Lockheed aims to deliver all 36 F-35 jets in 2013, sees progress on program

FORT WORTH, Texas Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:08am EST

The fourth U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrives at the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in this April 24, 2013 photo released on May 8, 2013. Picture taken April 24, 2013. Daniel Hughes/U.S. Air Force/Handout via Reuters

The fourth U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrives at the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in this April 24, 2013 photo released on May 8, 2013. Picture taken April 24, 2013. Daniel Hughes/U.S. Air Force/Handout via Reuters

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FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) still expects to deliver the final seven of 36 F-35 fighter jets to the U.S. government from its Fort Worth, Texas facility, before year-end despite a five-day halt in test flights due to bad weather over the past week, the company's F-35 program manager said on Friday.

Lorraine Martin, executive vice president and F-35 general manager, said 2013 has been a transformative year for the $392 billion program, marking the beginning of pilot and maintainer training, reductions in production costs, and progress on software, weapons testing and other technical issues.

She said the program - the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program - remained intensely focused on finishing development and flight testing of the next-generation fighter over the next three years, as well as driving down the cost of building and operating the planes.

"The program is on stronger footing than ever before," Martin told 2,000 workers and guests at a ceremony celebrating completion of the 100th F-35 at the company's mile-long plant in Fort Worth that included patriotic songs and videos.

The Fort Worth area was shut down by a crippling ice storm late last week causing delays in flight testing required before Lockheed can turn the new F-35 jets over to the government.

Delivering the 36 jets in 2013 is important for Lockheed which is trying to demonstrate improved performance on a program that is years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost projections.

Martin told reporters that 2014 would be another key year for the program, with the Navy's C-model due to carry out sea trials on an aircraft carrier next summer, the first jet to be completed at a new assembly plant in Italy, and the first jet for Australia to be delivered.

Speaking in Washington, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh underscored the importance of the F-35 to ensure U.S. air superiority and said current "legacy" fighters would not survive a future fight against stealthy next-generation fighters being developed by Russia and China.

"Operationally, we need the F-35 ... This is not a good time to walk away from the F-35 program in any way, shape or form," he told a Pentagon briefing. He said truncating the F-35 program would raise the cost of the remaining jets.

Lockheed is building three models of the radar-evading fighter for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Norway, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands. Japan and Israel have also ordered the plane, and South Korea has signaled its plan to buy at least 40 F-35s as well.

Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35 program manager, told a defense conference last week that the program had a "tragic past," but the cost of the plane was coming down, flight testing was continuing, and most technical issues had been addressed.

(See interview with F-35 program chief: reut.rs/1dSZGgd0)

The last batch of F-35 A-models cost around $107 million, including the engines, but Martin said the company expected to beat that cost in the eighth production contract to be negotiated early next year.

By the time the new stealth fighter reaches full-rate production in 2019, she said it would cost around $75 million in current year dollars, or less, putting it on par with the cost of current fourth-generation fighter jets.

Boeing Co (BA.N) says its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet costs about $51 million, including engines and radar, but congressional aides say the price is closer to $70 million when sensors, targeting pods and other equipment that is standard on the F-35 is included.

Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Aeronautics, said Lockheed was aiming to deliver 38 aircraft next year, an increase of two from this year, and hoped to start ramping up production to help drive down costs.

"The need to ramp is key to being able to keep taking cost out of the airplane," Carvalho told reporters after the ceremony. He said the company was looking at every option for continuing to lower the cost of the aircraft.

He said Lockheed was meeting revised cost, schedule and delivery targets mapped out during a big restructuring in 2010, and had about three years to go until development was done.

"Like any smart athletic sports coach, we're not going to declare victory until the game's over and we're done," he said.

"With any program like this, you always have to be worried about an unknown that may come out of nowhere. We're never going to sit here and say we're out of the woods," he said, "What we're going to do is stay focused on the fundamentals, day in and day out, and just keep finishing the development."

Air Force General Robin Rand, commander of the Air Education and Training Command, told the ceremony that he was looking forward to the start of training at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, where the 100th jet will be delivered next year.

Lockheed is due to deliver 17 airplanes to the base by the end of 2014, and officials expect to start the first training course there for U.S. and allied pilots in May 2015.

