Hard to tell just how many bombs, and what size, were dropped. I counted at least six primary detonations.
While most folks react to the probable retirement of the A-10 fleet with anguish, I have to admit I’m not terribly concerned. Yes, the GAU-8 gun of the A-10 is handy. But virtually all close air support delivered today is via precision guided weapons. Between the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground and the use of PGMs, the A-10’s low and slow capability is largely redundant. Further, the vastly improved electro/optical sensors carried by virtually all strike aircraft today also argue against the A-10s ability to get down in the weeds to spot targets. Simply put, the technology to attack targets exists now that was beyond the state of the art when the A-10 was conceived and fielded. The improvement of short range air defense in that same environment further argues against an A-10.
Before you call for my beheading, yes, I’d prefer the Air Force to keep the A-10 in service. But removing an airframe from service has the potential to save the Air Force a lot of money. I can see where they’re coming from.
We’ve mentioned the Joint Multi-Role helicopter a couple times in the past, primarily in the sense that we aren’t getting a warm fuzzy feeling. If the program was strictly to develop new technologies that could be used in a series of new designs for separate roles, that would be one thing. But in spite of protestations to the contrary, it’s shaping up more and more that the Technology Demonstrator (TD) will be leveraged into a one size fits all program that will try to make one helo do more than one job. That’s the same approach that has so badly compromised the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The program is still moving along, with the Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) recently awarding contracts to four companies to move ahead with the demonstrators. One such concept is here:
Now, at first glance, I don’t see anything that is outside the realm of aerodynamic possibility. But I do note that the design is proffered by AVX Aircraft, a brand new company that hasn’t built anything before. I’m not even sure they really have the physical plant to build a TD. Plus, it’s just ugly.
I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when the AMRDEC Public Affairs Officer reached out to me (especially during the shutdown. Civilian PAO’s are essential for a non-tactical command?). The PAO kindly forwarded some public information on the Future Vertical Lift initiative.*
There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth about Air Force plans to replace the A-10 with the F-35A. And I suppose eventually, they will. But from what I’ve seen of the fielding plans, it looks like F-16 units are first in line to switch over.
And while there has always been somewhat of a love/hate relationship between Big Air Force and the A-10 community, let’s at least be honest enough to admit that Big Blue has in fact put significant money into the fleet, improving the remaining planes, even while drawing total numbers down somewhat.
First, the Air Force ponied up the money to rebuild most of the fleet from the original A-10A standard to the A-10C model, which adds night attack and precision guided weapon capability.
Secondly, the Air Force is spending real money on rebuilding the wings of the fleet to extend their fatigue service lives for another thirty years.
Finally. I understand that complex systems take a long time to introduce into service, but this is surprising. The F-35A has launched its first powered missile launch. Mind you, this wasn’t even a full up guided shot. It was just to prove ejection and ignition. But the program will totally be fielding a combat capable squadron in three short years. Honest!
New ship names released. Incredibly, no activist/victim of the month names were used. And URR, just be glad Burlington went to an HSV, not an LCS.
Will Fort Carson shrink or grow? I don’t know. There’s a strong push to consolidate as many combat brigades as possible onto as few posts as possible. But the problem there is that each post has a finite amount of range and training area available. There is always a great demand for that range space. Ft. Carson isn’t an especially large post, but it does have relatively easy access to Pinon Canyon Maneuver Area, which has been expanding in recent years, and is one of the largest training areas available to the Army.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with using competing technology demonstrators. The problem came when the program treated a technology demonstrator as a prototype for an actual combat aircraft. Neither JSF demonstrator was fundamentally incapable of being developed. Both teams should have been invited to compete for the actual JSF contract. But necking down at the technology demonstrator phase, intended to spare the expense of developing two fighters, left the government with only one design, in effect, a monopoly. And we’ve seen how well that worked out.
While the Defense Ministry is responsible for choosing the F-35, officials are concerned about its delivery and price. In February, Defense Ministry officials told the U.S. government there’s a possibility of cancelling its order if things change. This followed news that the United States delayed, Italy reduced, and Australia and Canada were rethinking their acquisition plans. All of these will increase the F-35’s cost. The Defense Ministry also requested the U.S. review its FMS-based acquisition program so Japan’s defense industry can have deeper involvement in the jet so as to acquire technical know-how.
The alliance has dealt with broken promises before, and relations suffered. We saw this most recently in 2009, when Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reneged on a 2006 Japanese promise to relocate troops from Okinawa to Guam, contingent on relocating Futenma to a replacement facility in northern Okinawa. The U.S. came down hard on Hatoyama. It was only after he stepped down that alliance relations could be reset and the process of rebuilding trust could begin.
The F-35 may very well be delivered on time and on cost. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case right now. Although the U.S. can’t be held legally responsible for changes in price or delivery dates under FMS rules, there will be political damage. The U.S. needs to think about how to manage this damage with its closest ally in the Asia-Pacific if the F-35 can’t be delivered as promised.
