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Wheeler's "Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load"

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  • Wheeler's "Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load"

    CDI has another article by Winslow Wheeler,"Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load" on the F-35. The title is pretty darn funny no matter what side of the F-35 issue you are on. Here are some snips:

    This week some Pentagon officials morphed into street cleaners as the Defense Department's F-35 "Joint Strike Fighter" left yet another load of unpleasantness on the street for all to see. It came in the form of major new revelations from Jason Sherman at InsideDefense.com with an article titled "DOD Warns Congress JSF Costs Could Skyrocket To $388 Billion." The new, higher cost estimate intensified the sticker shock for the already unaffordable F-35. The word went out from the "E" ring of the Pentagon; reporters and others - including myself - were told it was all "shaky math," "garbage," "totally wrong."
    So it looks like the $97 million, or rather the more honest $134 million, unit cost estimate is about to be overtaken by events. We've got the new, higher estimate ($115 million), but it is only in those worse than useless "base year" 2002 dollars. Nowhere do we find in the report the more straightforward "then year" dollar cost for the $115 million. Luckily, however, eight grade math and ever-helpful inside the Pentagon sources both provide the same answer: $158 million per aircraft. So, it's not $79 million per aircraft; it's not $134 million; it's $158 million. That's twice what the Pentagon was pretending last month.
    As Sherman also reported in another article on April 7 (See "DOD: JSF Combat Radius Shrinks, Logistic Footprint Grows As Design Matures"), the F-35 is beginning to go south on some of its performance specs. Specifically, the projected performance for range, payload, logistics requirements, and sortie rate of the various F-35 models are beginning to deteriorate from the originally stated "baseline" performance estimates and program objectives. It is a process that will continue as the original F-35 performance promises meet reality in the form of flight testing, now only 3 percent complete.
    Nirvana! The learning curve permits the advocates to pretend that the average unit price can be lowered to rescue the program from even higher costs than those now projected: As we get deeper into production, optimization of production processes will result in cheaper and cheaper aircraft. That's what happens in mass production, they argue.

    There is only one problem: modern combat aircraft are not Chevrolets. For them, the learning curve barely exists. As Franklin "Chuck" Spinney has shown us for aircraft like the F-14, F-15, F-18, Apache Helicopter, V-22 Tilt Rotor, B-1 bomber, and even the less complex F-16 and relatively simple A-10 in the 1980s and 1990s, the projected "learning curves" were always vastly overstated. In fact, Spinney's analysis, which was based on official data in the Pentagon's budget planning and execution documents, showed that the Pentagon could not even use learning curves to predict the costs of runway cleaners and pickup trucks bought on the commercial market.

    Once you look at the details, this denial of the prevailing conventional wisdom becomes perfectly obvious. A major reason is that there never exists a stable design to mass produce. Engineering change proposals, upgrades in the form of new production blocks, product improvements, and new requirements from the user never end. Modern tactical aircraft procurement programs never really allow a design to stabilize to enable "mass production" or any meaningful optimization of production and of the resulting cost. For this and several other reasons, the learning curve is mostly illusion.

    In the case of the F-22, the closest design and fabrication cousin to the F-35, the learning curve actually went backwards late in production; the unit costs went up. That is by no means new -- the same thing happened with the F-14 and the F-15. For the late models of the "mass produced" F-16, the block 50 model, unit costs were about twice the amount of early production models.
    So if you accept this analysis, its now $158m per copy and rising. Scary. We'll wind up with 1500 of them, rather than 3000. Maybe the idea of "back to the drawing board" would be worth considering.

  • #2
    Oh well, looks like the Australian government will order more Rhinos instead.....
    "In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason."
    Ernest Hemingway.

    "The more I learn about people, The more I love my dog".
    Mark Twain.

    Comment


    • #3
      That's soooo expensive!!! even at 1500 (down from 3000), that's just simply so prohibitive! And we shouldn't just look at acquisition cost, but also at maintenance cost.

