F-35 - News and Discussions

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Lockheed signs long-term contracts with F-35 suppliers
By
Allen Cone
(0)

An F-35A Lightning II awaits permission to taxi as an F-22 Raptor takes off on December 4, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/U.S. Air Force

April 19 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin has negotiated new long-term logistics and repair contracts with F-35 Lightning II suppliers with lower costs and better availability.

Lockheed has moved sub-contractors into performance-based logistics contracts or master repair agreements to improve capacity, reduce costs and enhance supply availability, the company announced this week.

"As the F-35 fleet expands, we are partnering with our customers and taking aggressive actions to enhance F-35 readiness and reduce sustainment costs," Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said in a news release Wednesday. "The F-35 global supply chain is a key enabler to success, and we're restructuring and streamlining several contracts with key industry partners to provide the long-term stability that will allow them to make investments, improve efficiencies and optimize their performance."

The performance-based logistics contracts are with BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Collins Elbit Vision Systems. The master repair agreements cover contracts with 12 separate suppliers, including Honeywell, GE and Eaton.

A 2017 PBL contract awarded to BAE Systems for the Electronic Warfare subsystem is already delivering a 25 percent improvement in the system's availability throughout global operations, Lockheed said.

Since 2015, Lockheed Martin said it has reduced its portion of operating costs per aircraft by 15 percent and the touch labor on its production line by about 75 percent.

The Joint Program Office has been working with Lockheed Martin and engine‐maker Pratt & Whitney to reduce the cost of the F‐35A to $80 million by 2020 for U.S. Air Force and international partners.

Mat Winter, the head of the program, told Inside Defense earlier this month the unit costs could be as low at $75 million in Lot 14.

"We'd like to be in the $75 [million] to $77 million range for Lot 14," Winter said. "I would say in the high 70s is achievable for Lot 14."

The average F-35 unit cost in fiscal year 2019 for the Defense Department was $108.78 million

The F-35B short take-off/vertical landing variant is used by the U.S. Marine Corps and some foreign military partners at a cost $115.5 million, USNI News reported. The F-35C carrier launched and arrested landing variant primarily used by the U.S. Navy cost $107.7 million each.

Joint foreign partners are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

The Joint Program Office is also working with Lockheed and Pratt to find production‐line efficiencies and reduce the time it takes to build the airframe and engine. Winter said he wants more automation on both companies' production lines as "the amount of automation that is not present is staggering."

"They need to truly invest in their people and their capital ... to increase the production flow and rate," Winter said. "The faster you go, the less it cots. The faster you go, the less time you have to make mistakes."

Lockheed expects to increase production by 40 percent in 2019 with the delivery of 131 aircraft.

About 20 percent of the 386 F-35 fighters have been delivered to international partners and customers through this month. The Marines received the first fighter jet in 2015, the Air Force in 2016 and the Navy this February.

The U.S. military will eventually receive 2,456 F-35s -- 1,763 for the Air Force, 420 for the Marine Corps and 273 for the Navy, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Pentagon's budget request for fiscal year 2020 allocates $11.2 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, $1.51 billion less than in fiscal year 2018 and $368.3 million less than in fiscal year 2019. The number of F-35s the Pentagon plans to order in fiscal year 2020 will drop by 15 aircraft to 78.

The transition to the F-35 "will result in a smaller total force over time and operational and overall cost efficiencies," according to a Joint Program Office report. It will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Lockheed signs long-term contracts with F-35 suppliers
 

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F-35As deployed to Middle East for first time
By
Allen Cone


Three F-35A Lightning II aircraft land at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, as part of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command. Photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/U.S. Air Force


April 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has deployed the F-35A Lightning II, a fifth-generation fighter plane, to the Middle East for the first time.
F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrived Monday at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirites from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command said Monday in a news release.

The planes are attached to the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and the reserve 419th Fighter Wing.

The F-35A, which has conventional takeoffs and landings, provides greater operational capability than other planes by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology, according to the Air Force. It is part of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

"The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. "When it comes to having a 'quarterback' for the coalition joint force, the inter-operable F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role."

In the fall of 2017, the F-35A deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England, as well as the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.
The F-35′s are now part of a coalition that carries out airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and scattered remnants of the Islamic State. One month ago, the B-1B Lancer bombers completed their deployment at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

"We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition," Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander, said. "The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors."

The F-35A is replacing planes such as the F-16 and A-10, which have been the Air Force's primary fighter jets for more than 20 years. The U.S. Navy will replace the F/A-18 with F-35C for carriers and the U.S. Marines will replace the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier with the F-35B for short takeoff and vertical landing.

"Numerous militaries around the world also need to recapitalize their aging fighter fleets with modern, more capable aircraft," Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, said on its website. "The F-35 was designed to recapitalize allied fighter fleets and counter emerging threats."

Principal partners are Northrop Grumman and BAE System. Pratt & Whitney builds the F-35's F135 propulsion system

The plane includes fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.

The Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft with a range of more than 1,350 miles with internal fuel, according to the Air Force. It was introduced to the Air Force in 2016.

F-35As deployed to Middle East for first time
 

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China won’t find lost F-35 stealth fighter first, says Pentagon
By: Kyle Rempfer   22.04.2019


A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II conducts aerial refueling over the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 11, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Peter Reft/Air Force)

The U.S. and Japanese militaries are dismissing the possibility that China will find Japan’s missing F-35A Lightning II aircraft before their own search parties.

“The Japanese have the lead there, and we’re working very collaboratively with them," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday. "And we’ve got a capability if what they have doesn’t prove to be sufficient.”

When asked whether he was concerned China could get to the crash site first, Shanahan said: “No, I’m not.”

The F-35, which belonged to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, crashed in the Pacific Ocean off northern Japan on April 9. The pilot was flying with three other F-35s when he lost contact and disappeared from radar roughly 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base.

Not long after the F-35 went missing, there was speculation about whether Chinese or Russian assets were searching for the secretive aircraft and whether they could beat the U.S. and Japan to the crash site.

“We don’t have such possibility, absolutely no,” Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said through an interpreter during a visit with his U.S. counterpart. “We are conducting surveillance and warning activities so we can identify and find the missing aircraft.”

