer to your query, be advised that the Department of National Defence is continually assessing the implications of decisions resulting from uncertain global economic realities on the Canadian Forces future readiness. The Government of Canada is ensuring that Canada’s Air Force is properly equipped for the job asked of them. ‬

To a request to be more specific I was sent the following in response:

“The Department of National Defence is always monitoring decisions made by our allies and partners as a result of today’s difficult global economic environment and incorporating their implications into preparations for the Canadian Forces future readiness.”

Tuesday afternoon, another question:

“What, specifically, is the relationship between the global economic environment and the number of F-35s that Canada will purchase? What aspects of the global economy will have an affect on our purchase?”

A bit later, Tuesday, I got a call from a representative at DND, who said he would find more details, but in the meantime pointed me to a departmental website – a press release, as it turned out – saying it would put the “global economic realities” into “perspective.”

The release, dated January 26 of this year, is one prepared for the media on Fantino’s response to the news that the U.S. plans to slow procurement of its F-35s over the next 5 years, delaying the purchase of hundreds of jets.

The only mention of global economic realities, or the economy at all, is in a quote from Fantino. Here it is:

“We are pleased that less than eight percent of the United States’ order will be re-profiled to a later production date, and that all partners continue to exercise responsible management of their priorities amid challenging global economic realities.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Tories weigh value of delaying F-35 jet purchase

OTTAWA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The Canadian government is investigating whether it can squeeze more life out of its aging CF-18 fighters as it takes stock of decisions by cash-strapped allies to delay or trim orders for the replacement F-35 Lightning jet.

The Harper government must now decide whether there’s a benefit to postponing part of Canada’s order of 65 jets so that its Lightning fighter bombers are built in the same years as the bulk of orders placed by other countries – when the production cost is lower

Canada has called a meeting of F-35 customers for early March at its Washington embassy so buyers can compare notes on what’s happening to the next generation fighter program.

It’s not clear now which years offer what officials call the “sweet spot” for purchases because allies including the U.S. have confirmed plans to defer orders while others such as Italy have announced they’re trimming their F-35 buys.

What is certain, however, is that Canada’s CF-18s can’t fly indefinitely.

The Canadian government had planned to start taking delivery of new F-35 fighter bombers in 2016 or 2017 and has publicly described 2020 as the retirement date for most of its fleet of CF-18 Hornets.

A government official with knowledge of the file said the military is now assessing whether 2020 is the absolute maximum life expectancy for the Hornets or whether there’s a little bit more flying time left in the jets – planes purchased between 1984 and 1988.

Canada has already retrofitted the CF-18s in order to make them last until 2020.

Options for extending the use of CF-18s beyond that date include cutting the annual flying time allotted for each jet or further upgrading the planes.

If Canada can’t keep sufficient CF-18s operating to bridge the gap, it may have to start taking delivery of planes earlier rather than later – even if the costs are higher in early years.

The Defence Department had previously said the F-35 jets would cost about $75-million each.

Officials said if costs for 65 planes exceeded the cash allotted, Canada could reduce its order.

National Defence is now refusing to answer questions about the current price tag for the new fighters. Twice in the last two days, Defence Department officials have ignored requests to confirm the cost of the F-35s or whether the $9-billion envelope of dedicated funding contains $800-million to handle cost overruns.

“The Department of National Defence is always assessing the implications of decisions resulting from uncertain global economic realities on the Canadian Forces future readiness,” Captain Alexandre Munoz said in a prepared statement.

Julian Fantino, the associate minister for defence, has also ducked price tag questions recently, telling CBC-TV on Feb. 14, that “these are things that are evolving,” giving the impression that Canada is now open to changing its order.

“We all know that the economic reality of the day is certainly vastly different from when we started back on this project in 1997,” the minister said. “It would be ludicrous, I believe, for us to say that under no circumstances are we not prepared to discuss, to reconsider or consider.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

UK Minister: Rise in Cost of F-35 Fighters 'Unknown'

08:59 GMT, February 22, 2012 The British Government "doesn't know" how much the price of new aircraft carrier fighter jets will rise because of cancellations abroad. Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff told the Commons order changes from other countries would have "implications" for the price of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF).

The Lockheed Martin-built jets are due to be purchased to fly from the UK's Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers which are currently under construction.

Speaking during Defence Questions in the Commons, shadow defence minister Alison Seabeck said: "What is the intention around the F-35 programme, in particular given rumoured reductions in orders from the USA, Australia and Canada?