      Maybe the better option is to get a few hundred first line fighters (F35) and the rest second line fighters (current generation fighters)? After all, air-superiority once achieved is easier to maintain, so might as well do the maintaining with cheaper costing fighters rather than having all those super-expensive fighters doing regular patrols.

      I can just see the tax dollars burning along with the jet fuel.
      "We have no white flag."

      Comment


      • #4
        The less you purchase, the higher the acquisition costs for the units. The costs have gone up significantly, you just have to weigh costs vs. capabilities. The partner nations in the JSF program seem to be convinced of their choice but I look forward to seeing them actually signing contracts to buy. Many seem hesitant to become early buyers to avoid higher costs and would want to buy when the testing and development are done and production has ramped up.

        Comment


        • #5
          Australia has already signed off to get 14 JSFs, these are expected to arrive in 2014. From the original wish list of 100 it has narrowed down to 72 or 75 planes, with further approvals to be considered in 2012, by then we should have a better cost estimate for any further planes to purchase.
          The first operational RAAF JSF isn't expected to be around till 2018-19.
          "In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason."
          Ernest Hemingway.

          "The more I learn about people, The more I love my dog".
          Mark Twain.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Achtung Baby View Post
            Australia has already signed off to get 14 JSFs, these are expected to arrive in 2014. From the original wish list of 100 it has narrowed down to 72 or 75 planes, with further approvals to be considered in 2012, by then we should have a better cost estimate for any further planes to purchase.
            The first operational RAAF JSF isn't expected to be around till 2018-19.
            I shudder to think what the cost estimate will be in 2012.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
              I shudder to think what the cost estimate will be in 2012.
              It wont be nice at all, I'll make a prediction and say we(Australia) may get less than 50 JSFs.
              "In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason."
              Ernest Hemingway.

              "The more I learn about people, The more I love my dog".
              Mark Twain.

              Comment


              • #8
                Came across this on another forum.. the perspective from the armed forces who will actually use the jet.

                JSF Production “Turned The Corner”


                By Greg Grant Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 4:06 pm
                Posted in Air, Land, Naval, Policy

                Senator Joe Lieberman assembled quite a panel at this morning’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services AirLand subcommittee to discuss the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Navy’s “fighter gap.” According to the Air Force and Navy officials, the JSF program is performing pretty well, apart from some minor delays and cost overruns, so any potential fighter gap is easily manageable.

                Vice. Adm. David Architzel, the Navy’s point man on research and procurement, said he’s confident that the most recent restructuring of the JSF program will deliver an aircraft without further cost increases or delays in delivery. The Navy expects to take delivery of their first F-35 carrier variant no later than June.

                “We’ve turned the corner on production line delays,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the service’s top buyer, who expects to take delivery of the first test aircraft this year. The jump in the JSF’s price tag and the delays were due primarily to small design changes, which while minor, rippled through the production line causing excessive “churn and stress.” That production line is now well on the way to “maturing,” he said. He declared the F-35 airframe itself as solid; although the plane’s software package has proven a bit more problematic.

                Marine Corps aviation chief, Lt. Gen. George Trautman, who has already taking delivery of his service’s test aircraft, said the important part that JSF critics miss is that there are no major technical or manufacturing issues with the jets. The Marine’s F-35B short take off and landing version has been flying since June, is performing well, and the expected initial operational capability (IOC) date is December 2012. By then, the Marines expect to have 10 F-35Bs in the Block IIB configuration; the version currently being test flown is the Block .5.

                Trautman expects to field a fully operational squadron of F-35Bs, following block upgrades of avionics and software, by 2014. This claim led Lieberman to ask if the Marines were taking a risk by fielding a squadron of Block IIB aircraft instead of waiting for the Block III version, like the Navy and Air Force. Trautman said the F-35B is so much more capable than the AV-8 Harrier squadron it will be replacing that “it’s an easy decision to make.” It will give Marine air component commanders their first ever stealthy STOVL aircraft operating off Marine amphibs.