Japan's defense minister was asked about the possibility of China or Russia attempting to salvage the crashed F-35 from the seafloor, among other issues related to the Joint Strike Fighter.

The area in which the F-35A crashed is estimated to be about 5,000 feet deep. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has deployed a rescue submarine, among other vessels, to search the area.

“This is a very important aircraft, so we would like to locate the aircraft as soon as we can and salvage it,” Iwaya said Friday. “Japan will lead the investigation, but we’re hoping and also it is indispensable to have the support of the U.S. So while we do that, we would like to find the root cause of the accident.”

China and Russia are each developing rival aircraft to the F-35. Unveiling secrets of the fifth-generation stealth fighter could potentially be a windfall for the U.S. military’s peer adversaries.

Appropriating the technology of lost military assets isn’t something out of the realm of possibility, as pointed out by Task & Purpose. In the early 1970s, the CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to recover a sunken Soviet submarine that the Kremlin had failed to rescue in 1968, according to declassified CIA documents.

The sub broke apart during the recovery operation, which took place at a depth of 16,000 feet, but the U.S. still managed to recover two nuclear-tipped torpedoes and some submarine manuals without the Soviets noticing, NPR reported.

Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers Jr. said Thursday that the primary U.S. search effort has ended, “however, we will continue to coordinate with our Japanese partners on efforts to locate and recover the missing aircraft.”

The incident has not shaken the American and Japanese militaries’ faith in the F-35 program, he said.

“The U.S., and all F-35 partners, remain fully committed to protecting all F-35 capabilities and technology," Summers added. "Our thoughts continue to be with the family, friends and colleagues of the missing pilot.”

U.S. Navy destroyer Stethem and several P-8A Poseidon aircraft took part in the search alongside Japan Self-Defense Forces, according to Defense News.

Some wreckage from the F-35 was found at sea; however, the pilot was not recovered and the bulk of the aircraft is still missing beneath the waves.

The cause of the crash is unknown. It is the second crash of an F-35. The U.S. Marine Corps lost an F-35B in South Carolina near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The pilot safely ejected during that incident.

“The department has full faith and confidence in the F-35 program," Summers said. “All 276 U.S. F-35s continue to fly, including U.S. Air Force F-35As in the U.S. [Central Command] area of responsibility.”

 

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Lockheed's Costly F-35 to Be Billions Costlier, Pentagon Finds
By Anthony Capaccio
April 22, 2019

The estimated total price for research and procurement has increased by $22 billion in current dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual cost assessment of major projects. The estimate for operating and supporting the fleet of fighters over more than six decades grew by almost $73 billion to $1.196 trillion.

The increase to $428.4 billion from $406.2 billion in acquisition costs, about a 5.5 percent increase, isn’t due to poor performance, delays or excessive costs for labor or materials, according to the Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Report sent to Congress last week and obtained by Bloomberg News.

Instead, the increase reflects for the first time the current cost estimates for a major set of upgrades planned in coming “Block 4” modifications, according to the report.

“Ensuring our Block 4 efforts are captured in our acquisition baseline and now in our SAR help us to provide full transparency and status on our F-35 modernization progress,” the Pentagon’s F-35 program office said in an emailed statement.

“The F-35 program remains within all cost, schedule and performance thresholds and continues to make steady progress,” the program office said in its statement. The office “is committed to the delivery of cost-effective warfighting capability across all areas of the program.”

But the long-range cost estimate for operating the fleet from 2011 to 2077 was problematic even before the latest independent Pentagon cost projection of an increase to $1.196 trillion. By contrast, the F-35 program office’s latest estimate declined by about $8.5 billion to $1 trillion.

Scrutiny Expected
The projected increase is likely to be scrutinized by lawmakers, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord and Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan because they have been pushing the program office and Lockheed to reduce projected operations and support costs.

As a potential sign of concern, the Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 proposed budget calls for 17 fewer F-35s than planned -- 81, according to the Selected Acquisition Report.

“At current estimates, the projected F-35 sustainment outlays based upon given planned fleet growth will strain future service operations and support budgets,” the report said. Lockheed also “must embrace much-needed supply chain management affordability initiatives, optimize priorities across the supply chain for spare and new production parts” and share the data rights to certain F-35 software with the Pentagon.

Lockheed’s View
Carolyn Nelson, a spokeswoman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, said in an email that the contractor “is taking aggressive action to build supply chain capacity, reduce supply chain costs and improve parts availability to help drive sustainment costs down while enhancing readiness.”

She said the actions by the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor include supply chain competitions, restructuring supplier contracts, synchronizing spare buys, improving parts reliability and accelerating modifications to earlier aircraft. Likewise, the company has “reduced our portion of ‘cost per aircraft’ per year by 15 percent since 2015 and we continue to look for ways to reduce costs,” she said.

The U.S. still plans to buy 2,456 total of the jets in its variations: 1,763 for the Air Force, 420 for the Marines and 273 for the Navy. The totals don’t include more than 700 potential foreign military sales.

Speed of Negotiations
The Pentagon report urged better cooperation from Lockheed to speed contract negotiations as the pace of F-35 production ramps up.

Talks for the 12th and largest production contract to date, valued at as much as $22 billion, have moved quickly and are on track to finish in mid-May. But that hasn’t always been the case. The Pentagon F-35 program office “continues to experience slow negotiation behaviors from the prime contractor that unnecessarily extends the timeline to contract award,” the report found.

Nelson said “we continue to negotiate in good faith” and in the current talks “used the actual data from the last 11 contracts as the basis of our offer.”

 

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April 24, 2019
Lockheed Martin awarded $117.1M contract for F-35 parts
By Ed Adamczyk

The Defense Department announced a $117.1 million contract with Lockheed Martin on Tuesday to provide spare parts for the F-35s of the U.S. Air Force and Marines. Photo by 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron/U.S. Air Force

April 24 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin has received a $117.1 million contract modification for a variety of spares for the F-35 fighter planes of the U.S. Air Force and Marines.

The deal, announced Tuesday by the Defense Department, covers air vehicle initial spares, including a deployment spares package, afloat spares package, and associated consumables to support air vehicle delivery schedules.

