Sunday, May 15, 2011

The F-35 - Expensive AND Late

The Brits like the F-35, sort of.   They don't like it nearly as much as they did when placing their initial orders for scads of the things but, with those orders trimmed way back, they're still hanging in - for now.

One thing that got Whitehall hooked on the Joint Strike Fighter was the short take-off and landing version that offered an aircraft to replace the venerable Harrier "jump jet."   The Brits have an aircraft carrier designed for this sort of plane and another in the works.

Now it seems that, like everyone else, the Brits may have bet on the wrong horse.  Development delays have caused them to ditch the STOL version and go for a more conventional, "carrier variant," instead.  It will be like the basic machine beefed up a bit to handle carrier landings and take offs.   Like ordinary carrier jets it will be launched by catapult and land into arrester wires.  It will also be much cheaper.  But the question everyone is asking is just how cheap will the JSF be?  Well, cheap for the Brits comes in at $157-million (Cdn) per copy.

Cost, however, is just one problem the Brits face.  The carrier being built for the F35, HMS Prince of Wales, will be operational in 2020, three years before the aircraft will begin showing up.   2023 is the current estimated delivery date.

Now we can't extrapolate from the British price and delivery problems what is in store for Canada but, given our government's iron fist secrecy on these matters, we have to heed these warning flags.

How is Canada, with a paltry order for just 65 of these things, supposed to get what amounts to a "half price sale" deal of just $75-million per aircraft?  Even the Netherlands is ordering 85 JSFs and they're not getting anything close to our supposed deal.

Here's something else to bear in mind.  Technological advancement proceeds apace.  Already some of what is supposed to make the F35 a world beater is being countered, notably its reputed stealth or radar invisibility.   As noted in this US Congressional report from 2008, the F35 was expected to begin operational service in 2012.  Now the Brits are looking at 2023?   By then most, if not all, of its stealth supremacy will have probably bled out onto the factory floor.

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