F-35C_calendar_2008DoDBuzz is reporting new cost estimates for the JSF program are going to jump by over $17.1B. Apparently the concurrent nature of the program lies at the heart of the massive revision upwards of program costs. So much so that Nunn-McCurdy is starting to be invoked:

“Unfortunately, DoD has put all its eggs in the JSF basket and it is now too big to fail, just like Wall Street. The JSF program has shown no signs of getting back on schedule, and I think a Nunn-McCurdy is fairly likely. Gates should get out in front and restructure the program,” said one congressional aide.J-UCAS-Sunset

While the scope of the program may dissuade a Nunn-McCurdy cancellation action, it is possible that certain parts – second engine source & naval version (F-35C) could get the axe as both are still in the very early stages of development. Color me not surprised, especially if the above comes true. Boeing, not to long ago, was green-lighted on a limited multi-year production run of F/A-18E/F for Navy and if it wins the MRCA competition in India, that will extend the production run possibly making available aircraft to replace the legacy Hornets – which was to be the role of the F-35C. In the meantime, if the UCAV-N pans out and demonstrates effectiveness at penetrating triple-digit SAM defended airspace, then the original rationale for the one-trick pony F-35C will have been met.

h/t: DefenseTech.org

crossposted at: steeljawscribe.com

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • “…if the UCAV-N pans out and demonstrates effectiveness at penetrating triple-digit SAM defended airspace, then the original rationale for the one-trick pony F-35C will have been met.”

    Except that Unmanned Aircraft aren’t yet capable of air superiority missions. Except that signal loss is a major factor in the unusually high accident rate for even mature UAVs, and that’s in a benign environment. Except that we don’t know how effective a UAV will be against not first tier opponents but against any opponent with even a rudimentary air defense capability (taking into account “old” surface to air missiles and perhaps even deadlier….”old” fighter aircraft).

    It would be a bigger mistake to put all our eggs in the UAV basket than to proceed forward with the F-35. Additionally I find it funny that a congressional AIDE(!) is suddenly getting this type of press coverage (we could care less about their opinions on any other subject except for this one…hmmmm). Lets be a bit more circumspect when it comes to discussing the future of a program like this. The Navy has already experienced the A-12 debacle and doesn’t need the setback that would occur with the demise of the F-35 program.

  • 1. Except that the F-35 was built primarily as a penetrating strike-fighter and sacrificed some key capabilities useful for air superiority on the altar of (forward hemisphere) stealth. Thrust vectoring and wing loading being a couple that pop to mind.

    2. Except that there will be an increasing degree of autonomy in UCAV’s, especially those whose missions call for pentrating triple-digit SAM environments. They’ll *have* to be autonomous in order to survive long enough to effect their mission.

    3. Except that we have seen what a rudimentary UAV (aka Firebee drone) can do in a rudimentary defense environment (http://www.spyflight.co.uk/aqm34g.htm) with what is now considered to be “old” tech

    4. Except that anyone who has worked with Congress knows that, for right or wrong, one ignores the aides and their opinions at one’s peril (ask one of the N3N5 guys about the reception on the Hill and how much different it would have been if they had been allowed to execute their rollout plan for CS21). Because, 9 times out of 10, guess who forms the Congress person’s opinion and writes the legislation…?

    5. And just how circumspect do you propose? Silence being golden? That worked real well on the A-12 program (I know – I was there for the funeral pyre). Or perhaps a glee club was what you had in mind?
    If there is in fact a $17.1B overrun, in this budget climate and with the looming deficit (and ongoing land war(s) and (add another entitlement program here))there’s going to be a world of hurt across the three services looking to use the F-35. At least this time there is an alternative already in production, unlike the A-12.
    – SJS

