Lockheed Martin and the US Department of Defense are attacking the motivation behind a recent barrage of criticism aimed at the basic combat abilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Such “false claims” published in separate reports a few days apart have become a significant business risk for the programme, said Maj Gen Charles Davis, chief of the F-35 joint programme office.
Each of the eight international partners must make acquisition decisions for the F-35 within the next year, said Tom Burbage, a Lockheed vice president.
Some of partners, including Norway and The Netherlands, face controversial decisions within the next four months. Meanwhile, Israel has also launched a process to begin buying at least 25 F-35s in 2009.
The frequency and timing of the published attacks, as well as their “completely” errant content, prompted Davis to suspect foul-play.
“It’s disappointing and I guess not surprising that these articles come when they do,” Davis told reporters on 19 September. “When articles show up that are just flat false there’s got to be a reason for that.”
Davis declined an opportunity to specify the source of the attacks, saying only that there is “money involved and companies involved”.
In July, Davis accused Boeing outright of spreading lies and half-truths about the F-35 in order to bolster the international sales campaign for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. He specifically called out Boeing for publicly predicting future cost overruns and delays for the F-35. Boeing responded: “People with greater insight [into the F-35 programme] than I are looking at the offerings available. Let people draw their own conclusions about why.”
More recently, a commentary written by Pierre Sprey, widely considered the conceptual father of the Lockheed F-16, claimed the F-35 would be an aerodynamic “dog” and outclassed in combat by the fighters it is replacing.
Davis shot back that the F-35’s turn-rate and manoeuvring is no different than the F-16, and the latter has stealth and far more advanced sensor fusion capability.
Another article appearing in the Australian press claimed the F-35 was “clubbed like a baby seal” in a classified US Air Force exercise.
Davis replied that the “basic wargame did not even involve an air-to-air scenario.” Some “excursion” scenarios did involve F-22s, but the F-35 was mentioned only tangentially.
“How that got translated into ‘clubbed like a baby seal’ I have no idea other than somebody used a comment made in the room or in a dinner that night and brought that back to Australia,” Davis said.