Here's the week in news for the poor F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Harper-MacKay's pride and joy, and what a week it's been.
Nat Po's Michael Den Tandt has a telling assessment suggesting that the F-35 project is unravelling.
“It just seems like it’s slowly unravelling,” said an industry insider who specializes in aircraft procurement. “It’s a mess.”
Peter MacKay has doggedly championed the Royal Canadian Air Force plan to purchase 65 “fifth-generation” Lockheed Martin Lightning stealth fighters to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s. Last week MacKay sought, with only limited success, to deflect reports that the first batch of planes built by Lockheed will be incapable of communicating in Canada’s far North.
...As other members of the international F-35 consortium — including Turkey, the Netherlands, Norway, Israel and Australia have either delayed or curtailed expectations of the number of planes they will buy, price estimates have skyrocketed. But even the latest figures are just educated guesses.
Meanwhile the F-35's prime customer, the Pentagon, is launching a pricing war with Lockheed that, if the military prevails, could leave the manufacturer facing a loss on the airplane.
The Defense Department's push to change the terms of its next production contract for the F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter, could expose Lockheed to possible losses in coming years, said consultant Loren Thompson, who has close ties to the company.
"The government wants to radically change its approach to sharing risk on new weapons programs so that all of the exposure is shifted to industry," Thompson said.
Shay Assad, the Pentagon's director of defense pricing, told Reuters in a recent interview that he was braced for resistance from industry to some reforms. "We're going to be breaking some glass here," he said.
Australian government officials, concerned that their F-35s won't be available in time, have sent a team to Lockheed to audit the whole F-35 programme. The audit may lead Australia to defer its order.
And even more happy tidings.
...the Pentagon's weapons testing office is warning that pilot training in the new jets should be delayed for safety reasons.
Director of Operational Testing Michael Gilmore, Bloomberg News reports in its subscriber only BGOV news service (not available online at this point), warns that Air Force plans to begin pilot training in November risk a "serious mishap" due to unresolved safety issues.
Gilmore, in an Oct. 21 memo, said there are “serious concerns” with commencing initial training for F-35 pilots as early as November at Eglin Air Force Base.
Gilmore recommended a delay of as much as 10 months to fly the Lockheed Martin Corp. plane 1,500 more hours on top 1,000 already flown at Edwards Air Force Base, by experienced test pilots.
The F-35 “has not yet met the prerequisites previously set for reducing” air-mission abort rates and “resolving other safety-related issues before initiating training,” Gilmore said in a four-page memo to the department’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall.
...the F-35 program is five to six years behind schedule. The estimated cost to taxpayers has nearly doubled.
The military will not have combat-ready F-35s to replace 30-year-old warplanes until 2016, if then.
There are numerous reasons for the F-35 debacle, say longtime defense observers, and most of them were predictable: Pentagon officials and military officers cobble together unrealistic goals, timetables and budgets, and defense contractors sign on knowing that once a big program is launched, it's seldom canceled and the money keeps flowing.
"What's happened here is what happens with 90 percent of defense programs," said Tom Christie, retired Pentagon director of operational testing and a battle-scarred veteran of 40-plus years of internal Defense Department weapons-buying conflicts.
...Lockheed has found F-35 development "more challenging and complicated" than predicted, concedes Tom Burbage, executive vice president and general manager.
...It wasn't as if the Pentagon, the military and Lockheed couldn't have foreseen big problems.