Friday, May 20, 2011

Lockheed Martin Takes a Broadside in the Senate

When Dr. Ashton Carter testifies in front of the Senate that your program is unaffordable in this fiscal climate, the only hope left is to find enough politicians that will sell out. Something drastically changes, or the Joint Strike Fighter is done.

"Over the lifetime of this program, the decade or so, the per-aircraft cost of the 2,443 aircraft we want has doubled in real terms," said Ashton Carter, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"That's our forecast for how much the aircraft's going to cost.

"Said differently, that's what it's going to cost if we keep doing what we're doing. And that's unacceptable. It's unaffordable at that rate."

The cost of the plane has jumped to $385 billion, about $103 million per plane in constant dollars or $113 million in fiscal year 2011 dollars, said Christine Fox, the Defense Department's director of cost assessment and program evaluation.

Republican Senator John McCain called the figure "truly troubling," considering the original price was $69 million per airplane.

"The facts regarding this program are truly troubling," said McCain. "No program should expect to be continued with that kind of track record, especially in our current fiscal climate," said McCain.

"It seems to me we have to start at least considering alternatives"
CNA almost had it right. The tipping point wasn't the point at which the Navy fleet was unaffordable, it was the point where naval aviation became unaffordable. Most folks don't realize that the Navy consistently spends more budget money on aviation than the Air Force does, but they in fact have for many, many years.

Here is the biggest problem facing the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps not to mention all the other nations invested in the Joint Strike Fighter program. The cost per aircraft is now so high that it doesn't justify the expenditure, meaning the combat capability of the less capable F-15, F-16, and F-18 alternatives exceeds the combat capability investment one gets with plowing ahead with the Joint Strike Fighter. Quite frankly, there simply isn't enough difference in the payload, range, speed, electronics, or stealth that separates the 5th generation JSF from it's 4th generation alternatives to move ahead.

The UCAS, on the other hand, has game changing range and endurance, not to mention lower manpower costs so even if it runs at a higher cost that estimated per platform, the capability opportunity in the investment is so much more than lesser alternatives that the cost justification is there.

The only thing left is for reality to set in among elected officials, not to mention entrenched interests in defense. The Joint Strike Fighter is the modern A-12, and only the F-35B VSTOL version (which is also the most expensive variant) is the capability that is unique and lacks a legitimate replacement. It is also the most likely version of the JSF to find international interest in continuing the program at very high cost even if the F-35A and F-35C is canceled.

Perhaps there is another way ahead, but right about now the Air Force would be wise to propose a F-22 high and F-15/F-16 low mix of fighters just to streamline maintenance to three specific platforms.

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