Most of the work will be conducted at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas, facility, with the rest performed at locations across the United States and United Kingdom.

Work is expected to be finished by August 2023.

The new contract comes after the company last week announced that it negotiated new long-term logistics and repair contracts with F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft suppliers, based on performance-based logistics and master repair agreements, to improve capacity, reduce costs and enhance supply availability.

Lockheed's contracts are with BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Collins Elbit Vision Systems. The master repair agreements cover contracts with 12 separate suppliers, including Honeywell, General Electric and Eaton.

 

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Search effort closing in on missing Japanese stealth fighter
By Brad Lendon, CNN
April 24, 2019

Japanese Air Self-Defense Force personnel pose for a photo during the arrival of the first Japanese F-35A at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in 2016.


Japanese Air Self-Defense Force personnel pose for a photo during the arrival of the first Japanese F-35A at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in 2016.
Hong Kong (CNN)Search efforts may be closing in on the wreckage of a Japanese F-35 stealth fighter that crashed into the Pacific Ocean two weeks ago, perplexing investigators and raising questions about the reliability of world's most-advanced warplane.

"We have a pretty good idea where it is," a senior US Navy official told CNN this week, adding that the search area was looking at depths around 1,500 feet (450 meters), far shallower than the 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) that had been speculated, and a depth that would make recovery operations much easier.

The US-designed F-35 is considered to be the best stealth jet technology in operation. It's sudden and unexplained disappearance from radar just minutes into a training flight over the Pacific has raised concerns that China or Russia could try to get to access to the wreckage, though both US and Japanese officials have dismissed the idea.

In response to a question regarding the security of the wreckage during a visit to Washington last week, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said the country's naval forces were keeping close watch on the search area.

On Tuesday, Iwaya announced plans to dispatch a civilian deep-sea research vessel to the search area east of the northern tip of the Japanese main island of Honshu.
A Japan Coast Guard's vessel and US military plane search for a Japanese fighter jet, in the waters off Aomori, northern Japan, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.


A Japan Coast Guard's vessel and US military plane search for a Japanese fighter jet, in the waters off Aomori, northern Japan, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

The ship, which the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology calls "the world's most advanced research vessel," carries a remotely operated submarine and equipment to grab samples from the ocean floor.

Iwaya also said the US had chartered a private ship equipped with cranes able to work in deep water to join the effort.

The final minutes
The lost jet went missing while on a training mission from Misawa Air Base in northern Japan on April 9.

The pilot, Maj. Akinori Hosomi, a 41-year-old with 3,200 hours of flight experience, signaled to his squadron mates that he'd need to abort the training mission they were on before his craft disappeared from radar.

Pieces of the planes tail fins were recovered from the sea, but the search continues for the pilot and the bulk of the aircraft.
Japan grounded the other 12 active F-35s in its fleet after the crash.

With 147 of the $100-million-plus F-35s on order, Japan plans for the planes to be the mainstay of its air forces for decades to come, and officials have said since the crash that their faith in the program has not wavered.

The United States has hundreds of the jets in its fleets and on order.

The Pentagon said its F-35 operations were unaffected by the crash. "The US, and all F-35 partners, remain fully committed to protecting all F-35 capabilities and technology," acting Defense Department spokesman Charles Summers said last week.

"The department has full faith and confidence in the F-35 program. All 276 US F-35's continue to fly."

CNN's Ryan Browne and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.

 

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Lockheed Awarded $90M to Establish F-35 Core Processor Depot Repair System
Darwin McDaniel
April 26, 2019

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) has received a $90.7M contract modification from the Naval Air Systems Command to create an organic depot repair process for the F-35 integrated core processor.

The fixed-price-incentive-fee award combines purchases from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the Department of Defense said Thursday.
Work under the modification will take place in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas through October 2022.

Harris (NYSE: HRS) won a Lockheed-led competition last year to build an ICP system that would process data from the F-35 aircraft’s sensor, guidance and control, electronic warfare cockpit and helmet display and communications systems.

https://www.govconwire.com/2019/04/lockheed-awarded-90m-to-establish-f-35-core-processor-depot-repair-system/
 

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Government watchdog finds more problems with F-35’s spare parts pipeline
By: Valerie Insinna
26.04.2019

Issues with spare parts are contributing to low mission-capability rates in the F-35 fleet. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — Only about half of the F-35 fighter jets worldwide were ready to fly during an eight-month period in 2018, with the wait for spare parts keeping jets on the ground nearly 30 percent of the time, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Over the past several years, the Defense Department sought to improve mission-capable rates by making improvements to the way it and F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin order, stockpile and repair spare parts. However, GAO’s findings imply the situation may have gotten worse.

The GAO’s report, released April 25, investigated how spare parts shortages impacted F-35 availability and mission-capable rates in 2018, with most data gathered between a May and November sustainment contract period.

“In 2017, we reported that DOD was experiencing sustainment challenges that were reducing warfighter readiness, including delays of 6 years in standing up repair capabilities for F-35 parts at its depots and significant spare parts shortages that were preventing the F-35 fleet from flying about 20 percent of the time,” the report found.

“According to prime contractor data, from May through November 2018, F-35 aircraft across the fleet were unable to fly 29.7 percent of the time due to spare parts shortages,” it said. “Specifically, the F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter requirements.”

That lack of improvement may make it more difficult for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to hit an 80 percent mission-capable rate by the end of fiscal 2019, as mandated last fall by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The military services stopped providing mission-capable rates for aircraft last year, citing operational sensitivities. However, the data put forth by the GAO indicates progress stagnated in the lead-up to Mattis’ order.

From May to November 2018, mission-capable rates — which measure how many planes possessed by a squadron can perform at least one of its missions — hovered around 50 percent for all versions of the F-35.

But when GAO assessed how many planes were fully mission capable — meaning the ability to fulfill all of their mission sets — all variants were far from meeting the 60 percent target. Only 2 percent of F-35C carrier takeoff and landing versions hit the fully mission-capable mark, with the F-35Bs slightly better at 16 percent and the F-35A at 34 percent.

The GAO is skeptical that the services will hit the 80 percent mission-capable rate goal this year, and it is even more critical of the Defense Department’s plans to fund spares in future years.

