Putting the “eff” in F-35

Posted April 4th, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Hooooo boy.

It’s times like this that I wish my former blogmate Mark Collins was still here because while the F-35 fiasco is well above my pay grade, he’s been dubious of the entire procurement since day one. And while I have to admit that I don’t know enough about fifth generation fighter jet technology to produce more than a few crudely drawn words on a cocktail napkin, it doesn’t take much expertise to realize the defence department just stepped into a Jurassic Park-sized deposit of dino waste.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s rather confusing. I mean, the NDP are asking for defence minister Peter MacKay to resign for not knowing what he should have known, unless in fact he did know, which is much worse, though he claims he absolutely didn’t. Or as one Macleans magazine pundit put it, if a massive abuse of procedure and accountability falls in the forest, but no one is named, blamed and shamed as the culprit, did it ever really happen?

Clearly, somebody, somewhere in the government is due to take a very short walk off a long pier. Do you fire the military commanders who clearly did everything they possibly could to acquire the F-35s without undergoing proper procurement procedures and then fabricating a list of things they needed in a fighter jet so that the list dovetailed nicely with the specs for the F-35?

Or do you fire the people in the defence department who didn’t tell their superiors about the impending mountain of aforementioned dino doo doo about to fall on their heads? Or do you expect the defence minister to accept Thomas Mulcair’s suggestion that the loonie stops at the minister’s desk, and offer his resignation so that Stephen Harper can shuffle him some place else?

Or do you turf Julian Fantino, the man who is currently backing away from the spotlight as quickly and unsubtly as a man wearing orange at a St.Patty’s Day parade? Please don’t look at me, I just work here. One gets the sense, however, as one reads through older news articles quoting Fantino, that the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, and the language of the minister for military procurement had been evolving from certainty about the necessity of F-35s to one very much ambiguous that they might be jets at all, and not flying ponies or something.

The bad news is the Auditor-General’s report puts a giant cannon-sized hole in the F-35 procurement and its budget. The bad news is that the procurement appears to be manipulated to ensure a sole-sourced, untendered contract with Lockheed Martin which has or has not been signed, depending on which part of the government you ask at a certain part of the day.

The bad news is that the defence minister and the procurement minister had no idea about any of this, depending on which part of their mouths you believe when they’re speaking. The bad news is that the defence department itself told the House of Commons that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.

Ok, that’s all the bad news. Well, probably not, but it’s probably enough for now. On to the not-so-bad news. The Conservative government, while deservingly drowning in its own arrogance for shouting down those who suggested the whole deal was rotten from the start, is not really complicit in this scandal so much as it is woefully negligent. At the very least they seem to be taking some responsibility now, have frozen spending on the program, spanked the defence department, and handed oversight over to a committee of deputy ministers.

Is it at all ironic that the man whom was hired as part of transparency and accountability legislation brought in by the Conservative government was the one who foreshadowed all of this long ago by saying the government’s numbers on this contract were wrong? And does it make it even more ironic that this same man who estimated the costs were nearly $10 billion greater than the government was saying gets by on a departmental budget of $1.8 million? Perhaps the feds should cut Kevin Page’s budget to $49 and give him coupons to Tim Hortons so he won’t cause so much trouble in the future.

The only actual good news I can pull from all this is that the money for these jets hasn’t yet been wasted, which saves Harper his Airbus A320 moment in power. Which is sort of like finding a wooden plank to float on after stepping off the Titanic. And as Harper is to Rose, who will play the role of Jack, slipping quietly into the deep blue sea?

