The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Military Acquisition Process

Leaving a military acquisition job and returning to the fleet has got me focused. I’ve enjoyed learning the process that moves a naval prototype from developmental model to a full-up fleet capability. But it is a slow chug – there are certain waypoints that Congress mandates to ensure that the taxpayers get maximum benefit. And each of those milestones require substantial work to meet. Some are important and some are red-tape heavy, with unnecessary slowdowns (in my humble opinion.)

Another challenge with military acquisition is that there are factors beyond delivering the very best capability to the Navy. Such as politics, jobs, and regional considerations:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Illinois is home to another important aerospace sector: defense. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is supported by Illinois manufacturing companies. Across the state, roughly 2,000 jobs are tied to the program through about 50 suppliers. In terms of economic impact, the F-35 program contributes about $525 million to state and local economies.

Despite the economic opportunity the F-35 represents to Illinois, forces outside the state conspire to reverse the momentum we’ve seen. The project has been mired in unfounded criticism, the perception of unchecked cost overruns has soured many spectators and sequestration has complicated matters even more with constraints on spending.

In complex production projects like the F-35, substantial investments are made by suppliers in the program’s developmental stages and are only recouped when the program moves into full production. Full production occurs when the supply chain becomes more efficient at reducing costs and economies of scale are realized. Last year, F-35 program costs dropped by $4.5 billion. F-35 suppliers have already paid about one-third of the cost overruns in the first three lots of production and have committed to paying 100 percent of any overrun of the contract ceiling in the fourth lot of production and beyond. Even the congressional watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the program is moving in the right direction in a recent audit.

The cost issue cannot be truly addressed unless it is placed into a larger context of costs incurred versus costs saved. Once it is fully deployed, the F-35 will be used by the Air Force, Marines and Navy. The program would replace as many as seven legacy aircraft. The Pentagon projects that total maintenance costs for the legacy fleet would be four times the comparable maintenance costs of the F-35.

I think the F-35 is going to be a strong, albeit expensive, capability for our Navy.

The Noisy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters

If you live near an air base and you run a business, no doubt you are pleased to have all the flyboys in your shop. That flight pay can buy some nice dive gear:

Dive shop manager Bryan Kennington chatted with customers about masks and fins on a recent afternoon over the roar of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet as it streaked above the downtown Valpariso business.

“That’s the sound of freedom; I love it,” Kennington said. A group of young military men shopping for dive equipment agreed with nods and thumbs-ups.

But not everyone in this town likes the noise created by the jets belonging to Eglin Air Force Base’s new Joint Strike Fighter training squadron. The town sued the Air Force to force those in charge of the sprawling base to mitigate noise from the supersonic and stealth F-35, which is supposed to be adopted by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines, many NATO countries and other allies.

I always enjoyed my time on the flight line. Of course, I had to wear ear plugs when I slept.

Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale Vs. F-35 JSF

Canada is considering other options to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The Saab Gripen is one of their options. And this economic fact caught my attention: At well under $100 million apiece and the lowest operating cost of any fighter in the world at $4,700 an hour the Gripen is cost-effective and competent. 

Saab Gripen

Be sure to check out the French Dassault Rafale jet taking off from CVN-69 and CVN-74

The F-35 Drops the F-Bomb

In highly volatile bomb circles, an F-bomb is considered a “bomb weighing 2000 pounds or more.” Good news for the F-35, it just released an F-bomb:

The F-35 Drops the F-Bomb

High above the Mojave Desert, the military’s next-generation fighter jet dropped a 2,000-pound bomb for the first time in its latest test flight.

It’s a key milestone for the stealthy, supersonic F-35, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., which has been undergoing tests since its first flight in late 2006.

I gotta come clean. An F-bomb isn’t a 2000 pound bomb. But go into any public place and yell an F-bomb at the top of your lungs, the effect’ll be nearly the same.

Best Friends

Ahead of Schedule, Below Target Cost

Nuclear-powered attack submarine Mississippi (SSN-782)

With all the frustrating stories coming out of the Navy R&D pipeline concerning the F-35, the LCS, and the DDG among others, it is refreshing to see this:

General Dynamics Electric Boat today delivered the nuclear-powered attack submarine Mississippi (SSN-782) to the U.S. Navy 363 days ahead of contract schedule and more than $60 million below target cost. Electric Boat is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics (GD).

John Holmander, vice president and Virginia program manager for General Dynamics Electric Boat, noted that Mississippi was at the most combat-ready state of any Virginia-class submarine at delivery.

A year ahead of sched and 60 mill below cost. GD, you win military contractor of the year!

2,443 Cans of Whoop

The new F-35 just went airborne with some firecrackers:

Lockheed Martin, F-35, JSF, 461st FLTS, F-35 ITF, Edwards AFB, First Flight of External Stores mounted to wings, 4 empty Pylons, 2 AIM-9X, Pilot: Lt Col Vitt, AF-1

The F-35, the military’s next-generation fighter jet, has begun its first flight tests carrying external missiles at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s costliest program going; the Defense Department has plans to buy 2,443 of the aircraft at a cost of $382 billion.

I’ve had friends who have won Sailor-of-the-Year and they received a fam flight on a jet, like an F-18 or an F-16. Guess I should shoot for Junior-Officer-of-the-Year (JOY) now. Of course, those jet jocks like to make their back-seaters puke. Nevermind, I guess I should not win the award. No joy for me.

Is there even a backseat variant? I suppose they could bungee me down topside, like some 4-point winter buck. Or maybe stuff me in the bomb bay? No thanks. I’ve done enough bombing in here, on corny posts. Not this one though. It’s been hilarious at this end. ¿Si?