The department intends to buy “only enough parts to enable about 80 percent of its aircraft to be mission-capable based on the availability of parts.” However, that planning construct will likely only yield a 70 percent mission-capable rate at best, the GAO said, because it only accounts for the aircraft on the flight line and not jets that are in the depot for longer-term maintenance.

No silver bullet
Like all complicated problems, there is no single solution for the F-35 spare parts shortage, which is driven by a number of factors.

GAO indicated the Defense Department has “a limited capacity” to repair broken parts, creating a backlog of 4,300 parts. Between September and November, it took more than six months to fix parts that should have been repaired in a window of two to three months.

The F-35’s much-maligned Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, was designed to track parts and automate the process of generating and expediting work orders; however, GAO said the system requires manual workarounds from users to accomplish tasks.

Supply and maintenance personnel cited challenges such as “missing or corrupted electronic spare parts data,” limited automation, and problems caused by ALIS’ subsystems not properly communicating with each other, it said.

As the F-35 is still a relatively new platform, it has taken time for the program to assess which parts have been failing more often than previously estimated — but that is an area where the Defense Department is making progress, the GAO stated.

“DOD has identified specific parts shortages that are causing the greatest aircraft capability degradation, and it is developing short-term and long-term mitigation strategies to increase the quantity and reliability of these parts,” the report said.

One such component is a coating used on the F-35’s canopy to maintain stealth characteristics, which has been found to peel off at an unexpected rate, creating a heightened demand for canopies.

“To address these challenges, the program is looking for additional manufacturing sources for the canopy and is considering design changes,” the GAO stated.

But — somewhat paradoxically — the F-35 has been flying long enough that there are significant parts differences between the first jets that rolled off the production line to the most recently manufactured planes. The GAO found “at least 39 different part combinations across the fleet” on top of variations in software.

“According to the program office, DOD spent more than $15 billion to purchase F-35 aircraft from the earliest lots of production, specifically lots 2 through 5 … but it faces challenges in providing enough spare parts for these aircraft,” the report stated.

One problem — the cannibalization of F-35 aircraft for parts — is partially user-inflicted.

“From May through November 2018, F-35 squadrons cannibalized (that is, took) parts from other aircraft at rates that were more than six times greater than the services’ objective,” the GAO stated. “These high rates of cannibalization mask even greater parts shortages, because personnel at F-35 squadrons are pulling parts off of other aircraft that are already unable to fly instead of waiting for new parts to be delivered through the supply chain.”

During an interview this February, Lt. Col. Toby Walker, deputy commander of the 33rd Maintenance Group, told Defense News that F-35 maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, had stopped pulling parts off a cannibalized F-35 and had seen some improvements to mission-capable rates as a result.

“We’re not continually moving parts from one aircraft to another. We’re relying on the program to provide our parts,” he said. “It was a very strategic plan to do that to increase aircraft availability by not sitting an aircraft down.”

In a statement, Lockheed Martin said it took key steps to improve parts availability, such as transitioning some suppliers to performance-based logistics contracts that incentivize companies to meet certain targets, as well as “master repair agreements” that will allow other suppliers to make longer-term investments in their production capability.

“These actions are beginning to deliver results and we’re forecasting additional improvement. Newer production aircraft are averaging greater than 60 percent mission capable rates, with some operational squadrons consistently at 70 percent,” the company said.

“From a cost perspective, Lockheed Martin has reduced its portion of cost per aircraft per year by 15 percent since 2015. Our goal is to further reduce costs to $25,000 cost per flight hour by 2025, which is comparable to legacy aircraft while providing a generational leap in capability.”

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2019/04/25/government-watchdog-finds-more-problems-with-f-35s-spare-parts-pipeline/
 

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5 Reasons the F-35 Is Nearly Unstoppable in the Sky
And Russia and China should worry.

by Loren B. Thompson
April 25, 2019

The next-generation contender has a stronger punch, a longer reach, and superior situational awareness.

This week's performance by the F-35 fighter at the Paris Air Show is a turning point for the world's most advanced multi-role fighter, demonstrating that even when fully loaded with combat gear, it can out-perform the tactical aircraft of every other country. Although prime contractor Lockheed Martin has always professed confidence F-35 would prove itself, a dwindling collection of critics continues to attack the plane citing outdated or simply erroneous arguments.

The critics fail to grasp that F-35 is one of the greatest technological achievements of this generation, a program that will assure global air dominance for the U.S. and its allies through mid-century. It also will help assure that aerospace remains America's most dynamic export sector. F-35 will generate tens of billions of dollars in trade earnings, and tens of thousands of jobs, from over a dozen foreign customers. The plane has never lost a competition in which it went head-to-head with other fighters.

However, the triumph of the F-35 is obscured by the way in which news is reported. Program coverage often highlights the latest development, good or bad, without capturing the steady progress made over 16 years since the development contract was first awarded, nor the high priority that three U.S. military services have continuously assigned the program through multiple presidencies. What follows, therefore, is a concise review of five areas of accomplishment that collectively demonstrate the F-35 program has become a smashing success.

Testing. This year the F-35 program will wrap up the most comprehensive flight test program in aviation history. The three variants of the fighter being built for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have undergone 8,000 flights to gauge their performance without identifying a single show-stopper. Each of the variants has met all its "signature" specifications for stealthiness, making F-35 by far the most survivable fighter being built anywhere. Sensor fusion, networked operations, and other features have been thoroughly tested and retested, assuring the planes will always see first and fire first in aerial engagements. Tests of the Navy version were the most successful at-sea trials the service has ever conducted.

Operations. The Marine Corps version of the F-35 has been operational for two years and the Air Force version for one year. F-35s have deployed to Japan (from which they recently engaged in exercises with South Korea's military) and Europe (where they participated in exercises across the continent). Israel, the only Middle Eastern country approved to buy F-35, is also operating the plane.

Over 200 F-35s have been delivered, with the number expected to rise to 600 in 2020. Over 400 pilots and 4,000 maintainers have been trained at 12 operating bases. In recent Red Flag exercises, the Air Force variant achieved a kill ratio of better than 20-to-1 against adversary aircraft while being available over 90% of the time.

