Tuesday, 15 July 2014

While the F-35's in omnishambles, others step up.

The F-35's fiberglass stunt double.  (Image credit:  Erik Gustavsson)

It's official.  The F-35 Lightning II will not be making its international debut over Farnborough this week.

This was supposed to be a big month for the Lightning II.  Costs are said to be coming down, with further discounts on the way.  There is even the possibility of the Canadian government making its long-delayed announcement on whether or not to sole-source the stealth fighter.  All this would be met with great fanfare as the JSF made its international debut with its only "Level 1" partner, the United Kingdom.  A flyover at HMS Queen Elizabeth's naming ceremony, followed by an aerial display at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), and then an appearance at the Farnborough International Air Show.

Despite best laid plans, July of 2014 will be remembered as the month nothing seemed to go right for the JSF.  In fact, its UK debut has can be described as in omnishambles.

Hot off an oil leak last month, the F-35 had just resumed flying after a brief grounding only to have a F-35A burst into flames as it was taxiing down the runway on June 23rd.  Despite this dramatic turn of events, an official grounding was not ordered until July 3rd...  Right before the Independence Day long weekend.

While the JSF has been cleared for flight, it does so under strict flight restrictions.  One of those restrictions mandates that the F-35's engine be inspected after every three hours of flight.  Not an easy thing to do while you are flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  Even if these checks could be avoided, the forecast for possible thunderstorms would keep the JSF away because getting hit by lightning could make it explode also.

"Excessive Rubbing" causing headaches?
At least they believe they might have found the cause of the fire.  "Excessive Rubbing" of the turbine blade against its housing caused extra friction followed by extra heat.  Needless to say, this is not a great thing to have in a high precision jet engine surrounded by $100 million dollars (at least) worth of aircraft and jet fuel.

All of this has not helped the JSF beleaguered public image.  It is certainly conspicuous by its absence in the U.K.  It was supposed to be the main attraction, so people notice when it does not show up.  Not only do they notice, but they start to ask questions.
"Why isn't it here?"
"It's grounded?  Why?"
"How much is this thing gonna cost, anyway?"
"WHAT?  It's the most expensive weapon ever?"
"It's already overbudget and eight years late?
"OUR GOVERNMENT WANTS TO BUY THESE THINGS TOO???" (storms off to grab a pitchfork)
Farnborough and RIAT are big events where government officials hobnob with defense contractor executives.  High profile events like these are often where deals are announced and impressions are made.  While Lockheed Martin's public relations people are sure to downplay the seriousness of the F-35's non-appearance, government officials will likely be treading far more carefully.

Any nation, including Canada, who is "on the fence" about a JSF purchase will no doubt put off any purchase announcements until this has blown over.  Announcing a multi-billion dollar fighter buy right after that fighter misses its own international debut due to an engine fire would be akin to hanging an albatross around their neck.

Oddly enough, Phillip Hammond, UK Minister of Defense, is no longer Minister of Defense, as of today.  Read of that what you will, but there could be a trend.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers are out trying to get attention.

See?  They made it.
Despite starting its development a mere 23 months ago, the Textron Scorpion managed to do what the 8-year-old F-35 could not...  Show up.  While the Scorpion certainly is not in the same class as the F-35, it has the handicap of not being publicly funded.  It is also an aircraft many of the world's cash-strapped air forces could actually afford.

Spiffy Tiffie.
Then there is the Eurofighter Typhoon, Britain's current pride and joy.  Not only did the Typhoon show up in a commemorative D-Day paint scheme, but it also received a commitment to develop the CAPTOR-E AESA radar.

The "show-stealer" award goes to Saab, however.  Saab presented an update on its Gripen E, confirming its AESA radar, and MBDA Meteor capability.  Saab also revealed that its latest customer, Brazil, would be undertaking much of the design work on the two-seat Gripen F, as well as building most of that country's Gripen Es.  This comes at a time when many F-35 customers are questioning their offset benefits.

But the icing on the cake has to be this gem:

The Troll from Trollhättan?

While Lockheed-Martin is busy touting its absent and flight restricted F-35 as the most advanced fighter available on the market, Saab is fighting back by promising a "PRODUCT THAT ACTUALLY WORKS."



  1. ..if the JSF-35 (aka just so failed....flying piano etc.) does FAIL, all is not lost, as the United States Air Force could purchase the Saab Gripen and build it in its empty Boeing factories in the United States and provide good paying jobs to Americans! Everybody wins and these could be used for the a front-line fighter or the Air National Guard! There are other alternatives out there to the JSF-35 and, also, since these are the best all-weather (meaning Arctic weather) fighters, they could be used by the Alaska Air National Guard and of course by such countries as Norway, Canada, Finland etc.! Any feed back......?

  2. US will never buy a gripen or any other non-US jet for that matter. If the jsf fails (very unlikely but surely will eat up more money to get it operational), they still have the f18 SH and proceed with the ASH. The f15 silent eagle will get the funding it needs and new block 60+ f16 will be procured