                The Air Force will have to wait a little longer for their IOC date, which is scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, said Maj. Gen. Johnny Weida, director of Air Force operations and plans. For the Air Force, IOC is defined as 12–24 Block III versions of the F-35. The Navy projects its F-35C IOC that same year.

                As for the Navy’s looming fighter gap, Trautman admitted that the models used to calculate that gap are a bit shaky and susceptible to wide variations, depending on the inputs. He thinks that with careful management of the legacy F-18 fleet, by which he means service life extension, close air support burden sharing between the Navy and Marines, and finding “depot efficiencies,” that fluctuating fighter gap number can be trimmed to no more than 100 in 2018. If JSF can be kept on track, that number can be reduced even further, he said.

                The Air Force and Navy officials backed up Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ assertion that an alternate engine for the F-35, the F-136, is unnecessary. It would require spending at least $2.5 billion over the next five years to develop the alternate engine, Architzel said, money that would then be unavailable to buy more F-35s.

                http://www.dodbuzz.com/2010/04/13/af-f- ... z0l2gpalOM

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by kuma View Post
                  Came across this on another forum.. the perspective from the armed forces who will actually use the jet.

                  JSF Production “Turned The Corner”


                  By Greg Grant Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 4:06 pm
                  Posted in Air, Land, Naval, Policy

                  Senator Joe Lieberman assembled quite a panel at this morning’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services AirLand subcommittee to discuss the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Navy’s “fighter gap.” According to the Air Force and Navy officials, the JSF program is performing pretty well, apart from some minor delays and cost overruns, so any potential fighter gap is easily manageable.

                  Vice. Adm. David Architzel, the Navy’s point man on research and procurement, said he’s confident that the most recent restructuring of the JSF program will deliver an aircraft without further cost increases or delays in delivery. The Navy expects to take delivery of their first F-35 carrier variant no later than June.

                  “We’ve turned the corner on production line delays,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the service’s top buyer, who expects to take delivery of the first test aircraft this year. The jump in the JSF’s price tag and the delays were due primarily to small design changes, which while minor, rippled through the production line causing excessive “churn and stress.” That production line is now well on the way to “maturing,” he said. He declared the F-35 airframe itself as solid; although the plane’s software package has proven a bit more problematic.

                  Marine Corps aviation chief, Lt. Gen. George Trautman, who has already taking delivery of his service’s test aircraft, said the important part that JSF critics miss is that there are no major technical or manufacturing issues with the jets. The Marine’s F-35B short take off and landing version has been flying since June, is performing well, and the expected initial operational capability (IOC) date is December 2012. By then, the Marines expect to have 10 F-35Bs in the Block IIB configuration; the version currently being test flown is the Block .5.

                  Trautman expects to field a fully operational squadron of F-35Bs, following block upgrades of avionics and software, by 2014. This claim led Lieberman to ask if the Marines were taking a risk by fielding a squadron of Block IIB aircraft instead of waiting for the Block III version, like the Navy and Air Force. Trautman said the F-35B is so much more capable than the AV-8 Harrier squadron it will be replacing that “it’s an easy decision to make.” It will give Marine air component commanders their first ever stealthy STOVL aircraft operating off Marine amphibs.

                  The Air Force will have to wait a little longer for their IOC date, which is scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, said Maj. Gen. Johnny Weida, director of Air Force operations and plans. For the Air Force, IOC is defined as 12–24 Block III versions of the F-35. The Navy projects its F-35C IOC that same year.

                  As for the Navy’s looming fighter gap, Trautman admitted that the models used to calculate that gap are a bit shaky and susceptible to wide variations, depending on the inputs. He thinks that with careful management of the legacy F-18 fleet, by which he means service life extension, close air support burden sharing between the Navy and Marines, and finding “depot efficiencies,” that fluctuating fighter gap number can be trimmed to no more than 100 in 2018. If JSF can be kept on track, that number can be reduced even further, he said.