Cost. The Air Force version of F-35, the one being bought by most allies, is projected to cost $85 million in 2019. That's about what the latest version of legacy fighters like the F-16 cost, equivalent to roughly ten minutes of federal spending at current rates. It is also less than what a 737 MAX, Boeing's smallest next-generation jetliner, lists for.

The peak year for F-35 production is scheduled in 2026, at which point all the fighters for all three domestic military services will cost less than a single day's worth of federal spending ($13.6 billion versus $17.5 billion). If current trends hold up, the planes could be even cheaper: the price-tag for the Air Force version of F-35 fell 12% over the last two production lots.

Demand. Washington has not wavered from its plan to buy 2,457 F-35s since development began in 2001. Obviously, that would not be the case if
the program had encountered major problems. It is unusual for three services to stick with a plan through multiple presidencies covering 16 years.

Equally striking, almost all of the original international partners have stuck with the program, and several new players have signed on -- Denmark, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Canada is the only country that has wavered, and in all likelihood, it will return to the fold once it sees the advantages of buying a highly survivable fighter operated by most of its key allies. F-35 has emerged as the global gold standard of next-gen air power.

Pilots. The most telling testimonials to F-35 excellence come from the pilots who have flown the plane. The Navy reported after the first at-sea trials of the carrier version that "the aircraft demonstrated exceptional performance throughout its initial sea trials." More recently, a squadron commander who participated in last year's Northern Lightning exercise told an in-house Air Force publication, "I couldn't ask for anything better. It's like fighting somebody with their hands tied behind their backs."

Another pilot flying adversary aircraft in the exercise remarked, "We just can't see them like they can see us. It can feel like you are out there with a blindfold on." Pilots generally say F-35 is far superior to legacy fighters.

If you are searching for a metaphor that captures what F-35 delivers to America's military, consider the example of two prize fighters. The next-generation contender has a stronger punch, a longer reach, and superior situational awareness. But he also has something else that transforms the fight -- he is invisible to his adversary. Whatever the other fellow's training might be, he can't see his rival to land a punch.

So he's down before the first round is over. That's what makes the F-35 a game-changing aircraft, the one plane that can keep America's enemies at bay for another generation. It isn't just the best air power option the joint force has -- it's the only one that works in places like Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia.


Loren Thompson is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute and taught nuclear strategy at Georgetown University.

 

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Israel Air Force opens second F-35 squadron
The squadron will be called "Defenders of the Negev."
By Anna Ahronheim
April 28, 2019
F35 Adir fighter jet

The F35 fighter jet plane, also known as the Adir, on the Tarmac at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas.
(photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN / ALEXANDER H. GROVES)


The Israel Air Force opened a second squadron of F-35 stealth fighter jets, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The squadron will be called “Defenders of the South.” According to industry sources, Israel will have 20 F-35I fighter jets by 2020.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature, allowing them to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400, which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.

With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots of the stealth jet have an unparalleled access to information while in the air.

The IAF currently has 14 F-35 Adir aircraft and is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.

With a need to keep ahead of increased threats in the Middle East, the IAF is set to decide within the coming months whether to place orders on several new aircraft to upgrade its aging squadrons.

The IAF is also now considering whether to purchase an additional 25 F-35s to give Israel a total of 75 stealth fighter jets.
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While the F-35I has advantages such as intelligence gathering, the F-15IA’s assets closely match most missions carried out by the IAF, such as dealing with enemy missile launch sites or terror targets on its northern or southern borders.

Although the F-35 is considered one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, the stealth aircraft is limited in the weapons they are able to carry, as they have to be stored in internal munition boxes to maintain a low radar signature.

And in parallel to the fifth-generation aircrafts, the IAF needs to retain its qualitative military edge and modernize an essential squadron of its fighter fleet. Most of the IAF’s F-15s are more than 30 years old, with the majority acquired in the second half of the 1970s, in comparison to the more advanced squadron of the F-15, as the F-15I arrived in Israel in the 1990s.

The F-15IA model that the IAF is leaning toward purchasing is one of the most advanced and cost-effective fighter planes ever to be built, with various upgrades to the earlier models such as more efficient engines and fly-by-wire avionics, which is considered the biggest change to the jet in 20 years.

Officials believe that a force mix of F-35I Adirs along with a squadron of F-15IA would allow Israel to carry out a number of complex operations, including any possible confrontation with Iran on its borders.

 

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April 27, 2019
The Next Country to Get the F-35 Could Be Poland (And Russia Won't Like It)
If history is any guide Warsaw will put the 5th-generation fighter to good use—if need be.
by Sebastien Roblin

In February 2019, the Polish ministry of defense issued plans to procure thirty-two “fifth-generation [stealth] jets” for its Harpia fighter program to replace the Polish Air Force’s aging Soviet-era MiG-29 and Su-22 jets.

As the F-35 Lightning II is currently the only fifth-generation stealth fighter on the market—unless you count the Su-57 sold by Russia, Poland’s chief potential adversary—there’s little doubt as to which aircraft is being referred to. In April 2019, the United States confirmed it was considering selling F-35s to Poland, as well as Greece, Romania, Singapore and Spain.

Previously, the Harpia program placed the F-35 had in competition with faster and more agile 4.5-generation Typhoon, Super Hornet and F-15X jet fighters. By canceling the competition, the Polish government reveals it believes the survivability advantages offered by the F-35’s stealthy radar cross-section and the abilities of its networkable sensors outweighed its shortcomings as a dogfighter or interceptor. One issue, for example, is that S-400 surface-to-air missiles batteries in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad could theoretically interdict over half of Polish airspace.

However, Warsaw’s ditching of the competition may reflect concerns over the high accident rates of its aging MiG-29s, as well as decreasing F-35 unit costs to around $80 million per plane. Supposedly, Poland could begin operating F-35s as soon as 2024.

The F-35 would mark a new chapter in the PAF’s long and eventful history in aerial warriors—and mark a return to a pilot-centric paradigm air warfare the Poles were once famous for.

Prior to World War II, Poland dedicated only $2 per capita of defense spending to military aviation compared to $100 for the German Luftwaffe, then the most advanced air arm in the world. While the PAF fielded modern P.23 attack planes and P.37 bombers, its P.11 and older P.7 fighters were badly outdated—even more so than most other early-war Allied aircraft.