Worse, what to do if Japan cancels all or part of its order? Japan has a shrinking budget and needs new fighters. Any changes will put Japan in a precarious situation. While the other options available to the Defense Ministry weren’t 5th generation fighters, it nevertheless had other options better suited to aid its collapsing defense industry. Japanese officials are counting on the U.S. to deliver on its promise, much like the U.S. counted on Japan to deliver on its 2006 promise. Hatoyama showed the alliance how not to renege. Is the United States prepared to do any better regarding its F-35 promises?
Earlier in the article, Hornung details several changes in Japanese policy with respect to weapons development and sales, which were needed to “land” the F-35 on the western side of the Pacific. Such underscore the economic factors in play and the high cost of cutting-edge technology. If a nation cannot feel safe without a fifth-generation fighter, then the nation must pay for that platform – even if that means cutting legal corners to do so.
To me the F-35 is eerily similar to the F-111’s early guise, in the 1960s, as the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX). From otherwise disparate requirements, DoD chiefs forced the Air Force and Navy to adopt a common airframe for a deep-strike interdiction bomber (um… fighter) and a long-endurance interceptor. Tagging along were the British who ordered 50 of the F-111K variant. One common airframe for everyone? Sounds good.
By 1968, the F-111 program was terribly behind and over budget. A limited initial operating capability deployment to Southeast Asia further tarnished the TFX’s record. Tragically three aircraft losses were attributed to horizontal stabilizer malfunctions, not enemy action. The TFX needed more development. By that time the British and the Navy had backed out (each going on to independently pursue excellent solutions for what its worth). Only after several more years of development did the F-111 emerge as a very capable bomber (in both tactical and strategic guises) for the USAF – serving until the late 1990s. The Australians used their version of the F-111 up until recently.
In the 1960s, Cold War pressures meant the services could overlook some project over-runs and inefficiencies. It was just one of the costs of being the leader of the free world, we were told. Likewise, allies could overlook program failures, assuaged by assessments of what sat behind the iron curtain.
But in today’s world, one must worry about misguided weapons development projects. With so much momentum behind it, I am certain the F-35 will eventually reach service at some point. But the weapon system may prove more damaging politically than militarily.
Almost a “dog bites man” <yawn> story at this point. From Business Week:
Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s first 63 F-35 fighter jets are exceeding their combined target cost by $1 billion, showing the Pentagon’s costliest program lacks a reliable design and efficient manufacturing, according to U.S. congressional auditors.
The Pentagon is absorbing $672 million and Lockheed Martin the remaining $328 million in added costs for the aircraft in the first four production contracts, the Government Accountability Office said in prepared testimony today for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on tactical aviation. The committee is conducting the first oversight hearing on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the fiscal 2013 budget.
“The long-stated intent that the Joint Strike Fighter would deliver an affordable, highly common fifth-generation aircraft that could be acquired in large numbers could be in question,” Michael Sullivan, the GAO’s director of acquisition management, said in the statement.
The testimony previews the GAO’s annual report on the Defense Department’s most costly weapons program, which is to be published next month. The GAO’s findings and the Pentagon’s annual test report, issued in January, are the two primary sources that lawmakers and the public have for assessing the military’s and Lockheed Martin claims for the F-35.
The reports are also closely watched by the program’s eight international partners, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and Norway.
The coming austerity in defense budgets has left several high profile programs vulnerable to being cancelled. The poster child for at risk programs that are over budget and behind schedule is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. There is a growing suspicion in defense circles that rather than seeing the whole program cancelled, the DoD might be willing to cancel the troubled F-35B Short Take Off/Vertical Landing version intended as a replacement for the Marine Corps aging fleet of AV-8B Harriers.
Neptunus Lex’s occasional co-author, Whisper, argues that instead, the opposite should happen- cancel the Air Force “A” model, and if needed, the Navy’s “C” model as well, and instead produce only the STOVL “B” model. I’ve already made my thoughts on Marine Aviation known here, but let’s see what Whisper has to say.
As Senators McCain and Levin begin to inquire about the costs of terminating the entire program, some have begun to suggest offering-up the F-35B as a sacrificial limb who’s amputation is necessary to save the patient. To them I say: you’ve got it all wrong. You’re 180-out.
Cancel the A-model first, and produce the C-model for all of the CTOL customers. The USAF can deal with the extra range and improved slow-speed handling of the C-model. (Though they will rightfully miss the built-in cannon.) If that’s not enough, go ahead and cancel the C-model as well. This will set big-deck Naval Aviation back at least ten years in its quest to field a fifth generation fighter, but Boeing is waiting in the wings– and it might be worth the wait to get a real air dominance fighter for fleet defense. The USAF can buy some more Raptors (act now, and we’ll get you stoned for no extra cost!), and Gucci high-lot F-16s for our FMS friends are still rolling-off the line in Fort Worth. The sky is not falling.
