So long F-35? Even the Yanks are finding it expensive

JSF - Navy Ready To Abandon Ship?
Posted by Bill Sweetman at 1/15/2010 5:17 AM CST
The Navy is not happy with the new joint-service fighter. It's gained weight during development, but more importantly, the Navy isn't sure that the capabilities it provides are what they want to spend more money on. It's tempting to scrap it and go with an alternative, from a company with recent carrier-jet experience. The obstacle is a headstrong Secretary of Defense who's staked his reputation on the joint program, but the signals are clear: the moment he's gone the Navy's going to bail.

Enough about the F-111. What about JSF?

For the service of "loose lips sink ships", the Navy leaked the blandly titled "Joint Programs TOC Affordability" document through more holes than IJN Yamato off Okinawa. This was no baby-seals-type accident. It's a deliberate hit at the highest level.

The key chart is page 10, which shows that - over the lifetime of the fleet - the carrier-based and STOVL JSF versions will cost the Navy 40 per cent more, in total operating costs, than the F/A-18C/Ds and AV-8Bs that they replace. (The older aircraft costs are taken from FY2008 and include a lot of aging-aircraft issues.) This is despite a smaller fleet and fewer flight hours: the new aircraft are expected to cost more than 60 per cent more to fly per hour than their predecessors.

The Navy report suggests that the total cost of the Pentagon's JSF program will be $705 billion in FY2002 dollars, just over twice the figure predicted at the program's inception.

Lockheed Martin and the JSF program office will respond that the Navy figures are conjectural, based on experience with legacy aircraft, and not applicable to the JSF's cutting-edge technology. This matters not a hoot. What matters is that the admirals and senior Navy leaders believe the report is roughly accurate, or it wouldn't be on the street in the first place.

So where are all those billions in extra O&S money going to come from? The answer is "nowhere". When the report states that "JSF will have a significant impact on naval aviation affordability", what it means by "significant" is "about the same as the ten torpedo and seven bomb hits on Yamato."

But wait - there's more. The Navy is not talking exclusively about the F-35B/C. If similar TOC comparisons hold for the F-16, USAF TacAir plans have some challenges ahead. Moreover, the Navy notes an "upward" pressure on the $705 billion - indicating that the program team will be doing well to hold it level.

The Navy is the only US JSF customer with a ready Plan B, in the shape of the Super Hornet. (And GE has developed a thrust boost for the F414 and Boeing has muttered quietly about stealth enhancements.) What would the Navy do about the Marines? That wasn't in the report's terms of reference.

The Navy is not identifying factors behind the per-hour TOC number. However, the JSF is Super Hornet-sized, and bigger than either of the aircraft it replaces. The F-35B includes a complex lift-system full of critical components. And JSF includes stealth technology, which has yet to prove as affordable in service as the engineers promised it would be.

No one presentation or study is definitive, but this latest disclosure places more pressure than ever on the JSF program to perform.
Oil_Slick. How's your sense of humour today?

Saab has been studying the idea of designing a carrier-borne variant since the mid-’90s but the company only decided to launch the Sea Gripen program in the wake of its existing campaigns for the air forces of India and Brazil and the moves by the two countries to build a serious carrier capability, even though at that time there was no formal request from either country.
Still only one donk, though.
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