While the “outdated” French MS.406 and British Hawker Hurricane had top speeds of 300 and 342 miles per hour, and armaments of eight machine guns and two machine guns plus a cannon respectively, the gull-winged P.11 could attain only 242 miles per hour and carried two machine guns.

But despite these deficiencies, Polish pilots received an unusually good training program and acquired a romantic reputation for their bold maneuvers. Moreover, the Polish Air Force prepared for war with a network of secret satellite airfields from which Polish fighters could harry invaders.

When waves of Nazi bombers flew over the border on September 1, 1939, to bombard Warsaw and destroy the PAF on the ground, they blasted outdated or inactive aircraft while the PAF’s frontline squadrons escaped unscathed on the satellite fields. Nazi propaganda nonetheless falsely claimed to have destroyed the PAF in three days.

In fact, in the first six days of combat, Poles flying outdated P.11 shot down over 105 Nazi warplanes for the loss of 79 of their own. Meanwhile, according to Germany army accounts, Polish bombers inflicted enough damage to knockout 28 percent of the tanks of the 4th Panzer Division and delay the XCI Panzer Corps for two days.

Of course, the PAF could not overcome the Nazi’s overwhelming numerical, technical and geographic advantages—even more so when the Soviet Union invaded from the east to claim its share of Polish territory. Ultimately, hundreds of PAF pilots fled across the border to Romania, along with 150 aircraft which were promptly confiscated. However, many of the aviators then managed to escape to France, a historical ally of Poland, and served with the French Air Force.

As Panzer tanks rolled into the low countries, Polish pilots of the I/145 “Warsaw Squadron” received thirty-five pokey Caudron C.714 monoplanes. They were deemed so underpowered the French war minister promptly ordered the type withdrawn, but lacking alternative mounts, the Poles flew C.714s into battle anyway and shot down twelve to fifteen German bombers and fighters for nine losses in four days.

Other Polish squadrons in French service flying MS.406s and excellent Bloch MB.151, FK.58 and Dewoitine D.520 fighters contributed to a total of roughly fifty-three kills.

Once again, the Poles were forced to evacuate—this time to the United Kingdom. The British gave the Polish pilots an initially cool reception, requiring they swear an oath to King George, disallowing their use of national flags, uniformly ranking them as mere Pilot Officers, and assigning them British minders who doubted their discipline and seethed over their tendency to communicate in Polish over the radio during combat.

But the UK faced a desperate pilot shortage as the RAF battled daily Luftwaffe raids during the Battle of Britain, so in August the veteran Polish fliers of 302 and 303 squadrons were finally deployed in the Battle of Britain.

The 303 squadron particularly claimed an extraordinary 126 aerial kills for the loss of seven pilots, though historical research can verify only roughly half the kills. Even by that conservative figure, 303 was the highest scoring Hurricane unit of the Battle of Britain, and had the best kill-to-loss ratio, at 2.8:1.

Over the next five years, over nineteen thousand Polish personnel would serve in the RAF operating everything from Mustang fighters, Mosquito night-fighters, Lancaster heavy bombers and sub-hunting patrol planes. Such was their reputation, American writer Ralph Ingersoll observed: “they say the girls cannot resist the Poles, nor the Poles the girls."

However, the UK-based Polish fliers reception turned for the worse postwar, as their homeland had been reoccupied by a Red Army not keen on inviting the government-in-exile back.

Thus the postwar Polish Air Force was reformed drawing from Polish pilots who fought with the “Air Force of the Polish Army”—a unit organized by the Soviets in 1943 which had grown to sixteen thousand personnel by the end of the war. The force includes regiments of Yak fighters, Il-2 Shturmovik ground attack planes, Po-2 utility/night raiders, and speedy Pe-2 twin-engine bombers.

The Soviet-aligned Polish aviators primarily flew ground attack missions, claiming destruction of numerous ground targets as well as sixteen enemy aircraft, for the loss of thirty-six aircraft and twenty-five pilots killed. Postwar, this evolved into the reconstituted PAF.

Equipped with Soviet fighters, many domestically manufactured in Poland itself, the PAF naturally adopted Soviet-style tactic centered around ground controllers.

While Ground Control Intercept is used by all modern air forces, the Soviet pilots relied on it to a greater degree. Relying on ground-based radars compensated for the weaker radars on many Soviet fighters, as well fit in with the Soviet Union’s more defensive aerial posture attempting to guard its vast aerial frontiers.

Reliance on GCI also reflected a broader tendency in Soviet military culture to minimize use of initiative by low-ranking frontline combatants in favor of decisions made by mid- and high-ranking officers. Though intended to control the chaos inherent to warfare, this policy could render Soviet units inflexible and slow to react to changing situations.

When the Polish Air Force was finally folded into NATO in 1999, Western pilots remarked upon how Polish pilots had been trained to rely upon ground control for routine combat tasks. While the PAF acquired multi-role F-16C/D jets with significantly better situational awareness and networking capabilities than their Soviet stablemates, its MiG-29s and Su-22s could not be easily upgraded to fit in with Western network-centric warfare.

Warsaw’s apparent decision to acquire F-35s will grant Polish pilots a new platform that not only has powerful sensors, but which can serve as a node, networking its sensor data to enhance friendly forces on ground and air. While the Lightning II may lack the flashy agility of 4.5-generation jets like the Typhoon one might associate with Polish military aviation’s dashing reputation, its ability to penetrate deeper into contested airspace may once again place Polish combat pilots back in the pilot’s seat.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

 

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APRIL 30, 2019
Lockheed awarded $1.1B contract for F-35 support
By Allen Cone


F-35 Lightning II jets perform aerial maneuvers during a combat power exercise at Hill Air Force Base in Utah on November 19, 2018. The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings are the first combat-ready F-35 unit in the Air Force. Photo by Airman 1st Class James Kennedy/U.S. Air Force


April 30 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $1.1 billion contract for sustainment services in support of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft for the United States and allies.

