Wednesday, February 08, 2012

F-35 Programme - "Acquisition Malpractice"

It May be Overpriced Crap But We're Good with It.

The man now in charge of the Pentagon's weapons purchases has lambasted the F-35 programme, denouncing it as "acquisition malpractice."

"I can spend quite a few minutes on the F-35, but I don't want to," Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said Monday. "Putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice. It should not have been done, OK? But we did it, OK?"

"...he said the design tools weren't perfect, the models weren't precise enough and now the military has found problems in all three variants of the F-35.

"'Now we're paying the price for being wrong about that,' he said. Kendall was not with the Defense Department's acquisitions office when the F-35 deal was inked with defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin in 2001.

"While the F-35's counterpart, the beleaguered F-22 stealth fighter, has a higher price tag per plane, the F-35 is one of the Pentagon's biggest ever acquisition programs at an estimated $379.4 billion   for over 2,400 jets. Over the next half-century, the Pentagon plans to spend up to $1 trillion in operating costs for the planes. A new report from the Government Accountability Office says every hour of flight in the jets costs nearly $30,000." 

Now, let's take that from a Canadian perspective.   If we buy the F-35, we too will be paying the price for America's "acquisition malpractice."   In other words, their mistake will become our mistake, our "oopsie."   And we'll wind up saddled with 65-fighter jets that will cost us $30,000 for every hour we operate one.  Neat, eh?  To put that in perspective, an F-16 costs about $5,000 per hour to operate; the upgraded F-18 comes in around $7,400 hourly; the state of the art Eurofighter Typhoon runs $14,000 per hour.

Wouldn't it make more sense to buy an aircraft that evolved out of a properly managed development and acquisition programme, one that perhaps doesn't come with massive, built-in malpractice costs?

Meanwhile Britain has announced it'll wait until 2015 to decide just how many F-35s to buy.   Back in 2001, the Brits said they'd take 138 of the machines but the government has since said it will be paring back on that purchase.   Australia, Turkey and Italy are also getting wobbly.

At the same time, key US senators are giving the F-35 programme a real mauling, criticizing Defense Secretary Panetta for prematurely pushing through the US Marine Corps buy.

"The unusually blunt talk about the most expensive U.S. arms program at a Monday hearing came a week before the release of a fiscal 2013 budget plan that is expected to postpone funding for 179 warplanes until after 2017, a move that has Australia and other international partners questioning their own procurement plans."

Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, a senior Michigan Democrat, didn't pull any punches in their letter to Panetta:

We appreciate that the development of F-35B has enjoyed some success over the last few months, after several years of having fallen short,” write Levin, the committee chairman, and McCain. “We similarly understand that engineering solutions to known problems with the F-35B’s structure and propulsion have been identified. However, in the intervening time since probation was imposed, more problems with the F-35B’s structure and propulsion, potentially as serious as those that were originally identified a year ago, have been found. This is salient where the F-35B has completed only 20% of its developmental test plan to date."

South Korea has found that the F-35 design may fail to meet two of their key criteria - the ability to carry weapons externally and to fly at Mach 1.6 or faster.

"...the Korean military has clearly outlined the two key features as compulsory requirements in its request for proposal (RFP) released Jan. 30."

"Randy Howard, Lockheed Martin’s director of the Korea F-35 Campaign, also acknowledged that the external carriage may come as an option for Korea.

“Lockheed Martin did not cancel it, the U.S. government prioritized it,” Howard said, explaining why doubts have been raised over the development of the F-35’s external hard points.

“The F-35 is designed to carry weapons internally. That’s what it does, and that’s why it is stealthy.”

He argued that the F-35’s primary attribute, the ability to penetrate into the enemy’s territory without being detected, will be significantly compromised if Korea chooses to mount weapons externally. 

...Other industry officials, however, refuted Howard’s claim, saying the development of external pylons not only reduces the aircraft stealth capabilities, but also requires a fundamental change in the aircraft design, which the USAF is not willing to pay for." 

 One thing that every prospective buyer of the F-35 (perhaps save Canada) has in common is doubt about the viability of the F-35, both in terms of cost and performance.   Even the Americans are cutting the number they'll buy and postponing purchase commitments.   In fact the only country that seems to be sticking with its initial deal is Canada.   What does that say about Harper and the DND he runs as its shadow,  Commander in Chief?

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