Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ugly Problems Loom for F-35 Light Bomber

Australia is becoming nervous about the planned purchase of 100 Lockheed F-35 light strike bombers.

The fighter's soaring costs have produced rising consternation in Australia, with a number of politicians questioning whether the air force can afford to purchase the 100 fifth-generation stealth aircraft it initially intended to buy.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, principal executive of the Pentagon's JSF Program Office, candidly addressed the issue of F-35 cost overruns recently met with Australian defense officials at the Avalon air show in Melbourne, Victoria.
Bogdan said that his survey of the JSF program had uncovered "ugly" problems with the program but that his office had sought to have the F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to share the costs of fixing faults and covering delays, The Australian reported Thursday.
"You hear Lockheed Martin keep talking about $65 million, $67 million. Well, guess what? That's the cost back in 2004 or 2003. Who cares about that? I want to know what it costs the day I buy it," Bogdan said.

...former Australian Labor Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon criticized Australian air force commanders for their "obsession" with the F-35, saying: "I think there is an almost obsession with the JSF within the uniformed ranks. This is their brand new toy."
CBC is reporting that Lockheed's stumbles have led Boeing to push hard for Canada to choose the F-18 E/F Super Hornet instead.   Not only is Boeing able to offer the Super Hornet at half the price of the F-35 but they're able to show that per hour operating costs also come in at half that of the F-35.   Factor in other Hornet advantages - twin engine reliability and survivability, a higher sortie generation rate, an ability to perform a wider range of missions, and the Canadian Forces' familiarity with the basic airframe and systems and the F-35 begins to make very little sense at all.

As it stands, the official estimate for a fleet of 65 F-35s is that they will cost $9 billion to buy and almost $37 billion to operate over the next 42 years. So, a total of just under $46 billion. If Boeing's figures hold up, the Super Hornets would cost about half that.
The math is easy, but the result is eye-popping nonetheless. It's a saving of up to $23 billion.


Ray Blessin said...

Who are we going to kill with these weapons of mass destruction?

Anonymous said...

Boeing has a very compelling sales pitch. Save $23 billion dollars and get a modern twin engined fighter/interceptor/bomber at a fraction of the cost of the F-35. Seems like an easy decision for Canada.

Lockheed Martin has produced many fine aircraft, but they screwed the pooch with the F-35.

The Mound of Sound said...

Ray, if you Google "Operation Chimichanga" you'll discover precisely who the F-35 is intended for.

@ Anon, yes it does make sense. It almost seems to make too much sense for the ideologues in power.

Hugh said...

I don't get it. Even $23 billion is way too much.

Canada has a huge debt already, and continuous huge deficits since 2008, and expected deficits going into the future.

We will pay for these jets only by going deeper into debt. We don't have the money. When the interest rates go up, we are bankrupt. What a thing to leave future generations.

Purple library guy said...

Define "huge". Canada's debt is not significant in terms of debt-servicing costs, and most of it isn't foreign. It's on the low side in %GDP compared to other countries--not nearly as low as, say, Venezuela, but not a huge deal either, certainly not high enough to cause anyone to invoke the confidence fairy and jack up borrowing costs.
Canada also has plenty of room to raise taxes, particularly on corporations and the rich, and have the result actually be increased economic growth rather than decreased as tax money gets spent on real-world economic activity including purchase of public goods (infastructure, education etc) rather than speculation.

This isn't to say I necessarily favour spending tons of money on jets whose utility is distinctly questionable. It's just, exaggerated fears about the nation's finances are not one of the reasons. And certainly, if we're going to get them I'd rather get cheaper, less useless ones than more expensive, more useless ones.

Hugh said...

No, I'd say Canada's debt is huge, and it's growing rapidly. The economic growth needed to deal with it is not going to happen.

Interest rates will likely go up at some time, making the interest payments huge.

Add to that the massive Provincial and household debt, and I'd say there is a problem.

Purple library guy said...

It may well be true that we won't be seeing much economic growth any time soon. If anything, I expect the next installment of the Great Recession any month now. But then, that means there's no sane reason for interest rates to go up.