"Do you expect the price of each F-35 to rise and have you taken a view on exactly the point at which they become unaffordable?"

Mr Luff replied: "The honest answer is we don't know. The Americans are not reducing the total numbers of JSF but changing the profile of those purchases. Other partner nations are indicating they are going to reduce their actual off take.

"This is likely to have implications for JSF prices particularly in the early stages which is when this country intends to procure its (fighters).

"There are implications, we are watching them very carefully and I'm happy to talk to you separately about the implications for the UK." (BFBS)

Japan warns U.S. price of F-35 fighter must not rise

A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/Files

TOKYO | Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:10am IST

(Reuters) - Japan has repeatedly warned the United States against price rises in Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) new F-35 fighter jet, its top government spokesman said on Wednesday, after U.S. and Lockheed officials noted delays in orders will increase its total cost.

The comments from Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura come after Japan's Sankei newspaper cited unidentified U.S. government officials as saying that Japan had threatened that it may even cancel its orders if prices climbed.

Japan picked the F-35 as its next mainstay fighter in December, choosing it over combat-proven but less stealthy rivals.

"When we were selecting the fighter, we asked those making the proposals to strictly observe their proposed prices and supply schedules. Japan has conveyed this to the U.S. from time to time," Fujimura told a news conference.

The Pentagon last week confirmed plans to put off orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years to save $15.1 billion, a move that Lockheed executive vice president Tom Burbage told Reuters would increase the price of the plane somewhat.

Canadian officials have been told the price of their jets would increase by a nominal percentage amount "in the low single digits" as a result of the U.S. slowdown.

Japan's Defense Ministry has said each jet would cost 8.9 billion yen, or 9.9 billion yen including spare parts. The ministry plans to buy 4 jets in the year beginning in April and 42 units eventually.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

DND figures show little wiggle room
in replacing CF 18s with stealth fighters Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — There’s little wiggle room to prolong the life of Canada’s CF-18 jet fighters beyond 2020 and they may have to be flown gently if there are further delays in the F-35 program.

A Defence Department chart that tracks maintenance on all 77 aircraft shows the CF-18s had used up about 73 per cent of their airframe life prior to last year’s Libya bombing campaign.

National Defence has acknowledged there is no back-up plan if the multi-national F-35 stealth fighter program encounters more problems or postponements.

The retirement date for all but three of the CF-18s is set at 2020, according to the spreadsheet tabled in Parliament last year in response to written questions by Opposition parties.

On average, each aircraft is expected to end its service life with just over 7,000 hours in the air; most had already surpassed an average 5,151 hours at the time the snapshot was taken in late 2010.

The aging fighters have gone through a decade-long $1.8-billion upgrade to their weapons systems and sensors, and senior defence officials say they’ll “easily be effective” for another eight years.

All of the jets were purchased between 1984 and 1989. Aircraft No. 925 is expected to clock out with the airtime at 8,637 hours, according to the documents.

The first of the problem-plagued F-35s is supposed to be delivered in 2016, with the bulk of the planned 65 aircraft arriving in 2020.

The New Democrats say it’s foolish that the Harper government has not prepared a solid back-up plan, even if that contingency is simply investing in some sort of airframe life-extension.

“The way they are proceeding simply confounds me,” said NDP critic Matthew Kellway. “I don’t know how they could have painted themselves into this corner without a back up, and if they have one they refuse to tell us what it might be.”

But for the Harper government, the figures underscore the need to replace the aging fighters.

“Canada’s CF-18s are nearing the end of their usable lives,” said Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino.

“We have set a budget for replacement aircraft and we have been clear that we will operate within that budget. We will make sure that the Air Force has aircraft necessary to do the job we ask of them.”

Other nations, notably the United States, have invested in programs to keep their F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles flying because of delays in the US $328-billion stealth fighter, which is the most costly weapons program in American history.

In fact, Lockheed Martin, which manufactures both the F-35 and the F-16, announced last week that it would offer upgrade kits to keep older Falcons in the air and might even build new ones.

Industry observers see it as a hedge against more possible delays.

The current Defence Department plan in Ottawa sees the first F-35s arrive in 2016 and enter service in the 2018 time frame, at which point the oldest of the current fighters would be retired. But development setbacks and delayed orders from other allied nations have cast doubt on that.

Defence experts have been pushing the government since last fall to consider a further upgrade to the CF-18s.

Retired air force lieutenant-colonel Dean Black has said it’s something that should be considered rather than going down the road of Australia buying new Super Hornets, the beefed up version of the F-18