Rand said the F-35 would be "the most lethal and advanced fighter airplane on the planet," and he wished he was 20 years younger so he could fly it.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Diane Craft)

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Comments (2)
Joe765 wrote:
>>Rand said the F-35 would be “the most lethal and advanced fighter airplane on the planet,”

Really? The “most lethal” fighter in the world?
Oh dear, is the Air Force and the entire Department of Defense buying this?
This is like watching a huge train wreck in slow motion.

The F-35 is fundamentally a very bad airplane.
It can’t turn, can’t climb, and can’t run.
It’s so overweight and underpowered that it’s even slower than the so-called “Super Slow Hornet”.
It has small wings, so it can’t turn.
In a close-range dogfight, the current 4th generation fighters would make mincemeat out of the F-35.
The F-35 is so slow that it won’t even be able to run away from the enemy fighters.

But why, you ask, would the F-35 ever find itself in a close-range dogfight, if the F-35 is stealthy and invisible to radar?
Well, the F-35 is definitely not invisible to radar.
First of all, the F-35 is nowhere near as stealthy as the F-22.
Second, the F-35 is only stealthy from the front. (its sides and back are more visible to radar)
Third, there are radars out there which can detect stealth aircraft.
The US’s enemies like Russia and China are developing L-band anti-stealth radars, and they’re getting better and better.
Also, there’s a type of radar called OTH (Over The Horizon) radar that can detect all stealth aircraft and have a range of 1000s of kilometers.
(In fact, Australia has an OTH radar network, and when they were testing the F-35 there, the F-35 showed up plainly on radar.)
China is currently installing their own OTH radar network.

Even the Israelis say that the F-35′s stealth capability will only be viable for 5-10 years.
This is why they insist on developing their own sophisticated electronic warfare suite for their F-35s. (The F-35′s stealth simply won’t be effective for long.)

So what would happen if the F-35 is detected by the enemy’s anti-stealth radar?
The enemy would scramble fighters, and they would easily catch up to the (very slow) F-35. Then they could attack it with heat-seeking missiles or guns.
Which brings us to another of the F-35′s weaknesses.
The F-35 uses the most powerful fighter jet engine in existence (though it’s grossly inadequate considering the F-35′s weight).
This engine gets very very hot, especially in afterburner.
So it would become a big target for the enemy’s heat seeking missiles.

Another weakness is that the F-35 can’t carry many missiles.
Since the F-35 isn’t suited for the air-to-air role, it will mainly find itself in air-to-ground missions, where it would carry two bombs and two air-to-air missiles.
So if the F-35 gets jumped by enemy fighters and fires its two missiles, it will be completely helpless.
Due to its poor speed and maneuverability, the F-35 is no good in a dogfight; it can’t even run away.
If the F-35 doesn’t kill all the enemy fighters at long range, it will be in big trouble.

The F-35 will be in particular trouble if it meets enemy stealth fighters.
Because they are stealthy, the enemy fighters won’t show up on radar, and the F-35 won’t be able to fire missiles at them from long-range.
The F-35 will inevitably be drawn into a close-range dogfight, where it likey won’t survive.

The US’s enemies are currently developing high-performance stealth fighters which are fast and maneuverable as well as stealthy.
The F-35 won’t have a chance against them in a dogfight.

By the way, the enemy stealth fighters all have two engines, not one.
In fact, the F-35 is the only single-engine stealth fighter in development. (and it’s the slowest)

I would strongly urge the DoD to redesign the F-35 from scratch.
They should scrap the F-35B VTOL version, and make a dual-engine fighter for the Air Force and Navy.

Because of the VTOL requirement, the F-35 has become too fat, heavy, and underpowered.
The F-35 desperately needs to be lighter, more streamlined, and most of all, it needs TWO ENGINES!

Please scrap the F-35 and redesign it from scratch.
The F-35, as it is, has no future.
The plane is already so overweight and underpowered that they have been removing even the plane’s safety systems, to try to reduce its weight.
If it’s already so heavy, how will it be upgraded in the future?
If it gains any more weight, it may become impossible to load any weapons on it!

(The F-35C in particular is in big trouble.
It’s the heaviest and slowest out of the 3 variants.
It’s retracing the steps of the failed F-111B.
Also, they still haven’t fixed the F-35C’s tail hook.
No wonder the Navy is less-than-excited about the F-35C.