The work is for the Air Force, Navy, non-U. S. Department of Defense participants and foreign military sales customers, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Services covered by the contract include ground maintenance activities, action request resolution, depot activation activities, Automatic Logistics Information System operation and maintenance as well as reliability, maintainability and health management implementation and support; supply chain management; and activities to provide and support pilot and maintainer initial training.

Sixty percent of the work will be performed at Boeing's plant in in Fort Worth, Texas; 24 percent in Orlando, Fla., 7 percent in Greenville, S.C., 5 percent in Samlesbury, Preston, Britain, and 4 percent in El Segundo, Calif.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022.

The contract combines purchases for the Air Force at $477.9 million, the Navy at $346.8 million, non-U.S. DoD participants at $231.2 million and foreign customers at $92.9 million.

Fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, $811.2 million of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Earlier this month, Lockheed announced a series of deals with subcontractors the company says will lower the cost of the F-35, as well as improve availability of parts.

Supply chain issues have caused lower-than-desired performance of the fighter plane, the General Accounting Office said in a report last week.
The 59-page report noted that the jet also is unable to fly as often as required because of spare parts shortages and logistical problems in moving parts around the world.

GAO said from May to November 2018, F-35s were unable to fly 30 percent of the time because of shortages and mismatched parts, and that the Defense Department has an order backlog of about 4,300 parts.

The average F-35 unit cost for the Defense Department was $108.8 million in fiscal year 2019.

Joint foreign partners on the F-35 program are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

The F-35 is planned to replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Lockheed awarded $1.1B contract for F-35 support
 

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Germany’s F-35 fighter rebuff raises questions for Nato partners
by Sylvia Pfeifer in London April 29, 2019
Lockheed Martin’s Europe chief warns ‘retrograde step’ imperils defence co-operation

Berlin said in January it had decided against buying the F-35 and was looking instead at the Eurofighter from Airbus or Boeing's F-18

Germany’s decision not to buy the F-35 stealth fighter jet is a “retrograde step” that could hamper the country’s ability to operate at the same level as its Nato partners, according to the European head of Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the aircraft.

Jonathan Hoyle, vice-president for Europe at the US defence group, said the German decision in January to exclude the F-35 from further consideration as a replacement for its ageing Tornado fleet had caught a lot of governments “on the hop”. The German defence ministry said at the time it had decided to acquire either more Eurofighters from Airbus, the European group, or Boeing-made F-18s.

With the German rhetoric in the past three years having been about stepping up its defence capabilities, the decision not to consider the F-35 had prompted questions among other European governments over “Germany’s position going forward, and therefore what does it mean for Nato”, Mr Hoyle told the Financial Times in an interview.

He added that during a recent visit to Nato several ambassadors had expressed “disappointment” at the German decision. They had noted that while many of their countries were investing in fifth-generation fighter jet technology by opting for the F-35, “Germany, which has the biggest defence budget, has just taken this retrograde step and isn’t going to be there”.

“So when we go off and collaborate together operationally, if you are flying stealth, fifth-generation jets, you don’t want a fourth-generation jet in the middle of your operations because everyone can see that,” he added.

The German decision was seen by many defence observers as a signal by Berlin that it remained committed to pursuing a next-generation Franco-German “future combat air system” (FCAS). Paris had previously voiced fears that a German order to buy the F-35, widely seen as the most advanced aircraft on the shortlist, could have made the FCAS project — due to form the backbone of both countries’ air forces after 2040 — redundant.

A key issue for Germany, according to defence analysts, will be how a new fleet can continue to carry and deploy US nuclear weapons stationed at Büchel, in the west of the country, as part of Nato’s “nuclear sharing” arrangement. Any replacement for the Tornado will have to be able to do the same and be certified to do so by the US.

Germany’s position on defence has come under repeated fire from US president Donald Trump, who has criticised the government for not spending enough. Mike Pence, the US vice-president, renewed the criticism at Nato’s 70th anniversary celebrations this month.

Despite the setback on the F-35, Mr Hoyle said Lockheed continued to regard Germany as a “big addressable marketplace”. Lockheed has an interest in a number of significant defence programmes in the country, including heavy-lift helicopters, as well as missile defence, where Germany has a lead Nato role.

Europe remains a key growth area for Lockheed, added Mr Hoyle, notably Poland, which will become a regional hub for the group. Poland has pledged to spend 2 per cent of its strongly growing gross domestic product each year on defence as part of a 10-year modernisation plan outlined in 2013.

 

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The US Air Force just carried out airstrikes with its F-35s for the first time ever
01.May.2019 2h
Valerie Insinna,
Defense News
f35a
The first F-35A Lightning II to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, arrives September 13, 2013. US Air Force Photo

  • Two F-35As carried out airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq on Tuesday, marking the first time the Air Force has used its variant of the Joint Strike Fighter in combat.

WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has finally flown its variant of the F-35 in combat, using two of the aircraft to take out an ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache in Iraq on April 30.

Tuesday's airstrikes — the first US use of the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing model at war — follow the combat employment Israel Defense Forces' F-35As in May 2018 and US Marine Corps' F-35Bs in September 2018.

According to US Air Forces Central Command, the airstrike occurred at Wadi Ashai, in northeast Iraq. An April 24 news release from US Central Command stated that ISIS fighters "have been attempting to move munitions, equipment and personnel" to Wadi Ashai in order to "set conditions for their resurgence," prompting a counter-offensive by Iraqi Security Forces and supported by Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve.

"The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces," stated the AFCENT release, which used an alternative name for ISIS.

Further information about the event, including whether the strikes were successful, was not made available in the release.

An Air Force airstrike using the F-35A has been widely anticipated for weeks, after the service deployed the fighter jet to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on April 15. The service has not specified how many F-35s are now operating in the Middle East, but all jets are from the 388th Fighter Wing and the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, is the US military's newest fighter jet. The program has been beset by cost and schedule overruns since its start about 20 years ago, and the Government Accountability Office estimates that the program will cost in excess of $1 trillion over its lifetime.

F-35 operators deployed to Al Dhafra praised the utility of the aircraft's high-end sensor suite and computers in a combat environment.

"We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal," said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35A pilot. "That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR [area of responsibility] contingencies."

Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician, added that "this jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions."

