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Budget Matters 

F-35 in Trump Administration's Crosshairs 


By Jon Harper 

President Donald Trump’s defense policy advisers want to “tear open” the F-35 joint strike fighter program, according to an analyst familiar with their thinking.

The $400 billion program is the most expensive acquisition project in Pentagon history. The Defense Department plans to spend about $56 billion on the aircraft over the next five years.

The project has experienced significant cost overruns, schedule delays and technical problems, and Trump took aim at it before he even came into office.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” he tweeted in December.

He has asked Boeing to “price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet” as a potential alternative to the F-35, he said in a subsequent tweet.

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, has briefed Trump’s policy advisers on several occasions. They are inclined to “tear open this program and take it apart” and look at whether major changes need to be made to the number of planes procured or other aspects of the project, she said.

“They really believe it’s time to burn the Pentagon” metaphorically speaking, she said. “That’s going to have a heavy emphasis on acquisition of weapons in particular.”

The president’s tweet put F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin on the defensive.

“Lockheed Martin and its industry partners understand the importance of affordability” for the joint strike fighter program, Jeff Babione, the company’s executive vice president and general manager of the F-35, said during an aircraft delivery ceremony in Israel in December.

Lockheed has been trying to bring costs down, he emphasized.

“Since the beginning, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the price of the airplane more than 60 percent” relative to the original low-rate initial production bill, he said.

The company projects that the price tag will be down to $85 million in the 2019 to 2020 timeframe.

“It’s a great value and we look forward to any questions [Trump] may have,” Babione said.

When asked about Trump’s comments, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 joint program office, said he understands why there is a perception that the program is out of control, noting that from 2001 to 2011 it experienced a six-year delay in development and $13.5 billion in cost overruns.

“This is a vastly different program” now, he told reporters in December. “I don’t think the program cost-wise is out of control nor do I think it’s out of control schedule-wise.”

The aircraft is vital for the United States and its allies to maintain air dominance for the next 50 years, he said. But he and his JPO colleagues are not “salesmen” for the fighter jet, he added.

“I don’t have a strategy with the industry to go … try and save this program,” he said. “Our job is going to be to give the administration the good, the bad and the ugly about this program and let them make their own decisions.”

If the new president and his team try to significantly reduce the F-35 program, they would likely face resistance. With production spread out across more than 40 states, the joint strike fighter has the backing of many members of Congress who have jobs in their districts tied to the aircraft.

In addition, Lockheed would be expected to fight hard against any efforts to pare down the program.

“Never underestimate the power of Lockheed Martin’s sway,” Eaglen said.

Photo: Air Force
Reader Comments

Re: F-35 in Trump Administration's Crosshairs

I believe that with the Canada's recent cancellation of the Joint Strike Fighter in favour of purchasing upgraded Super Hornets, the door has been opened for other nations to cancell their JSF orders as well.

Also, the fact that the F-35A JSF has major deficiencies and problems with its Radar Warning Receiver,Ground Moving Target Tracking, Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Basic Link 16 transmit/receive functions really opens the door even wider for cancellation.

The JSF has no gun, no ability to hit moving targets and cannot perorm all digital Close-Air-Support. So why should it be continued at all?

"Block 3i does not have an automated targeting or automatically target computation system needed to engage moving targets with the GBU-12, like all USAF legacy aircraft flying CAS missions do

Insecure voice communications are sometimes required to validate digital Link-16 messages due to garbled dasta requiring pilots to use their voice radio's to read back target information.

Recent flight testing shows that the F-35 will not carry the AIM-9X air-to-air missile mounted on the outermost wing station as the F-35’s outer wing pylons are too weak to handle the load of the missile and buffeting issues.

A review determined that either no AIM-9X be carried or alternately an entire redesign of the supporting wing structure is needed.

So now we have NO guns and NO AIM-9X short-range air-air missile’s. We have at best an aircraft with two AIM-120 missile’s, which if a target is not detected and killed from a distance the F-35 will surely be gunned down. Or loading the AIM-9X in internal bay’s, the JSF cannot take out enemy aircraft from medium ranges and must engage them in a ‘dog fight’ which the F-35 performs horribly at…and use her two AIM-9X mounted internally. More than one or two enemy aircraft would yield, again, a gunned down F-35.

Military Power and News

KRIS RICHEY on 01/10/2017 at 17:04

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