In fact, the Navy has already started development of 6th generation fighters and unmanned drones, slated to enter service in the 2030s.)

So, the F-35 has plenty of issues.
Even if the F-35′s software and helmet get completed, the plane has many fundamental flaws which have no fixes.
This plane will put the lives of our pilots in danger, and will possibly lose us our air superiority.

We should scrap the F-35 and start over again.
While we still can.

Dec 16, 2013 12:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Joe765 wrote:
>>”Operationally, we need the F-35 … This is not a good time to walk away from the F-35 program in any way, shape or form,” [Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh] told a Pentagon briefing.
He said truncating the F-35 program would raise the cost of the remaining jets.

Yes, I realize that the F-35 program has cost a lot of money.
(By the end of 2014, it will have cost $87.5 billion.)

But if we don’t cancel the F-35 now, we will end up wasting a LOT more money.
The F-35′s lifetime cost is expected to be more than $1 trillion.
(assuming that the Pentagon purchases 2,500 F-35s as planned)

And we’re not only wasting money, but also time.
Right now the F-35 program is wasting time trying to reduce the plane’s weight, for instance.

Due to the complexities of building one airframe for the 3 armed services, the F-35′s weight has significantly gone up.
The F-35B VTOL and F-35C carrier versions are more complicated and carry more equipment;
they also have to withstand greater forces than conventional aircraft, so the F-35′s structure had to be strengthened across-the-board.
This led to increases in weight.

Also, due to faulty design and insufficient testing during development, the plane experiences severe vibrations during transsonic flight.
(Even after almost 20 years of development, the F-35 still can’t fly supersonic or at high altitudes.
Not only does the plane buffet heavily during transsonic flight, its skin also tends to melt during high-speed, high-altitude flight.)
These aerodynamic issues have also contributed to weakening of the airframe, and there have been numerous cracks discovered so far.
Weak parts need to be strengthened, which again increases weight.

The problem is that the F-35 doesn’t have any leeway to gain any more weight.
And it’s not like they can just boost the F-35′s engine thrust to make up for the weight gain.
(They’ve already had problems with the F-35′s tail fins melting from the intense heat of the engine exhaust.)

Talking about melting, the F-35B VTOL version has a way of melting asphalt and concrete surfaces during vertical landings.
The F-35′s huge engine’s exhaust is so hot that it melts carriers’ flight decks and airfields’ concrete surfaces.
The carrier flight decks and airfields would have to be covered with heat-resistant reinforced concrete, special sealants, etc.

If the F-35B tried to land vertically on an unprepared surface, molten debris would be thrown up by the F-35B’s 1700-degree, Mach 1 jet blast, endangering personnel nearby and also possibly the plane itself (as the debris could be ingested into the F-35′s engine).
They say that these problems with vertical landings could lead to severe operating restrictions for the F-35B.
(This is on top of the many structural flaws and cracks this VTOL verion has experienced so far.)

And talking about landing, the F-35C also has big problems with landing.
First of all, the tail hook still doesn’t work.
Second, the F-35C handles poorly during low-speed carrier landings.
But if it tries landing at a higher speed, it makes it even more difficult for the hook to catch the arresting wire.
(Also, it puts greater stress on the tail hook and the entire airframe.)
(These landing problems are on top of the F-35C’s weight problem and the especially abysmal flight performance.)

Vulnerability to enemy fire.
All 3 F-35 variants are very vulnerable to incendiary rounds.
Also, in order to reduce the F-35′s weight, they’ve made the skin thinner.
They’ve also been removing the plane’s safety features, again, to reduce its weight.

There are a lot more problems with the F-35, such as the far-from-complete, super-complex software, the problematic super helmet (which recently malfunctioned during a test flight, blinding the pilot and almost causing a crash)..

For a detailed look at the F-35′s problems, please read:
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/04/when-money-is-no-object-the-strange-saga-of-the-f-35/

For an overview of how the F-35 came to be and why it was a bad idea from the getgo, please read:
https://medium.com/war-is-boring/5c95d45f86a5

All in all, this plane will put the lives of our pilots in danger, and very possibly cost us our air superiority.

America needs a much better plane.

Dec 16, 2013 5:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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