F-35s FOR THE UK; SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

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  1. Britain’s fixed-price entry into the System Design and Development (SDD) for $2 billion bought significant influence and knowledge, without exposing the country to the huge increase in the cost of SDD.
  2. That good deal did not automatically entitle British companies to a defined workshare on the F-35. They earned their place by providing “best value” bids. It has turned out to be about 15% by value of every jet – great! But that could change, up or down, as the program progresses and more countries join and demand a share. Already, BAE Systems has been required to cede some component manufacturing of the rear fuselage. Also, note that in the US, Lockheed Martin recently dropped Northrop Grumman as supplier of the jet’s Distributed Aperture System (DAS) in the future, because Raytheon offered “enhanced capability and reduced cost.”
  3. It’s nonsense for the MoD to say that the UK will eventually buy 138. Who knows what we will be able to afford, and what alternative technology may become available or desirable, over the next 25 years? UCAVs, anyone?
  4. The STOVL F-35B is the most expensive version to buy and operate. Yes, the price is coming down, and may ‘only’ be $105 million (unit recurring flyaway cost) by 2026. The UK will have 48 jets by then, and unless they prove very unreliable, that should be enough to provide two squadrons to one of the QEII-class carriers. (Don’t tell me that we are ever going to operate both of those ships at the same time!). After 2026, the UK should buy some conventional F-35As. Oh, and by the way, the F-35A already costs no more than a Eurofighter Typhoon to acquire.
  5. No-one yet has much idea on what it will cost to operate and support the F-35 long-term. There have been a couple of preliminary sustainment projects in the US. But the UK could still be years away, from negotiating with Lockheed Martin, the type of contract that it extracted from BAE Systems on the Typhoon. That reduced O & S costs by a third.
  6. The two most worrying issues that have been highlighted by recent official US government reports is the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which is well known, and the timely programming of the aircraft’s Mission Data Files, which is not so well-publicised because it is a very sensitive aspect. This jet can’t fly into harm’s way, as designed, if its operational software isn’t quickly updated with the relevant threats.
  7. The cost of further development could be higher than expected. Already, the US watchdog agencies have warned about this. Anyway, why the hurry to proceed with Block 4, if the initial Block 3F software is so good, and there are no processor capacity problems, as Lockheed Martin assures us?

 

 

 

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