The latest news from Lockheed Martin is that the F-35 will have shorter range than expected.. which have been due to some "miscalculations" in the estimation of the fuel capacity and payload. Other reasons include , the addition of new avionics components in the bay area which has increased the airplane drag.
Apart from this, several of the initial program requirements for the F-35 JSF have been compromised a bit ( or modified) to accomodate Lockheed`s technical difficulties with it.
The cost of the F-35 is now much more higher than what it was supposed to be initially and many of the partner countries are now rethinking their decisions on the purchase quantity.There are also concerns about the stability of the F-35 STOVL version and many issues with the structural reliability.
Where is the F-35 project now headed? will it deliver upto the promise ?
Or better still , how lethal will it actually be when it enters service .
The actual reason for the temporary reduction in range is due to heat generated by the avionics. They are having to use more bleed air from the engine which reduces it's efficiency. I say temporary because there are several strategies that Lockheed Martin can use to recoup the range lost and they will probably be successful.
The recent history of combat aircraft development has been that the aircraft in question takes much longer to develop and ends up costing more than was originally projected. That is true of the Typhoon, Rafale and Raptor and I'm sure many others.
The raison d'etre of the F-35 is accomodating a wide variety of missions and doing so steathily. No other aircraft is being offered which can penetrate heavily defended targets with minimal chance of interception. If the recent progress continues on the F-35B, there will also be a supersonic VSTOL fighter that can be deployed on many smaller carriers.
Given the level of defense cuts some countries are implementing it probably does make sense for them to re-evaluate what their priorities are. If they only plan on participating in coalition operations, they could use a non-stealthy design like a new production F-16 and only engage in combat after the opposition is seriously degraded. For countries like the Netherlands, they could leverage their current investment in F-16s, purchase new ones and spend 30-40% of what new F-35s would cost.
I'm optomistic that the F-35 will be able to fullfil the roles it was envisage for. It will cost more and will take longer to enter service but in the end it will be worth it.
Hunter32 ,yeah I agree with you on this. But the one of the main purpose of the F-35 project was to reduce dependence on the expensive , $ 200 million F-22 raptors. The reason why many countries partnered with the US for the F-35 project was to reduce the overall manufacturing cost, speed up the R & D process and produce a lethal yet affordable solution for the future. But by the time Lockheed perfects its design , costs would have risen up. AFAIK, the bleed air usage can definitely be reduced by accurate experimental and CFD solutions , but the time taken is much more.I`m afraid the JSF program might end up like the raptor - overpriced, maintenance/structural problems , but definitely deadly.
The project is still very much worthwhile on the technical front , but the economic issues may plague its full utilization by smaller nations , which don`t get into military conflicts often, like the US and the UK.
But from the aviation enthusiasts` view point, we would love to see a fully functional F-35 take to the skies.
The decision to cancel the F-22 after only producing 187 was a huge strategic blunder. Not only should we have purchased more but we should have made it available to our allies in the pacific. Afterall, the true strategic threat is China. Having allies equiped with another 100 F-22s would have made our deterrence posture much more effective.
As you point out, the USAF rationale for the F-35 is to replicate the Hi-Lo mix that was so successful with the F-15 and F-16. Unfortunately, we cancelled the F-22 just as the cost per plan had come down to $140 mil and was projected to fall to $116 mil/each with further production lots.
The rationale for the F-35 for the Navy and Marines is completely different. The F-35 will become the Navy's 1st stealth aircraft, a long unfilled category. It's absolutely vital in maintaining the viability of naval strike missions. The same is true for the Marines who will operate both the B and C versions. Their Harriers have limited capabilities and have proven vulnerable in combat. F-35Bs could revolutionize small carrier capabilities.
As far as costs go. They always start out high with new planes and limited production numbers but then drop significantly. When all is said and done I think the F-35 will be both cheaper to purchase and operate than the F-22. Another thing about costs. It costs $10s Billions and 10-15 years to develop advanced combat aircraft. That cost has already been spent on both the F-22 and F-35. The only cost that matters now is how much does it cost to produce each plane especially when you look at the alternatives. So be careful when you see costs discussed. Does it include development or is it simply production costs?
Your view is quite logical. The naval F-35 will be a big game changer for the US.
I meant both the developmental as well as the production costs. True, as you say each combat aircraft program needs billions of dollars in Development, but I specifically mention the cost overruns due to additional developmental costs owing to the actual design not performing Upto the expectations.
One major example, apart from the Bleed air issue is the structural integrity of the STOVL F-35 during landing operations. Though I do not know much about the exact nature of problem, the F-35 is not very stable during vertical landing. This is a serious issue and it can possibly lead to a lot of changes in the existing design = greater costs + Time.
If the F-35 program is rushed up to bring it to service as early as possible, there are chances that many new problems may crop up during service, which might put the future of the plane in deep trouble. Again, a classic example is the F-22 - -- The plane has not even reached the end of its useful life, and now even new F-22`s are plagued by the peeling of the RAM material from the surface. Another issue was the appearance of premature cracks in the airframe. Since the airframe is mainly made of composites (FRPs/CRPs) repairing is a near impossible (if not a very very expensive) task. These were very critical to the plane`s performance, and played an important role in reducing its future prospects.
As you can see now, I mentioned the overall costs .The design/rectification/testing process is essentially a trade-off between time and money , and Lockheed must be careful in its approach. when the F-35 finally does come to service, I guess the initial price of each plane would be considerably more than previously estimated.
I would agree that we don't want to rush the F-35B into production if problems still exist. That's why Sec Gates put that version of the F-35 on "probation". The possiblity still exists that that version could actually be cancelled outright if they aren't able to solve the various problems that exist.
As for the F-22, it's not surprising that there are problems with the stealth coatings. That has been true of the F-117 & B-2 programs as well. In the other programs, progress was made over time reducing both the time and cost of maintaining the coatings. We have to remember the fundamental advantage that stealth gives these planes in a combat enviroment. It is literally the difference in being the hunter or the prey.
I'm not really familiar with the cracking issue you brought up but I believe the fuselage is actually made up of titanium and aluminum. The wings do include composite structures. I still think it would make more sense to extend F-22 production at the cost of F-35s for the Air Force.
With regard to F-35 costs, I agree that they will cost more than originally estimated. That pattern is the same as all combat aircraft for the last 50 years. The real question is: what are the alternatives to the F-35 and what do they cost and what capability do we give up. For the US, we could purchase a combination of F-15s and F-16s for the Air Force and F-18s for the Navy and Marines.
Newer versions of the F-15 and F-16 have esentially the same avionics and radar capability as well as similar if not greater payload and range(F-15). I believe new build F-15 are in the $100+ mil range and F-16 are considerably cheaper. Boeing has proposed a stealthier variant, F-15SE, which reduces frontal aspect but isn't very effective from other orientations. If we had more F-22s I think that would actually work.
The Navy is happy with the F-18E/F and has always considered continued production as their backup plan. The E/F version did include stealth improvements and Boeing has displayed a stealth pod which could carry AAM and SBD or JDAMs. It remains to be seen how stealthy that would actually be. I actually think the Navy needs a strike aircraft with much greater range. The necessity to launch from near the shore puts our carriers at much greater risk and if the strike aircraft had an additional 200-500 mile greater range w/o tanking it would be tactically advantageous.
I think in the end the advantages of stealth with the F-35 virtually guarantee it's adoption. We may procure less due to rising costs and may as a result have the modernize some of our current aircraft for continued service.
Check out the May issue of Air International. It has a 40+ page story on the F-35.