Why Canada will not get F-35s in 2016 at under $80 million each

Posted January 8th, 2011 in Canada, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

As the chart below illustrates planned production for the US services keeps slipping away.  Though I’m not convinced the aircraft is in a “death spiral” as the author of the post at Flightglobal suggests:

Johan Boeder, a Dutch defense analyst and editor of jsfnieuws.nl, has compiled a chart showing how the Department of Defense’s planned F-35 orders have declined since contract award in October 2001…

Learning curve theory posits that manufacturing costs decline by 12% each time output doubles. With each new delay that results in a further production cutback, the F-35′s affordability challenge becomes more difficult…

2001 Sep-06 Nov-06 Apr-07 Nov-08 Aug-09 Jan-11
FY05 10
FY06 22
FY07 49 5 5 2 2 2 2
FY08 82 18 16 12 12 12 12
FY09 108 52 47 16 14 14 14
FY10 156 70 56 30 30 30 28
FY11 170 98 64 43 43 43 32
FY12 170 133 103 82 82 82 32
FY13 170 143 135 90 90 90 42
FY14 170 157 157 116 110 110 62
FY15 170 160 160 130 130 130 81
FY16 170 160 160 130 130 130 108
Totals 1447 996 903 651 643 643 413


F-35s for our Air Force in 2016? Good flipping luck

Canadian Government has no idea what the F-35 will cost…


F-35s for our Air Force in 2016? Good flipping luck

Posted January 7th, 2011 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Further to,

…F-35 Update

this is what our government is saying:

Canadian officials defend F-35 jets

Canadian officials leapt to the defence of the controversial F-35 military jet Thursday after significant concerns were raised with the stealth fighter earlier in the day in Washington.

While U.S. concerns are specific to one particular vertical lift model, Canadian critics say ongoing cost overruns and lengthy delays should raise a red flag for a Conservative government determined to spend billions on the U.S.-made planes.

“I say without hesitation … this is the only aircraft for the future,” said Major General Tom Lawson, assistant chief of the air staff, who insisted the proven conventional model Canada is buying should not be confused with the short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) under the gun in the U.S.

The Harper government is pushing ahead with plans to buy 65 F-35 jets at a total cost of $9 billion, which could jump to about $16 billion when service costs are factored in. Delivery of the first jets is not scheduled until 2016.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates earlier told a news conference the joint strike fighter program has received special scrutiny given its “substantial cost” and “ongoing development issues” as part of the planned U.S. military budget cuts.

Gates announced the Marine Corps’s F-35 STOVL version has been put on a two-year “probation” to get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule…

Lawson said development of the conventional F-35 has been advancing well and “it’s from that that I take great promise with this program and great confidence in it.”

The general said Canada is “buffered somewhat” from any further delays in the delivery of the F-35s because the recently upgraded CF-18s provide “manoeuvre space in when we would purchase aircraft. So, if required, we might be able to extend the final date of service of the F-18 [bit of hedge there].”..

The Parliamentary Budget Office is to issue a report next month on Canada’s proposed F-35 purchase.

“We are monitoring developments regarding F-35 development. We will look at input and life-cycle cost estimates. We are working with colleagues in the U.S. and the U.K.,” parliamentary budget watchdog Kevin Page told the Star

That should be very interesting. It is true that the F-35A the government intends to purchase has had a lot less testing trouble than the F-35B. But now for some serious details, not reported in our media, that will affect delivery dates and almost certainly increase the cost of the planes– since production will ramp up more slowly–in 2016 (or whenever, depending on how well F-35A testing does progress in reality).

1) Defense Technology’s “Ares” blog:

…Gates has decided to keep FY2012 (Lot 5) low-rate production of the F-35 to 32 aircraft, the same level as 2011, versus the planned 42 aircraft, although progress of the F-35A and F-35C has been “satisfactory”.

Update: Satisfactory or not, the completion of systems development and demonstration (SDD) is delayed to early 2016, versus mid-2015 as planned in the restructuring of the program early last year.

SDD finishes with the conclusion of development testing and precedes initial operational testing and evaluation, so this probably pushes initial operational capability into 2017 [emphasis added]. (The individual services are assessing their IOC dates.) This will cost an additional $4.6 billion.

The production ramp will also be flattened out, cutting another 124 aircraft out of LRIP, through the ninth batch, in addition to the 122 removed last year.

