Tuesday, 26 February 2013

First Canada, then Australia, now Turkey?

Is the F-35 program a house of cards?
As you can see from the "news ticker" on the lower right side of the desktop version of this web page, there isn't a lot of "good news" when it comes to the F-35 program.  Engine cracks, groundings, performance downgrades...  Each one of these delays delivery that much more and brings the cost up even more.

Part of the F-35's original appeal was its promise of "affordability".  Since so many planes were being built, economies of scale should bring an otherwise pricey aircraft down to F-16 like price levels.  Yeah...  No so much.  It turns out developing an all new, do-everything, bleeding edge aircraft is more difficult (and expensive) than was first thought.  Now, years overdue and billions over budget, "partner nations" are starting to have second thoughts.

After cutting our initial order of 80 down to 65, Canada is now "hitting the reset button" on the purchase.  Australia, desperate to fill the gap left after it retired its F-111s, purchased 24 Super Hornets as an "interim fighter" while it waited for F-35 production to ramp up.  With a grand total of 2 F-35s now promised for Australia by the year 2020, the RAAF is now considering buying another 24 Super Hornets while cutting the F-35 down by that same number in a "one-for-one" basis.

Most recently, Turkey now considering postponing its initial order.  Citing "rising costs and technological failures".  Turkey has been at times one of the program's biggest supporter's and yet harshest critic.  American refusal to share its software code didn't exactly go over well, and Turkey is now on the fence the F-35, possibly ordering around 100, but now even the initial 2 seem in doubt.

Of the original 9 partner countries, all have reduced and/or delayed their orders.

  • U.K:  138 F-35Bs, down to 48 with a final figure determined later.
  • Italy:  131 reduced to 90.
  • Netherlands:  85 reduced to "one for one" replacement of their existing 68 F-16s. 
  • Australia:  100, reduced to 75, will likely be reduced further if the plan to buy more Super Hornets goes through.
  • Canada:  80 initially, reduced to 65 due to cost and now "reset" altogether.
  • Denmark:  Possible order for 48, but still considering the Gripen and Super Hornet instead.
  • Norway:  A fairly firm order for 52 F-35s, but Norway has a vested interest, providing the F-35s with the Joint Strike Missile.
Lockheed dismisses all the lost sales, stating that the numbers aren't substantial to make much difference in the final price, and that additional sales to countries like Israel (over 100) and Japan (42) will help offset the lost sales.  This could very well be true, but it ignores the big, red, white, and blue elephant in the room, the U.S.A.

With a total of 2,443 aircraft planned, and about 100 already built or in production, the U.S. is by far the driving force behind the F-35.  But even the U.S. isn't so keen on the F-35 anymore, and the upcoming sequestration will undoubtedly cut production and development of American F-35s drastically.  This will lead to further delays in procurement and even higher costs, resulting in more countries reducing or delaying their orders, if not backing out entirely.

Will the F-35 be a target for upcoming U.S. budget cuts?
In a sort of "Catch-22" scenario, one of the most tempting budget cuts that could be made to avoid sequestration would be to cancel the F-35 program altogether.  At an estimated $400 billion out of the $1 trillion in cuts needed, the F-35 would represent a sizeable chunk.  Considering that the U.S. military would see its budget cut by $500 billion "across the board" anyway, it might be worth it for the troubled F-35 program to be thrown to the wolves as a sacrifice.


  1. I would say Keep the F-35A going, but put the F-35 B & C in the R&D stage.

  2. The F35B should be canceled right away. Why the marines think they need a aircraft like this makes no sense. An A-1 or a-10 aircraft would be much more useful. The marines would never be doing a beach assault without a aircraft carrier nearby.

    If the USA wants to salvage this program, they need to stop trying to make it into a fighter. It should become the A-35. With the marine version gone some more space could be utilized for a larger bomb bay.

    Our they could cancel it all together. Take all the technology built for this plane and start putting it into new versions of the F-15 strike eagle or maybe 100 F-22's if you need a first strike ability. Ucavs are a better idea for first strike. An F-15 with some of the new tech that actually works from the JSF would turn it into one fine fighter-bomber. Start building newer cheaper versions of the A-10 to provide CAS since it is the best plane for that mission ever made (if it ain't broken don't fix it). Start work on a new light weight fighter. Forget all the heavy stealth compromises and build something like the gripen or rafle. If stealth is that important and great build more B-2's. I believe they cost about a billion or two. But for 400 billion you could build a lot of them. Or smart working on better Ucavs.