Sorry, Whisper. It is nice to see some original thinking but your conclusions are wrong. Putting all the JSF eggs into the STOVL basket is the least attractive option for a couple of different reasons.
First, it is the model that still has the highest level of technical risk in its development cycle. The added complexity of its STOVL capability has proven to be a real challenge for the contractor, Lockheed Martin, and there is no guarantee they’ve discovered all the major hurdles even at this late date.
Second, Whisper rightly notes that the inclusion of a STOVL variant forced compromises across the entire program. But his proposed solution leaves only the least capable variant in production. All the weight and space needed to add the STOVL capability is used in the other variants for fuel and munitions capacity on the other models. The F-35B has the shortest range of all three variants. Just as the Navy is finally on the cusp of buying a jet that has a decent unrefueled radius of action, Whisper is advocating killing that variant.
Whisper also notes that per unit costs would skyrocket.
Condensing F-35 production into the STOVL model will of course drive the per-unit acquisition cost up from insane to ludicrous, but it might be palatable if you can explain to the tax-payer what they are getting. Beyond the bread and butter of maneuver warfare and amphibious assault that the F-35B will easily support when embarked with an ARG, the US tax-payer will be getting a forward-deployed national asset. Stop calling it a “game-changer” and tell them exactly what it is you’re supplanting.
I am not at all confident that this argument makes any real sense. If F-35 production is limited to the B model, then the Air Force and the Navy are forced with the choice of either replacing their current fleets with B models, or buying legacy aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F. But the B model’s shorter range and increased complexity (and thus, higher unit cost) make it extremely unattractive for the Air Force, and the B-model cannot operate from conventional big deck carriers unless they are extensively modified, thus making it a non-starter for the Navy.
The other option, just buying legacy fighters for the Air Force and Navy, and giving B models to the Marines, is insane. If the decision is made to buy legacy aircraft is made, how can we justify spending untold billions of dollars developing and fielding a tiny number of jets for close air support? If old style aircraft are good enough for the Air Force and Navy, why not for the Marine Corps? I’m already unable to discern why the Marines need supersonic stealthy fighters to provide CAS. Doing it at the expense of busting the aircraft acquisition budget doesn’t help the argument in it favor. Instead, it would be far more likely that the entire program would be cancelled.
Cancelling the B model would pose challenges for the Marines. The AV-8B has been in service for a quarter century, and is due for replacement. Without it, or the F-35B, the Marines lose the ability to integrate a fixed wing close air support platform into the Ace Combat Element deployed on board Navy LHA/LHD class ships.
But that is actually a capability they’ve managed to do without for almost the entirety of Marine Aviation’s existence. That capability is of limited utility. The Marines would be faced with the challenge of either operating from normal airfields ashore, or operating in concert with a Navy big-deck carrier to provide air support. But that is exactly what they normally do. Any landing big enough to require more than one LHA on scene would almost certainly justify surging a CVN in support. Any landing that only requires on LHA (with no more than about 20 F-35Bs on board) would be such a localized contingency that establishing a secure airfield to operate from would likely be very feasible.
At the end of his piece, Whisper argues that the new America classLHAs are the wave of the future:
The new America class of amphibious assault ships represent a fork in the road for Naval Aviation. The USMC needs to embrace the concept and run with it. Stop lamenting the missing well deck. While big-deck CVNs will continue to be the centerpiece of American overseas crisis response for the foreseeable future, the dynamics of the Arab Spring have shown us that we do not have enough assets to cover all of our interests simultaneously. The F-35B+LHA combination could be one of the most cost effective and efficient solutions for engagement in the changing landscape of crisis response.
In fact, they are not. That’s a back door argument in favor of building light carriers. But time and again has shown that for the money, the big deck carrier is always the better option (and likely the subject of another post!)
If it is absolutely critical that the Marines have a STOVL capability deployed on LHA/LHD class ships, let’s build a new batch of AV-8Bs, and keep the F-35A and C models in production to rebuild the Air Force and Navy tactical aircraft fleets.
Over here in the US we called it the “Aardvark,” but in Australia they called it the “Pig.” Regardless of the nickname, the type has finally flown its last operational mission. The Royal Australian Air Force officially retired F-111 at the beginning of December last year.
The F-111 holds a spot in aviation history as the first operational swing-wing combat aircraft. The aircraft suffered through a rocky start in the 1960s – born in a text-book case model of project mismanagement. Originally cast as an airframe that could fulfill a range of missions, the F-111 was built around conflicting requirements ranging from carrier-based interceptor to all-weather strike bomber. In the end, the former role was dropped and the F-111 became a rather capable deep strike aircraft – perhaps the most famous mission being the 1986 Libyan strikes.
The F-111C variant entered Australian service in 1973. They are replaced by F/A-18Fs.
The F/A-18F are said to be a short-term solution, with a variant of the F-35 Lightning II JSF in mind. But that’s another story…. let’s not go there…
Instead, enjoy this clip showing a RAAF F-111 taking down a NK drug runner-