  • Appreciate the response….but….
    1. The F-35 is a multi-role fighter. From the very beginning it was to be the low in the hi-lo fighter mix. It is designed with a strike ability “out the box” and will not have to wait 20 years for that capability to be realized…unlike our experience with the F-16. Also remember that the F/A-18 was optimized for strike yet has provided admirable service as the Navy’s only fighter.
    2. UAV autonomy is being driven not by threat defenses but by bandwidth limitations. Against a foe flying outdated, but high performance aircraft, UAVs (even the X-47) will be extremely vulnerable. Besides, integration of manned and unmanned fighters onto the same deck still has to proven. If its not a possibility do you recommend having a carrier deploy with only UAV’s on its deck? If they are capable of being deployed with manned aircraft how do balance out your strike package? If your UAV is bingo fuel and has to land before a manned aircraft to avoid being lost do you take the chance of it fouling your deck if it suffers a mishap? Or do you institute a rule that all manned aircraft land first no matter what the fuel situation of the UAVs? Yes its a simplistic scenario but one that must be worked out. A carrier (as you well know) is alot different from a land air base. Before declaring the dawn of the combat UAV -alot of work has to be done. We’ll be lucky to have them on deck by 2030.
    3. I agree with your assertion regarding the power of Congressional Aides but we need a name behind the statement. Is this a person that has an axe to grind? Is he anti-defense? Was he an advocate for the F-22 and is looking for his pound of flesh? I’d luv to know.
    4. When I speak of being circumspect, I was referring to the politics of this program. People have staked out positions (myself included) and the opposition to the program is formidable but those with knowledge of the planes capabilities continue to support it. Everyone who has received the classified information on the airplane has come away impressed. Partner nations who have a choice of other aircraft continue to stay with the program (our European allies most tellingly). Additionally many other nations have expressed an interest in the airplane.

    Lastly, if you’ve kept up with the debate on this program, you’ll notice that the focus has shifted from the airplanes capabilities to it business plan/cost. That I believe is no accident. Instead of projecting failure (continuing with my cautionary tale) or more precisely forecasting failure, perhaps we should simply wait and see. If its a failure then simply buy more F/A-18’s until the UCAV comes online is a solution…but one we don’t have to rush into. And if your scenario of shrinking budgets because of domestic spending comes true then either both aircraft survive for fear of crippling layoffs or both die because of outrageous spending.

  • 1. Agreed – but I think folks need to understand that the F-35 was optimized for the strike role and in so doing, compromised in areas necessary for combat v. extant and emerging 5th gen fighters. Will also acknowledge upfront the F/A-18E/F also suffers from compromise in the battle v. 5th gen fighters. My question – in light of the expected delay in seeing the F-35C reach IOC in the fleet, will it provide a significantly large margin of extra capability in a campaign against a near peer nation, deploying 5th generation fighters in significant numbers, integrated into an air defense system with triple digit-generation SAMs at its core as to warrant the kind of fiscal investment that will appear to be required to purchase and deploy on what remaining carrier decks we’re going to have by 2015-2020? More so than a mixed airwing of F/A-18E/F/G with UCAV-N’s? Understand too that this will, not may, but will be a zero sum game where the rest of NAVAIR is concerned – money spent on the F-35B and F-35C will, perforce, either directly come from other programs (UCAV-N, P-8/BAMS, E-2D, F/A-18E/F/G, etc.) or will engender opportunity costs in those same programs. I’m not convinced the implied benefits of the F-35C outweigh those operational and fiscal considerations.
    Doubly so if there is already a $17.1B cost overrun to the program.
    2. Roger the issues about said unnamed aide’s hidden/public agenda, but you still have to honor the threat.
    3. Focus shift from capabilities to cost as a program moves from drawing board to prototype to production is a natural occurence and one that will garner a lot of heat and light in this budget environment. I had a terrific discussion yesterday with an engineer who worked on the 2005 Ford Mustang and a good portion of that discussion centered on that same process with issues of weight and aerodynamics (sidebar – for you Mustang aficionados out there, the reason those clear lens panels are over the headlights? MPG – adding them upped the MPG by almost 3 mpg alone). This was very much a critical program for Ford and its failure for cost overruns or engineering failure would have been if not mortal, certainly crippling to Ford’s survival.

