The role MDC and partners Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace will play in JSF in the future is unclear-

Stonecipher contemplates loss

What next for the USA's former first fighter house


To Harry Stonecipher, president and chief executive of McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC), the elimination of his firm as a prime contractor in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition, which could turn out to be the richest military aircraft contract in history, was "a defining moment" that will re-shape the military aviation industry for years to come.

Considered a "must-win" for MDC, the selection of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to continue development of JSF, was a bitter pill for Stonecipher. For MDC, which recently abandoned efforts to be a major player in commercial aviation with its decision to stop development of the MD-XX widebody, the events of recent weeks could dramatically alter its future strategy.

Faced with the prospect of becoming an aircraft manufacturing subcontractor after the turn of the century, MDC may intensify bidding for mid-size US defence electronics and missile manufacturing companies, or could renew merger discussions with the likes of Raytheon or Boeing. Texas Instruments is already rumoured to be a likely target.

It is not all doom and gloom at MDC. The company has won sizeable contracts this year for updating training aircraft and developing missiles, but its core businesses have been hit by the MD-XX and JSF decisions. Were it to lose next months potentially huge USAF-evolved Expendable Launch vehicle contract decision then, industrially, it will become the worst quarter in company history.

Stonecipher says: "We do not plan to pursue talks (with the winners). We will talk to them if approached, but we will probably not make the approach ourselves." Speculation abounds about MDC's next move on combat aircraft.

The role MDC and partners Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace will play in JSF in the future is unclear, but US defence officials "encourage that all the talent available - here in the USA and in the UK - might get realigned with the two winners".

Micky Blackwell, head of aircraft programmes for Lockheed Martin, was more direct: "I would entertain any propositions they might have." Adds Blackwell: "I lament the fact that BAe was not on our team. I think you will see BAe on our team and maybe on the Boeing team as well."

At stake is a production contract for 3,000 JSFs, at an average target cost of $35 million, for the US military. Also, potentially, an additional 50 aircraft for the Royal Navy, to replace the F/A2 Harrier plus a further 200 for the Royal Air Force replacing its Harrier GR7 and Tornado GR4s. But the stakes could rise if an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 JSFs are purchased elsewhere in the world.

Three JSF variants are planned: a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the US Air Force; a carrier-based aircraft (CV/CTOL) for the US Navy; and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and Royal Navy. In US service JSF will replace the Lockheed Martin F-16, Northrop Grumman F-14 and A-6, McDonnell Douglas AV-8B and F/A-18 and Fairchild A-10.The first could enter service by 2008.

The JSF will be powered by either the Pratt & Whitney F119 (under development for the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22) or a growth variant of the F110 power plant, the YF120, to be manufactured by General Electric, Rolls-Royce and its US subsidiary Allison Engines.

Stonecipher admits that the MDC-led team's near tail-less aircraft design and complex engine installations were a calculated gamble. The concept included a lift-plus-lift/cruise STOVL configuration. As designed, a forward gas-turbine engine, mounted behind the cockpit, offers vertical lift, while the main power plant provides rear lift and conventional forward thrust. He feels MDC lost because the propulsion concept was considered "higher risk".

Steidle made it clear that "affordability" decided which two bids offered "the best value" to the Pentagon.

USAF Lt. Gen. George Muellner, who preceded Steidle as JSF programme manager, says the biggest technological hurdle for JSF will be in propulsion. He said Boeing and Lockheed Martin "showed good risk mitigation plans". Steidle agrees: "The most complicated, technical challenge is the full integration of the flight control and propulsion systems."

Noting on-going USN/USMC programmes, such as MDC's F/A-18E/F, AV-8B remanufacturing and T-45 trainer, Rear Adm. Dennis McGinn, director of air warfare for the USN, says: "Predictions of loss of industrial base and the demise of any of these superb companies is premature."

Byron Callan, aerospace analyst for Merrill Lynch, says that the loss "-raises risk and puts pressure on MDC beyond the next five years". o

Source: Flight International