September 12, 2011 (by Eric L. Palmer) - Canadian Defence Minister Mr. MacKay is either incredibly ill-advised or is misleading the public about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
USAF F-35A #08-7046 completed its inaugural flight on May 6th, 2011 from NAS Fort Worth with Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti at the controls. [Lockheed Martin photo by Angel DelCueto]
Take a look at this quote today ("Aust, Canada share concern about JSF
delay", Sydney Morning Herald and AAP news) from a meeting with the Australian Defence Minister, Mr. Smith.
He (MacKay) said the good news was that the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant of JSF, to be acquired by both Canada and Australia, was progressing well, unlike the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) and carrier variants.
"We are purchasing them at a time when they will be in peak production around 2014-15. Our fleet of F-18 Hornets will have to be taken out of use in 2017," he told reporters.
What is this peak production he mentions? It may be "peak" but it won't be what he hopes. What evidence is he using to determine the price, capability and production rate? Funny how all the people with the supposed special access to the program have an established history of getting it oh-so-wrong.
According to the F-35 JSF memorandum of agreement from 2007,(download documents from www.jsf.mil) the predicted number of aircraft to be produced per year looked like this:
Which is quite a bit different from this statement from a Lockheed Martin official just last month (nfwdailynews.com , "Hundreds of visitors attend F-35 ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base" August 26, 2011):
Lawson said Lockheed Martin now is finishing about two F-35s a month. That output is expected to increase to about three a month for the next couple of years before production ramps up even more.
That is a big cut. The difference is a lot of missed orders and a much higher price. Along with; a much smaller production learning curve.
"Peak production". Yeah, we are seeing it now Mr. MacKay.
Others are starting to wake up. Today's Navy Times has a piece ("JSF cost has several estimates, none solid") which brings into question the marketing hype surrounding the F-35.
"An official at the JSF program office said Lockheed’s $65 million price tag claim is “disingenuous” because the figure does not include the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that powers the jet.
Further, he said that the program office has repeatedly asked the company to stop using the $65 million figure."
Lockheed denies this stating the low price is with the engine, but only if 3163 aircraft are purchased. One would hope someone at the JSF program office would know.
To date, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD
) budget documents are yet to show any price this low for the F-35. Declaration of full-rate production by the U.S. DOD--which signifies a stable program--is years away.
MacKay also tries to pull a fast one with the idea of pushing off the conventional take-off F-35 as being low risk. There is nothing low risk about this program.
If Canada and Australia are to team up on Defence acquisition planning, a good start is to be more honest about the significant risk offered by the F-35 program.
Mr. MacKay and Mr. Smith are not there yet.