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The F-35 "Fat Boy"
The United States is pushing hard and quite successfully to get its allies signed up to order the F-35 stealth light bomber. Despite all of its flaws, its inflated costs and questions about if it will even work by the time customers receive it, most members in good standing of America's Aerial Foreign Legion will be stuck with it. In part that's because the F-35 has become the life support system for America's military aviation industry.
In September, right after Boeing delivered the 223rd and final U.S. Air Force C-17, the company announced the line would close in 2015. A month later, South Korea rejected the Boeing F-15 for its F-X 3 competition, dooming the proposed Silent Eagle variant and probably killing the line after the last of Saudi Arabia's current order is delivered in 2018.
In December, the Boeing F/A-18E/F lost the Brazilian FX-2 competition, one of several key international defeats. A pre-solicitation announcement for 36 additional Super Hornets in fiscal 2015, placed by the Navy at the FedBizOpps.gov website in October, was withdrawn several days later, probably under pressure from the Defense Department. The last Super Hornet is scheduled to be delivered in 2016, and Boeing said it must decide this March whether it will preserve the line with company funding.
The problem is not confined to Boeing's legacy programs. Lockheed Martin, which delivered the last F-22 last year, says its F-16 backlog only takes production through mid 2017. Beechcraft's last T-6 is slated for delivery in 2016. Bell-Boeing's V-22 program will expire around 2020, unless funding is found for additional aircraft. While no other U.S. military rotorcraft lines are threatened, 2011-18 procurement is being cut in half.
That leaves the U.S. with two secure, dedicated fixed-wing military production lines (and only one prime contractor): Lockheed Martin's F-35 and C-130J (see above). Boeing is building its KC-46 tanker and P-8 maritime patrol derivatives of commercial jetliners, but the P-8 is slated to wind down around 2020, too.
Just the two? Yeah, that's right, two. Europe has several military production lines running, three for the Typhoon, Griffen and Rafale fighters, plus military transport lines. Russia has three fighter production lines running, so too does China. That leaves America having to push the F-35 and push hard. It's the only bird Uncle Sam has on offer. Whether it's a turkey or not is beside the question.