A total of 41 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets will be acquired [emphasis added, see here also], alongside 150 life-extended F/A-18C/Ds, to fill Marine and Navy squadrons as a hedge against late JSF deliveries [and note that the Navy's F-35C has had "satisfactory" progress]…

2) Fort Worth (where the F-35 is built) Star-Telegram:

Defense secretary proposes cutting 124 F-35 purchases

Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined a five-year plan Thursday to reduce defense spending by $78 billion, including a dramatic cut in purchases of the F-35 joint strike fighter.

After more than a year of reviews of the oft-delayed and over-budget program, the Pentagon now plans to order 325 jets between 2012 and 2016, 124 fewer than anticipated a few months ago.

Gates’ plan would significantly slow production increases at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth factory and likely affect the company’s plans for hiring workers over that time.

Lockheed has been anticipating about 200 foreign orders during that period, but most of those nations are also dealing with budget problems and worried about rising F-35 costs… [But not our government, at least publicly.  And it still claims up to 5,000 F-35s will be built, from which Canadian industry will make huge bucks.  That's the real reason the government, as opposed to the Air Force, wants the plane--the hoped-for jobs and votes.]

Gates’ proposals will be included in the proposed 2012 defense budget submitted to Congress next month. Of the money saved by buying fewer jets, $4.6 billion would pay for continued development and testing…

The Pentagon now has 61 early-production F-35s on order. It was expecting to buy another 43 with the 2011 budget, but Congress has not yet appropriated the funds and has indicated wanting fewer planes…

Yet our government professes to see blue skies ahead.

Update: A version of this post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog.


Hornets at Kandahar Air Field/F-35 Update

Posted January 3rd, 2011 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Unfortunately not Canadian:

A Marine Corps squadron recently returned to the United States after a historic deployment as the first of the service’s F/A-18 Hornets to operate from a ground base in Afghanistan.

With Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 operating out of Kandahar Air Field, the unit’s pilots were much closer to infantry troops than they were during previous deployments when they operated of off naval aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea or Persian Gulf.

Their proximity to ground fighting during their last deployment allowed them to be more responsive and increased the number of successful combat missions, according to unit leaders.

That “feet dry” presence let pilots flying the squadron’s dozen F/A-18C Hornets and a couple of twin-seat F/A-18Ds work closely with some dozen ground combat units operating around Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.

Sgt. Deanne Hurla / Marine Corps Cpl. Scott Esker, a plane captain with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, directs Capt. Daniel Tongson, a VMFA-232 pilot, into a parking space at Kandahar Airbase, Afghanistan. The squadron became the service’s first to operate from a land base in the country, rather than from Navy aircraft carriers…

Our government, for its part, has not been willing to employ our CF-18s in Afghanistan to support the CF and allied forces there even though urged to do so by our allies.  Too fearful of political and media reaction if a bomb or missile killed some civilians accidentally, don’t you know.  Yet our Air Force supposedly needs stealthy, initial attack, bomb-truck F-35s while the US Navy, in addition to planning to buy F-35Cs, continues to acquire new Super Hornets.

Update: Latest F-35 scuttlebutt:

U.S. to detail $100 billion in Pentagon savings, cuts: sources

The Pentagon’s largest weapons program, the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is facing another restructuring that could extend the program’s development phase by up to two years, said a third source familiar with the plans.

The program was already restructured last year, adding 13 months to the development phase…

If the program is so delayed there is no way Canada will start getting the planes in 2016 as the government has claimed. Nor will they cost in the $70-$80 million range. See this earlier post:

Canadian Government has no idea what the F-35 will cost…

Also recent and relevant:

F-35 Begins Year With Test Objectives Unmet

Upperdate: A version of this post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog.


US Congress to cut F-35 LRIP funding?

Posted December 23rd, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

At Milnews.ca (should be read every day), then scroll down at the link below:

Could possible cuts in US funding for their F-35 fighters increase the price of Canada’s proposed buy?