    Look, I appreciate your concern and share much of it. I also remember the A-12 fiasco and suffered through the resultant hit naval aviation as a whole took – both direct and indirect. The reason the E-2D is being fielded almost a decade later than it should have can in no small degree be laid at the A-12’s doorstep and its 2nd/3rd order effects. We just cannot afford another debacle like that and there are more than a few straws in the wind that indicate, as far as carrier aviation goes, the F-35 will be a repeat.
    – SJS

  • tps

    Looks like the Royal Navy’s buy of the B model will be cut in half. They are going to build one of the two new aircraft carriers as a strictly helo carrier. From 138 to 50. According to the Times story it was due to the cost of the F-35 but there’s been a lot of grumbling in the rest of the military over those two ships as well.


  • AT1 Berlemann

    Quick couple of questions and comments.

    1. What aerial engagements has the F-18 fought? The only one that I know of was in the opening days of Desert Storm when a four flight of VFA-81 F-18A’s were bounced by a pair of Iraqi MiG-21’s. Compared to some of the aircraft that it was replaceing around the world. That event isn’t really that much of an indicator of real world ops in a high intensity aerial campaign like what the USN saw over the Pacific during the Second World War, Korea, or even to an extent over Vietnam. That being said it is all that we have. The US has been very lucky in that the last 40 years we haven’t engaged in combat against a country with a serious air force. As it stands right now a number of nations are looking at the F-14/F-15/F-16/F-18 at the level to beat when it comes to next generation fighters. All of those airframes are 40 plus years old from being designed to introduce into the forces. That is a long time in the aviation community.

    2. UCAV’s can preform the BARCAP, TARCAP or even RESCAP roles effectively, if you think outside of the box. Think of it being intergrated into the Cooperative Engagement Capability [CEC] or even the old NTDS system. Basically the E-2/E-3 (or its follow on sucessor) the operators saying everything with out this IFF code is to be killed with in a X nm of point designated by them. It is datalinked to the UCAV’s. As a back up the aircraft can also be coded on the ground to follow the same sort of rules, that is in case of ECM enviroment. Oh and if you think that human operators can do this better. Remember it was faulty IFF codes, faulty reading of the ROE, faulty visual id capabilities, and faulty intel that lead to an E-3C allowing a pair of F-15C’s flying in the Southern No-Fly zone to kill a pair of US Army UH-60’s with an inspection team onboard back in 1994.

    3. The A-12 Avenger II was a fiasco. I know it cause I grew up in the medium attack community and between folks in this community pinning thier hopes on the A-6F/G projects and the A-12. There was a series let down when the A-12 project failed. Even to this day now almost approaching 20yrs since the project was killed, the people involved are fighting out in court who is to blame. If Naval Aviation is to survive we can not let this turn into an CF-105 Arrow, TSR.2, or numerous other aborted aircraft. Take the lessons learn from those failures and try to prevent the further hampering of other projects.

    3. The F-35 project was a house of cards to begin with. Three different aircraft with 85% airframe and avionics commonaility designed to replaced six different airframes in two different countries, and oh by the way we are developing new technology at the same time. So why is it so hard to believe that the costs have risen as the various companies pad in the R&D of this advance technology into the platform.

    4. As to congressional critters influenced. That comes not only from lobbyists, but also from their various aides trying to make trying to make a name for themselves in a respective arena. I have never been to DC, but have dealt with these aides during VIP tours of commands that I have been attached to. Listening to them tell me what my job is, what my platform’s role is, and how I should be doing it. All with a smile and then explaining where the leaps of logic and mistakes where made regarding what my job and my primary mission in that platform was supposed to be. The lobbyists aren’t always that schooled in the arena they are supposed to be lobbying to. The smarter ones know to bring a subject matter expert to the table. The ones looking for the big pay off and the quick retirement to something better, learn to dance well in front of congressional aides.

  • Mike M.