    Canada and other nations buy planes more suited to their needs.

    1. The F-35 sounds like it should have been an "A-35" from the start, but that likely wouldn't have attracted as many partners and potential customers.

      Your right about the technology from the F-35. Cancelling it wouldn't be complete loss. Gear like the EOTS, DAS, and its AESA radar could easily be applied to other airframes.

  3. "Norway: A fairly firm order for 52 F-35s, but Norway has a vested interest, providing the F-35s with the Joint Strike Missile."

    True, but if the partner nations reduce their orders they won't be able to sell a whole lot of those missiles. If the missile turns out to be great, they won't need the F-35 program in order to sell their missiles.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Norway eventually reduced their order once they've become aware that the F-35 is a turkey. Sure, for political reasons Norway will buy American if they can, just like Australia they may end up getting the Super Hornet.

    1. The real push behind the JSM is that it is the only Anti-ship missile to fit in the F-35's weapon bay, forcing countries that currently use the Harpoon or equivalent to purchase the JSM or rendering their F-35s to not-so-stealthy status. Sure, you could just mount Harpoons on a pylon, but then why buy a stealth fighter?

      Norway sees to profit off of F-35 sales, therefore, it is in Norway's best interests for the F-35 to succeed. Doing that means unwavering support.

    2. I'd say that the JSM is just icing on the cake. It's not like Norway is short on money. The real reason for the Norwegians rabid support of the F 35 has to do with wanting to tie themselves as close to the US as possible. That much was made obvious after they gave Sweden that hard kick in the nuts back in 2008.

      Now, while they could have made their choice in a less degrading fashion, I can't blame them for doing it. Defense policy in Sweden is a mess at the moment, we can't even defend ourselves.

      Its quite interesting to compare the way that the Norwegians and you Canadians go about this thing. In Norway it seems everyone has agreed to keep silent about the corrupt way in which their "competition" was held. No matter which political party, everyone is just resigned to paying whatever it takes to buy this plane.

      In Canada you seem a lot less concerned that the US will "abandon" you (a very common, and not entirely unfounded, paranoia in certain countries here in Europe). In Norway it's all about the Arctic and the Russians, and that they want the US to stay involved. But Canada does not have the same concerns? Is it just that being neighbours and all, it's easier to take them for granted?

  4. That's why I think the F-35A should proceed with production while canceling the F-35B & F-35C. The F-35A would just replace the F-16 and take all the technology from the F-35 and put it into the Super hornet and F-15E

    1. I actually think that the F-35B is the only version that offers something unique. A vertically starting aircraft that is an improvement over the harrier jump jets. If you think you really need vertical take-off and landing aircraft then the F-35B is the only choice you will have. However, I agree with you that this obsession of the US marines with VTOL aircraft is wrong.

    2. To bad the F-35B is the version with the most problems!

      I agree that the F-35B is a quantum leap above the Harrier... But when has the Harrier's STOVL capability ever really been useful?

    3. That's why I think the US should just go ahead produce the F-35A and keep the F-35B and F-35C in the R&D stage until it works out it's problems. It would save the F-35A will keeping the F-35B and F-35C in the development stage to wor out it's problems. If you notice, you don't hear any problems out of the F-35A, it's more of the F-35B and F-35C that you hear has problems.

  5. Here's an article on why the Super Hornet may be Canada's best choice

    1. Mmm.. but most advantages put forward for the Super Hornet applies eaven more to the Gripen.. exept for the number of engines. & when it comes to engine reliability, the Super Hornet version of the GE 414 is less reliable than the version used in the Gripen. As with the RM-12 for Gripen A/B-C/D (GE-404, but with about 50% new content by Volvo Aero) will be modified, although to a lesser extent than the RM-12 was. Amongst oter things they are made to withstand most birdstrikes for exemple..

    2. I think this is a very good presentation and the super hornet is a hot contender in the race for Canada's next fighter aircraft. I do think that the super hornet as well as the Gripen would be a good choice for Canada. My favorite is the Eurofighte typhoon. That's just me. However, the F-35 would be a bad choice. I am certain of that.