Extreme sledding: Surely a capability the Canadian Air Force needs

Posted December 20th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology by MarkOttawa

One wonders if this has been attempted at Cold Lake or Bagotville:

VIDEO: Swedish Air Force unveils new Viggen capability – sledding!

[CORRECTION: The video shows the Viggen, not the Gripen. Still, I'm sure it's available as a retrofit option.] I hope Saab updates its Gripen sales pitch [more here]. The never-revealed-before sledding feature of the Swedish Air Force fourth-generation fighter could be decisive in a close sales competition with the F-35. Forget AESA. If only the Norwegians knew about this, the F-35 wouldn’t have had a chance in Oslo [more here]!


The incredible shrinking Royal Air Force

Posted December 19th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, Technology by MarkOttawa

Senior serving British officers certainly are much more open and frank than ours:

Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, commander of the RAF’s No 1 Group, which controls all Britain’s fast jet combat aircraft, said that Britain was likely to end up with only six fighter and bomber squadrons, half its current number.

He warned: “That might not be quite enough.”

Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell’s remarks, in a briefing last week to Defense News, a trade journal, are among the most outspoken by any senior RAF commander.

He warned that even the reductions that have been publicly announced — from 12 fast-jet squadrons to eight — would leave the RAF only “just about” able to do its current tasks, with no leeway for the unexpected…

In the medium-term, over the next seven to 10 years, Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell said, the RAF “will be a six-squadron world; that’s what’s on the books”. He said he expected there to be five squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and just one of the Harrier’s long-term replacement, the Joint Strike Fighter. “I expect a single [JSF] squadron in 2020 and that’s it,” he said [more on the UK's F-35 plans here, plus the RAF's giving up aerial maritime patrol].

Asked whether this left the RAF on the same level as Belgium, he replied: “I think we’re slightly above Belgium, and we are not a Belgium-minded country.”

He added: “I might, over the next few years, argue that that might not be quite enough.” As recently as the 1990s the RAF had 30 front-line fast-jet squadrons [emphasis added]…

An RAF comprising six fast-jet squadrons would be smaller than at any point since its foundation in 1918. It would take British combat air power back to the pre-RAF days of the Royal Flying Corps.

Belgium no longer has a stand-alone air force, but an “air component”, with five fast-jet squadrons. In squadron terms the RAF of 2020 will be only slightly larger, but will still have significantly more aircraft, with an estimated minimum of 135 fast jets to Belgium’s 70.

Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell said that one way around the shortages was to collaborate more with the French [emphasis added, more here: "Good froggies!"].

“It looks like we are going to twin 3 Squadron [a Typhoon squadron] with one of the [French] Rafale [fighter-bomber] squadrons. I’ll make a prediction we will have British officers flying Rafale from a carrier within a few years. I’m quite sure of it.”..


U.K. Harrier’s Farewell

(All Pictures: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2010)
[Note the snow.]

Earlier on the Harrier:

Harrier’s last sea jump

By the way, the Canadian Air Force has two operational fast air squadrons (CF-18 Hornet “gun squadrons”): 409 at Cold Lake, Alberta, and 425 at Bagotville, Quebec.

The Royal Navy, for its part, is also fading fairly fast:

The Royal Navy’s new flagship is a ferry…

Lots more here on the recent UK big defence cuts.

Update: A pilot from 425 Squadron is flying Tornados in Afstan on exchange with the RAF (via Milnews.ca and the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs).

Upperdate: A version of this post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog.