                  The Air Force and Navy officials backed up Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ assertion that an alternate engine for the F-35, the F-136, is unnecessary. It would require spending at least $2.5 billion over the next five years to develop the alternate engine, Architzel said, money that would then be unavailable to buy more F-35s.

                  http://www.dodbuzz.com/2010/04/13/af-f- ... z0l2gpalOM
                  Thanks Kuma. Would you have expected anything different though?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                    Thanks Kuma. Would you have expected anything different though?
                    I guess I'd have to give all these officers the benefit of being honorable gentlemen who are willing to put their statements on the public record. Honor and one's good name still counts for something in my book. Call me naive.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by kuma View Post
                      I guess I'd have to give all these officers the benefit of being honorable gentlemen who are willing to put their statements on the public record. Honor and one's good name still counts for something in my book. Call me naive.
                      I won't call you naive.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                        I won't call you naive.
                        It reminds me of the TFX/F-111 that Mcnamara wanted the Air force and the Navy to buy. IIRC it was Adm. Tom Connolly who put his carreer on the line and earned the ire of his Pentagon bosses by going on the record before Congress that it was the wrong plane for the Navy. The Navy named the F-14 Tomcat ("Tom's Cat") in his honor. That took guts.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by kuma View Post
                          It reminds me of the TFX/F-111 that Mcnamara wanted the Air force and the Navy to buy. IIRC it was Adm. Tom Connolly who put his carreer on the line and earned the ire of his Pentagon bosses by going on the record before Congress that it was the wrong plane for the Navy. The Navy named the F-14 Tomcat ("Tom's Cat") in his honor. That took guts.
                          Lets not forget the nearly-averted Bradley fiasco. Had it not been for Jim Burton's crusade, the army would have willingly purchased another "Tommy Cooker." The army was in such a hurry (and I'm being generous in my characterization) to get the Bradley that they were testing the vehicle with WATER in the fuel tanks. Burton put his career on the line (and ultimately paid the price) to make sure the problems were rectified. He truly exemplified Boyd's "to be or to do" speech (and its probably little surprise Burton was a close colleague of Boyd's).

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                            CDI has another article by Winslow Wheeler,"Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load" on the F-35. The title is pretty darn funny no matter what side of the F-35 issue you are on. Here are some snips:









                            So if you accept this analysis, its now $158m per copy and rising. Scary. We'll wind up with 1500 of them, rather than 3000. Maybe the idea of "back to the drawing board" would be worth considering.
                            Well, considering that the Navy has at least 300 admirals too many, and that the ratio of flag officers that is gainfully unemployed in the other branches of the service is quite similar, there is some of the scratch right there; we can give some of those no loads the heave ho.
                            Give me a fast ship and the wind at my back for I intend to sail in harms way! (John Paul Jones)

                            Initiated Chief Petty Officer
                            Hard core! Old School! Deal with it!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by kuma View Post
                              Came across this on another forum.. the perspective from the armed forces who will actually use the jet.
                              JSF Production “Turned The Corner”

                              By Greg Grant Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 4:06 pm
                              Posted in Air, Land, Naval, Policy

                              Senator Joe Lieberman assembled quite a panel at this morning’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services AirLand subcommittee to discuss the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Navy’s “fighter gap.” . . . . http://www.dodbuzz.com/2010/04/13/af-f- ... z0l2gpalOM
                              Sen Lieberman represents the State of Connecticut in the US Senate. United Technologies is one of Connecticut's largest private-sector employers. United Technologies owns Pratt & Whitney. Pratt & Whitney is one of the contractors manufacturing power plants for the F-35. Given Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' and Pres Barack Obama's proven willingness to ax the occassional big-ticket defense acquisition program, we shouldn't be surprised that Sen Lieberman hosted this confab to say that everything with the F-35 program is hunky-dorey. He may want to win reelection. In short, I can't put too much confidence in anything coming out of this gathering.
                              I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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