    As SJS mentioned, the big issue is that the ‘F’-35 isn’t. It rightly should be designated ‘A’-35. It’s an air-to-ground aircraft with a secondary air-to-air mission.

    As for UCAV, remember that it is decidedly NOT an air-to-air machine. Not only is autonomy an issue (and the software is NEVER trivial on an unmanned aircraft), but the airframe is far less maneuverable than people think. The X-47 can be thought of as a pint-sized, carrier-capable B-2.

    The real solution for the Navy is F/A-XX. A true 5th generation fighter/attack aircraft. Buy more Super Hornets to buy time (and maybe pay to fix the wing in the later versions and get the stores aligned with the airflow). Buy UCAS to get a ‘can opener’ capability against the highest-threat targets. And buy TIME…time to get F/A-XX designed, time to get something better than the disaster that F-35 is turning into.

    BTW, the same applies to the Air Force. DOD should have killed the F-35, spent the money on additional F-22s and F-16s.

  • Cap’n Bill

    I’m glad to see some appropriate recognition of the Super Hornet. A design that has been proven to be effective and affordable. Perfectly located in time.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    I gotta ask… just like the shipbuilding situation (DDG-1000 and CG-X), is the F/A-18 Super Hornet being challenged by another airframe in our enemies’ arsenal that requires the Navy to develop a new design to go along with recapitalization?

  • Mike M.

    Well, a late-model Flanker is a pretty formidable opponent. But the real threat comes from the 5th generation aircraft under development. Those could pose quite a problem in the 2020 timeframe.

  • Byron

    URR, unlike the 60’s when the Skunk Works went from napkin to SR-71 in two years, todays hi-tech AC takes years to build. If the Navy wanted a 5th generation fighter/attack(boy, it hurts to say that) then they should have started 8 years ago.

    Tell me I’m wrong…

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I don’t doubt that we won’t be building P-51s anymore, going from design to production in a baseball season. But the “fifth generation” consists of what, exactly? Faster? The fastest fighter we ever produced was the F-4H Phantom. More maneuverable? I would like to see turn and roll rate comparisons between the F-35 and the Super Hornet. Or is it ordnance load? Again, won’t compare to the F-4 or the A-6.

    My guess, knuckle dragger that I am, is that the definition will have far more to do with electronics suite and data capability than anything else. If that assumption is true, have we reached top technical potential of the F/A-18 airframe in those areas? Will the change in airframe be as significant an upgrade as the cost would otherwise indicate?

  • Byron

    Lemme see…ability to perform high speed data transfer from off-board platforms without detection (the whole ambush thing)…exceptional radar/fire control system…the RCS vice aircraft controlability and fly by wire interface…electrical generation…enough range to get there and back without a lot of tanking (sorry, Hornet bubbas)…a tough enough airframe to withstand both launch and recovery…ability to fit inside the space-limited decks of a carrier (and if we keep paring away at the air wings, that might not be a consideration).

    And lets not forget all that goes before this: every last congress-critter is going to want his district to get a piece of the pie, even if it’s the freakin’ ashtray that won’t get installed (boy, the stuff I could tell you about sole-source contracts..) every last company that manufactures aircraft or aircraft parts screaming to get a piece of the pie (just how many companies did it take to build the F-22?) and of course, all the money that got “contributed” to their favorite “lawmaker” to get that piece of pie.

    And then comes the day when wishful thinking hits the wall called reality, and everything goes back to the drawing board for more screaming and brib…er…contributing.

    Forgive me if I sound jaundiced, but I’ve seen where we were, and where we are now, and talk of such which I have avoided so far, truly pisses me off.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    So, all in all, you’re optimistic? 🙂

  • Mike M.

    Byron, you’re wrong.

    A lot of the problem with the procurement process is getting from startup to contract award. The process of simply getting a requirement through the approval chains and a specification written takes about four years.


    Run the program under ACTD rules. Stripped-down requirement, truncated approval chain. You’ll save three years right there – and buy yourself a lot of innovation in the process.

  • anon