F-35 “glitches”? My big, fat, flipping foot, Part 2

Posted December 16th, 2010 in Canada, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Poor Peter MacKay (note the US GAO report near end at link) might do well to read this post by CDN Aviator at Milnet.ca:

The December issue of “Air Forces Monthly” summed up the issues with the F-35 program pretty well i think. In summary ( i dont have a digital copy, sorry) :

- A rapid and major redisign to save weight occured in 2004-2005 led to an 18-month delay and follow-on issues;

- Prototype AA-1 is now unrepresentative of the planned production model

- AA-1 suffered a critical electrical failiure on may 3rd, 2007 and has remained dogged with problems inducing further delays in the tet program;

- All versions of the F-35 are suffering from cooling nd thermal management issues. This resulted in the F-35B requiring a major re-design of the lift-fan doors;

- The F-35C was designed with a hamilton Sundstrand power generator that, reportedly, supplies only 65% of the required electrical output;

- The F-35 is now at tyre-limiting speeds due to an increase in T/O speed;

- The US defence Contract management Agency has found that the project is in serious disaray with design changes and on-time delivery by 3rd party suppliers;

- In August 2010, LM admited to production problems where key parts of the wing were delivered well after the wing had already been installed. This required the wing to be partially disassembeld and forced LM to slow production;

- F-35 flight testing has acheived less in 4 years, with more aircraft, than F-22 testing accomplished in 3 years;

- F-35 OT&E is 13 months behing schedule. This is 13 months behind the schedule established in May 2008, a schedule that was already 18 months behing what was established in 2001. this means a 4 year program delay;

- Flight testing has failed to hit its objectives in 2008 and 2009;

- Most of the SDD aircraft are at least 6 months late flying;

- Mission system test aircraft delays have been more serious despite the use of the B737 CATB;

- There are growing concerns that the F-35 will enter service well before OT&E is completed. This has obvious follow-on effects and will likely result in lenghty modifications programs;

- The US Congressional research Service identified a cost growth of 38% for the F-35 between 2001 and 2007. This put the cost of an F-35 ( minus R&D) at 81.2 million dollars 9 original LM estimates were a $50M flyaway cost). Further GAO evaluation put the F-35 cost ( without R&D) at $112M;

- Only certification by the Sec. Def. that the F-35 was essential to national security (and that no other alternatives exist) has allowed the program to survive N-M cancellation;

- RAND corporation estimates cost of an F-35A at $108.7M, the F-35B/C at $127M. This is very close to the $138M production cost for an F-22;

- F-35 operating and support costs will be significantly higher that the fighters it replaces ( in stark contrast to what L-M was promising). The USN now estimates that the costs of F-35 ownership will be 40% higher than that of the “legacy” Hornets and harriers;

- There are still serious concerns WRT to exactly what will be delivered to international JSF partners;

- The F-35′s small weapons load is of growing concern to USAF officials;

- The F-35B will not be able to operate in the same conditions that the AV-8 could.

Anyways, not advocating anything here, just posting a bit of a summary of issues.


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F-35 may be in a fighter competition–in South Korea/F-35A testing Upperdate

Posted December 14th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology by MarkOttawa

Interesting that the supposed price is very similar to that for Canada ($9 billion for 65 planes), that Lockheed Martin says it can start deliveries in 2016 (the same year we are supposed to take first delivery),  and that LM is promising the Koreans lots of industrial benefits. Yet our government refuses to hold a competition of our own. Here’s what the company is saying:


Lockheed Martin Corp. can deliver F-35 fighter jets as early as 2016 if it wins South Korea’s multi-billion dollar contract for a fighter modernization program, a senior company executive said Tuesday, dismissing doubts over a delay in the new warplane’s flight-test schedule.

South Korean officials say the cost rise for an individual F-35 aircraft, stemming from the delay, is a potential obstacle for Lockheed in an upcoming tender by Seoul for 60 fighter jets, valued at 9.7 trillion won (US$8.5 billion).

Seoul is expected to invite bidders as early as next year for the third stage of the fighter modernization program to replace aging F-4E and F-5E/F jets that have been involved in several deadly crashes in recent years. The delivery of new aircraft is scheduled to start in 2016.

The delay in the flight-test schedule, however, would force South Korea to buy F-35s after 2018 if it selects Lockheed, South Korean officials said. Lockheed, Boeing Co. and a consortium of European firms led by EADS have expressed interest in the tender.

