Tuesday, December 6, 2011

F-35 apologists unite ! Stop Dave; I'm afraid

Here is some fun, alternate reality reading from someone who's livelihood depends on the F-35 program being happy unicorns.

A few points:

It is hard to claim, "there is nothing to see here" when the DOD F-35 program boss--Admiral David Venlet--states the original F-35 business plan (concurrency of enormous proportions) was a "miscalculation".

It is difficult to claim flight testing progress is great (it has improved) when it is compared to what we expected from the 2007 test plan.

The "hot spots" comment by Venlet can have a few meanings. One is that there are all kinds of predictions of fatigue. Interesting because there is so little fatigue testing done. The other "hot spots" Venlet could be referring to is all of the negative discovery he is yet to uncover. He is still on his own "learning curve".

All this points to a significantly lowered production of aircraft because the F-35 design is still unstable. You cannot have production "learning curve" until there is a stable design. Which is why anyone silly enough to want an immature F-35 this early will have a hard time finding production slots at 30-some per year.

Pilot training is significantly delayed. Simply because what they want to fly is nowhere close to being ready. That is a lot of resources tied up in Eglin AFB, doing other things than real training.

This produces several strategic risks. Allies are not going to get a credible air defense solution because the U.S. has lost its way. Soon, it will have no credible modern air domination fighter aircraft in production. If one is worried about emerging threats that are to exist during the alleged life of the F-35,  a handful of F-22s may or may not solve the problem.

Industry is starting to approach the waterfall. Any SME that had their business plan tied to the alternate engine will shed those employees and resources. The promised volume of orders are missing by a large margin. For instance, LRIP-5 was supposed to be 120 aircraft. Now it is 30-some. SMEs could end up like Australia's Production Parts. Corporate carcasses.

There will not be 2400-some F-35s. Maybe some news sources will stop quoting those that spout such nonsense.

Now for some "life imitates art". Our "Dave" has a problem. If grown-ups don't start making some serious decisions that can minimize damage to the defense outlook of the U.S. and its allies, then when the drastic decision comes to kill the F-35 program, it may look something like this.

15 comments:

nico said...

http://www.cnbc.com/id/45548690

I have yet to see what defense cuts the Europeans are going to have but this isn't looking good. Germany has been cutting serious stuff, A400M, Tiger, even Tranche 3B could be in jeopardy...if Germany agrees to bailout Southern Europe, do you think German taxpayer isn't going to wonder why Italy or Spain need carriers and stuff like fancy jets a la F35B since Germany which is a heck a lot powerful doesn't???

If Germany takes some form of soft control of budgets or impose their views on defense across those southern countries or anyone needing their money, those countries are going to say bye-bye to a lot of toys....All those orders are looking more and more like pie in the sky...

Anonymous said...

Great blog post.

The Program syndrome-creep developing YoY is alarming. Each proceeding procurement year is being perceived as a minor one-off hit to production, which will simply be made up on the back-end.

The fatal flaw in that illusion is obvious: Lost operational TACAIR recapitalization is rapidly compounding every year to a point where clearly no hitting the lottery could possibly even come close to making up lost deterrence on the back-end.

Such risk-making is a growing strategic threat to balance of power and credible deterrence.

Tragically, the reality of the hollow force structure won't be realized until they trip over it.

The biggest irony of the whole thing is that the most fanatical Anti-Plan-B-because-they-aren't-5th gen camp, is now the loudest proponent of the extended 2k hour SLEP for old F-16s operating through 2030 as being just 'fine'. Typical.

Anonymous said...

Nico:

Regarding what Europe will afford... as you probably know already, the European Commission (EC) will be the model for some form of imminent centralized EU fiscal policy setting and enforcement entity for Euro Zone.

The EU charter will be revised soon to enact such radical fiscal adjustments by members of the zone.

Just today, S&P warned the 17 members that every one is effectively on a watch-list going-forward for a ratings down-grade if fiscal house isn't dramatically improved.

IMF will be supervising various Euro members indefinitely during their respective budget processes.

I think it's safe to say that Euro sales of F-35 will be further delayed and further reduced in size even more than what may be considered as today's worst case.

The Austerity environment about to hit the zone over the mid-term, while heading into recession next year, will make political reality of any serious F-35 acquisition next to impossible.

All very unfortunate, but something which should have been avoidable and something which should have been better estimated.

nico said...

When it comes to the "hot spots", I am a bit on the fence. Are these spots just areas of concern which might require rework or something more dramatic like complete redesign? Are they just areas to keep under increased inspections?

The one thing that really is concerning and makes one wonder (AGAIN!) is why F35C hasn't even started it's fatigue testing? With carrier operations, isn't it the version which might have the most problems?

Oh, what will all these changes do to JSF vaunted communality of airframes? Will all the fixes be the same, no matter what version?

ELP said...

Like you say, it would be nice to know more about the hotspots but there are a lot of variables; included that fatigue testing is in its early stages.

Anonymous said...

Europe: I think everybody will politely say, we are delaying our purchase 3-5 years. Economy is hard. Starting with Italy, Greece, Spain.
(This is assuming there is no oil shock due to current raising tension in the middle east.)