 

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ANALYSIS: US Navy's stealth fighters find new and evolving roles
  • 30 APRIL, 2019
  • BY: GARRETT REIM
US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) may have declared the Lockheed Martin F-35C initial operational capable in February 2019, but the evolution of the stealth fighter – and its US Marine Corps (USMC) cousin, the F-35B – is far from over.

In hopes that it can outgun long-range anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles from China and Russia, the Joint Strike Fighter programme plans to continually update the F-35 Lightning II’s internal software and hardware, as well as its ability to carry new sensors and weapons. New technologies on the horizon include far-reaching air-to-air missiles, lasers and continuous software upgrades, which could improve the aircraft’s manoeuvrability and its ability to make sense of a torrent of battlefield data.

On the flip side, the JSF programme is working hard to reduce the cost of operating the F-35B and F-35C. The stealth fighter costs on average $35,000 per hour to fly, as opposed to $18,000 per hour claimed by Boeing for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

All this is going on as the fighter’s key characteristic – stealth – is increasingly doubted as a trump card in aerial warfare. Boeing has convinced the USN to buy dozens more non-stealthy Super Hornets. It has also convinced the US Air Force buy F-15EXs.

For its part, the USMC will become an entirely fifth-generation fleet in 2030. It will hold onto some McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier IIs until 2028 and legacy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets until at least 2030. The F-35B was declared initial operational capable in 2015 by the USMC and in September 2018 flew its first combat mission, an air strike in Afghanistan, from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex.

The USN says its first deployment of the F-35C won’t come until 2021. The service plans to steadily increase the stealth fighter’s presence on carrier decks, but won’t reach a 50-50 mix of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F-35Cs until 2030.

OPERATIONAL ROLE
In light of the prolonged life of fourth-generation aircraft, rival airframer Boeing has gone so far as to say that the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth technology has been reduced to niche missions. However, the F-35’s role is increasingly seen as an advanced scout and air commander, said Rear Admiral Scott D Conn, in testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on 10 April.

“I foresee the F-35 forward operating, sensing, collecting and relaying information back to a weapons truck, known as a Super Hornet,” he says. “I see the E-2D involved in relaying critical information to all those fighters out there, while the EA-18 Growler with next generation jammers is providing coverage. So it’s that systems of systems. It’s quite frankly, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

To allow the F-35C to operate beyond its 1,200nm (2,200km) range limitation, as a kind of airborne early warning and control aircraft, the USN envisions it being topped off with avgas by the forthcoming Boeing MQ-25A Stingray UAV in-flight refuelling tanker. That could help keep long-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft threats – weapons increasingly deployed by China and Russia – at arm’s length.

The F-35C is particularly well suited for this forward operating role because its stealth, suite of sensors and weapons load allows pilots to react quickly to enemy aircraft, says Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for Military Aerospace with International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
“If you can get inside your opponent’s decision cycle, you can stand a better chance of winning and surviving. And they stand a greater chance of losing,” he says. “Forewarned is forearmed.”

In addition to killing its own prey, an F-35C could also gather targeting data and call back to an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to fire on air or ground targets using long-range missiles, adds Rear Adm Conn.

To be sure, flying any type of aircraft over the Pacific Ocean or around the fringes of Russia has become more complicated. Networked radar and missile installations on islands surrounding mainland China, especially sprinkled across the South China Sea, are making covert operations more difficult, even for the F-35.

“They get more angles in which to see US aircraft. Radars which are networked together, coming at the aircraft from different angles with different frequencies, just extends their network and makes it more robust, harder to attack,” says Andrew Hunter, senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. “Obviously, the Russians are very good on the technology and have amazing, capable missiles systems as well as radars. They don’t seem to have quite the same numbers that the Chinese have at this point. They are more fiscally constrained.”

Against such threats Rear Adm Conn says he still maintains his confidence in the F-35.

“If I had to go over the beach in some areas, it makes more sense to send an F-35 than a Super Hornet,” he says, using a euphemism for flying over the coast of another sovereign country.

To enable the F-35 to play such a leading role in USN and USMC operations, the JSF programme needs to increase the fighter’s mission capability rate and reduce its life cycle costs.

All variants of the F-35 fleet should reach an 80% mission capability rate by September 2020, said Vice Admiral Mathias Winter, executive officer of the Joint Programme Office (JPO) to the US House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee on 4 April. Currently, the F-35B has a 64% mission capability rate and the F-35C has 84%. The JSF is targeting a $25,000 per flight hour operating cost by 2025.

Much of the USN and USMC’s ability to cut costs will come with experience flying and repairing the F-35, says Hunter.

“Generally, as we have operated stealth aircraft now for almost three decades, the cost of maintaining them has come down. The materials we have used have come a long way,” he says. However, Hunter notes: “I don’t expect stealth aircraft will ever be quite as cheap as non-stealth aircraft because there are just maintenance tasks you have to do [that] you don’t have to on non-stealth aircraft.”

NEW CAPABILITIES
For Rear Adm Conn, the three top priorities for upgrading the USN’s aircraft fleet are: automation, manned-unmanned teaming and artificial intelligence.

“I see that as accelerating the observe, orient, decide, act [cycle] – to make quicker decisions, provide more lethal actions,” he says. “I see that driving simplicity down to the lowest possible level because our tactics are overly complex.”

Over the next decade, the F-35B and F-35C are also likely to increasingly be used as an electronic warfare platform, says Barrie: “We will be opening up its capabilities in the electro-magnetic warfare spectrum: How the aircraft can be used in terms of suppression of enemy air defences, destruction of enemy air defences. You know, hard kill or soft kill.”

Other areas to watch include the integration of beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, such as the MBDA Meteor, which is planned for integration into the UK’s F-35B fleet. Laser or high-powered microwave weapons, as well as radio frequency warheads, could also find their way onto the stealth fighter, says Barrie.

By the time 2030 hits, the USN wants to be ready for its next aircraft, says Rear Adm Conn. “Then we are going to have to have a [Next Generation Air Dominance] discussion,” he says, naming the USN programme to find its next fighter aircraft. “The [analysis of alternatives] will be complete in the next couple of months. The report [will be] out this summer, which will inform future choices.”

ANALYSIS: US Navy's stealth fighters find new and evolving roles
 

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