“We are confident in our ability to deliver aircraft to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Air Force beginning as early as 2016,” Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed’s vice president for F-35 business development, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency…

Officials at the South’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the agency in charge of the F-X program, said they will make technology transfer one of the top priorities in the upcoming tender, so it is important to produce fighter jets with basic stealth capabilities.

O’Bryan said the F-35 would be advantageous in this context.

“The unique opportunities that exist on the F-35 program from an industrial perspective allow a country’s industries
to recapitalize their capabilities at the same time their air force recapitalizes with the next generation of fighter aircraft,” he said…

Hmm. As for getting work for industry…

F-35: UK making out like bandits? MND MacKay “blowing smoke out his tailpipe”/Dutch Update

Update: A relevant comment at a Maclean’s blog comment thread:

…If the South Koreans (a nation infinitely more likely to have to fight China in the future than we are!) are holding a competition to determine if the F-35 makes the most sense for their air force or not, why didn’t we again? ‘Cause Lockheed Martin seems to indicate that should the South Koreans choose the Lightening II, they are going to get their F-35s at the same time as us, for the same price, even though they’re holding a competition between the Silent Eagle, the Typhoon and the JSF.

Upperdate: At Defense Technology’s “Ares” blog:

A third F-35A [the version our government plans to buy], the first to be equipped with the mission system, arrived at Edwards AFB in California on Dec. 11 to begin flight testing…

…it’s worth remembering that, in September last year, the JSF program office leadership was pojecting that 12 aircraft would be flying by now, each logging 12 test sorties a month. That goal is unlikely to be achieved until well in 2011.


F-35: UK making out like bandits? MND MacKay “blowing smoke out his tailpipe”/Dutch Update

Posted December 9th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

From the end of an earlier post:

Canadian Government has no idea what the F-35 will cost…/Video Upperdate/What LM said Uppestdate

The Brits, for their part, are reducing their planned F-35 buy, probably severely. UK companies have the largest share of non-US F-35 work. Will that be reduced with the Brits’ much smaller F-35 acquisition? That’s what Mr Burbage [Executive Vice-President and General Manager F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Integration] said would happen to Canadian companies if we do not buy the F-35.  And if we do buy the plane will our firms pick up some of that UK business? That would follow Mr Burbage’s logic.  One wishes an MP had asked the question; and one wishes our media would…

Now we read in the Daily Telegraph:

BAE also works on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) [more here], which Britain will now buy fewer of. However, the company has an 18pc share of the whole JSF programme, an aircraft that is designed to become the mainstay of the US Air Force. As a result, as many as 3,000 of the fighters could be built. BAE’s workshare is not dependent on the size of the UK order.

Talk about a sweetheart deal.  More from that earlier post:

[David] Burt [director for air requirements] conceded the $70-million to $78-million price tag per plane is not guaranteed. It could rise or fall, he said, depending on the timing of the delivery. Lockheed Martin has only recently started the F-35’s mass-production process. The earlier the slot in which an aircraft is produced, the more costly it is [emphasis added, our government says the Air Force will start receiving the planes in 2016--when full-rate production will just be starting and the full-rate price will therefore be at its highest].

Burt added that commodities prices and other factors could also drive up prices. “But they could also drive prices down,” he noted.

Talk about grasping at refuelling nozzles…And now we read:

F-35s will be on time, on budget, MacKay told

…Mr. MacKay said he is convinced that the program is on budget after holding discussions with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and senior Lockheed-Martin officials while on an industrial visit with Canadian manufacturers. He said orders are pouring in [emphasis added], which will keep costs down for the Canadian government, which is already in the queue [read on to see what happened regarding Norway and the F-35; there's more here on that]…

The good minister is really getting a snow job given the US government’s own public concerns about F-35 costs, more here.  He’s also really blowing smoke out his tailpipe–there is only one recent order, a real contract that is, for 31 planes, all for the US except one for the UK.  That is unless one includes the give-away to Israel.

Update: Looks like the Dutch government is rather better informed, and more realistic (honest?), than ours:

Netherlands Sees Big JSF Cost Jump

More here.


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