Then we are quickly approaching US budget implosion. They are in kicking can down the road mode right now, but it can't pass that much longer. (unless the next elections significantly change the composition of congress. Otherwise, it's continuing the deadlock. After that Dollar crisis. Same as in europe hitting US.)

We are talking 3-5 time span here, not 10-12 years.

by 2014-1-2016, plenty of F-35 competitors start showing in the market.

So F-35 start to look like F-20/Tigershark.

nico said...

to ANON:

I know what you mean by comparing F35 to F20 in terms of orders but dynamically, don't even go there! F20 with JSF systems would be kick ass, sure, no LO but it sure would move and be affordable.

Horde said...

On the matter of "hotspots" and "cracking", it was back in 2004 when APA first determined via standard parametric analysis and risk based assessments that the deficiencies, defects and problems now being “discovered” in the structure were almost certain to arise.

This was not only in the secondary and tertiary parts of the airframe but, more importantly, in primary structural elements.

It was also determined these would start to become apparent quite early in the testing, within the first 1,000 hours of the 16khr fatigue test programs.

Given the testing doctrine and procedures being followed, this equates to about 500 real flying hours (or about 6% of the aircraft’s 8,000 flight hour design life).

It is no mere coincidence that the fatigue testing of the STOVL F-35B JSF had been halted at 6%.

(See Dave Venlet’s statements in the interview with AOL Defense).

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.
My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that a certain number of "mistake jets" has always been anticipated, and planned for. A couple of years ago JPO did some numbers argueing for an accelerated ramp-up: $13bn saved vs. less than $2bn cost of retrofitting about 350 jets at 5 million each. It was just under $3 million in retrofits for each F-22, so this seems to be in the ballpark.

B. Bolsøy
Oslo

nico said...

To B.B.in Oslo:

Nice to hear again from you. I don't disagree that there is going to be some concurrency but 350??? We might even have more than that, 30 to 40 jets a year for the next couple of years appears to be almost a certainty. The huge ramp up that ELP shows the graph of all the time just isn't going to happen.I think a fair possibility is 48 a year and maybe that might be the maximum output. :(

Kind of makes me wonder, if final DoD number comes down to 1000 JSFs, well a third of your fleet needs to be refit straight out of production to be fit for combat,I am sure LMT is going be happy! Isn't that how we ended up with a fleet with in a fleet for F22?

When it comes to F22, didn't USAF sign up for another huge contract for upgrades? I guess, one could argue that those are new-new upgrades but F22 is still relatively young and for it's price tag, we shouldn't have to install a whole bunch of new stuff, I somehow doubt that we will need just $5 million dollars to bring those 350 JSFs up to standard. I have a nagging feeling that in a few years these 350 JSFs will also need some "upgrades". Why they would need "upgrades" after just coming off their production line,hmmm, beats me. Oh yeah, they only had a couple of "hot spots" that needed fixing.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much the Chinese would pay someone to help sabotage the most important defense acquisition today.

ELP said...

Concurrency sounds great when they know what they are doing. With 3 versions and a lot of question marks, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I suppose that estimate came from the same people that got us into this mess. General Davis was so value-added wasn't he?

geogen said...

B. Bolsøy, good to hear from you also. Hope you're well.

As far as anything JPO 'estimated' 2 years ago... unfortunately it needs to be thrown out the window. Such prior assessments are now inaccurate and don't reflect realistic and modern dynamics facing the Program.

p.s., as a personal advocate for the JSM/NSM system, has there been any discussion or consideration to study it's integration into a nEUROn or Taranis type platform?

Respects.

Anonymous said...

Geogen, nico

Thank's for the kind words. Hope you are well too.

Geogen. Absolutely. But even if that outdated JPO estimate is off by a huge margin there is still a very real potential of net cost savings for an accellerated ramp-up. Of course Venlet, being conservative, might not think so, but it is still a fundamental part of the program's business plan.

Nico. The ramp-up will eventually happen. Where it settles is an open question, but it will have to in order to reduce the unit price to reasonable levels. Exports and NATO's future operational concept largely depend on it. Take Norway, as a small example. Leaks from the Defence Chief's long term recommendation calls for reducing the fleet of P-3 MPAs partly because of the F-35's new capabilities (the NH90 heli ASW capability is another factor). This, despite Norway's economical zone in the Atlantic increasing by ten percent or 100.000 sq. miles in 2009 meaning a substantially larger area to patrol and survey.

In other words, the F-35 is at the centre of Norwegian and allied operational doctrine and planning. And keep in mind that the unit cost is driven more by the number of produced jets per year than the planned number of jets over the program's life span.

Speaking of upgrades. Most of that will be software block upgrades and incorporation of new weapons. System-wide hardware upgrades are not planned for the forseable future, but probably will be part of a mid-life upgrade. Of course, nothing is written in stone. Ifa requirement comes along the JSF partner nations might vote to upgrade the hardware too.

Geogen. Interesting thought. However I'm not aware of any talks of integrating the JSM on the nEuron or Taranis. KDA is pretty much focused on the F-35 at the moment, but other platforms have been mentioned in the past (fighters, MPA, heli).

B. Bolsøy
Oslo