F-35 Customers, Competitors, and Challenges

Δευτέρα, 24 Ιουνίου 2013


O διεθνούς φήμης δημοσιογράφος Bill Sweetman του γνωστού περιοδικού Αviaton Week and Space Technology γράφει για τις τελευταίες εξελίξεις στο πρόγραμμα του F-35:

By Bill Sweetman, Amy Butler

June 17, 2013

The F-35 fighter program remains fully funded despite delays and overruns,
but acquisition plans for the U.S. and some partner nations are in flux.
Orders have been delayed or cut by some partners and further delays are
possible now that the 3F software release needed for international
countries to declare initial operational capability has slipped to 2019. One
hundred of the original 730 partner orders have been removed from
acquisition plans due to increasing cost and defense budget reductions
globally.

Almost 360 more are jeopardized by planning changes and political
challenges. Denmark has launched a new source-selection process with a
mid-2015 decision deadline. The Canadian government launched a review of its
choice of the stealthy Joint Strike Fighter, after the nation's
auditorgeneral found flaws in the sole-source plan and it is under pressure
to start a competition. The U.K. and Australia remain committed, but some of
their purchases are likely to be deferred beyond 2030, while major political
groups in Italy (including the fast-growing M5S movement) and the
Netherlands are opposed to buying any F-35s.

The U.S. services have held to their total buys -- but those are subject to
decisions of future Congresses, since fewer than half of the planned orders
will be placed in the next 10 years. Multiple Washington think-tanks,
including the influential Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments,
have recommended reducing F-35 orders (and in some cases, tactical fighter
forces in general) in favor of longer-range systems.

The U.S. Navy's peak annual JSF acquisition rate (for both the B and C
models) has been reduced to 40 from 50 aircraft per year, according to the
latest selected acquisition report. Nominally, the U.S. Air Force plans to
increase its delivery rate to 60 per year in 2018 and 80 in 2021, but this
does not mesh with service testimony to Congress that shows 1,130 or more
older aircraft, including 300-plus updated F-16s, in its 2030 inventory.
That would leave the Air Force with 770 F-35s, but current plans show 1,050
JSFs delivered to the service by 2030. The Air Force has not been willing to
comment on the discrepancy.

By contrast, Lockheed Martin has nabbed sales to Israel and Japan and is in
the running for orders in South Korea and Singapore.

These developments have opened up opportunities for competitors to challenge
the F-35 in U.S. and international markets with upgraded versions of
in-service aircraft. Boeing will flight-test features of a stealthier, more
powerful, longer-range Advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the coming months
and Australia has announced its intention to acquire EA-18G Growlers, which
would be the first-ever export sale of a dedicated fighter-based electronic
combat aircraft. Two development contracts for the Saab JAS 39E Gripen were
issued in February and March by Sweden. Meanwhile, the Eurofighter partner
nations -- seeing opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and
Denmark, among others -- appear to be more ready to back the consortium&# 39;s
product-improvement plans, a Eurofighter executive says.

-- Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman/Washington

Software: U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 program director,
is "moderately confident" of on-time delivery of the fighter' s 2B software
package for the U.S. Marine Corps to be the first to declare initial
operational capability (IOC) by December 2015. Likewise, the 3I release,
including 2B software and updated hardware, is needed for the Air Force's
IOC planned for December 2016. Bogdan acknowledges greater risk in the
readiness of the 3F package, which will include a more comprehensive attack
capability, when development wraps up in 2017 (AW&ST July 9, 2012, p. 103).

Helmet: Questions remain about whether Rockwell Collins Vision Systems
International will deliver the so-called "Gen 3" helmet-mounted display
system needed for full F-35 performance. The Marine Corps plans to declare
F-35B IOC in December 2015 with the "Gen 2" helmet on which the night-vision
camera falls short of requirements for nighttime aerial refueling and
vertical landing. A new nighttime camera will be tested on a Gen 3 helmet in
January. Questions remain about whether earlier jitter and horizon
calibration issues will be addressed in this next helmet version. (AW&ST
June 10, p. 29).

Testing, "Concurrency Cost": Customers, especially those buying early such
as the U.S., U.K., and the Netherlands, are exposed to the financial risk of
taking ownership of aircraft that will require retrofits to address issues
found in flight or durability testing, which is not expected to wrap up
until 2017. Additionally, F135 engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney is
conducting durability testing with particular attention to whether
high-cycle fatigue could cause more cracking than predicted in the
low-pressure turbine. This risk is prompting some customers to delay their
purchases until the configuration is solid and fully tested, adding to the
price of early deliveries (AW&ST Dec. 24, 2012, p. 39).

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