CANBERRA May 16 Lockheed Martin Corp is
well on the way to fixing the F-35s performance and helmet
problems, Australian military chiefs said on Thursday, rejecting
criticism the troubled jet will be overmatched by newer Russian
and Chinese aircraft.
In testimony to parliament on the F-35, for which Australia
is one of the largest international buyers with plans for up to
100, Australia's air force chief Air Marshal Geoff Brown said
rivals were years behind the Lightning II's development.
Critics of the F-35 have predicted the aircraft, for which
many performance data are classified, will be outflown by
emerging aircraft like Russia's Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA and China's
J-20, as well as existing fighters like the Su-35, citing
computer modelling of known abilities.
"Let me tell you, I don't think that they have the level of
stealth that's available in U.S. fifth generation aircraft, and
it's by a significant factor," Air Marshal Brown told lawmakers.
"Both PAK FA, J-20 and J-31 are possibly where we were in
excess of 10-12 years ago in their development time frames, so
all those aeroplanes have still got a long, long way to go,"
The United States and its allies plan to buy more than 3,100
of the F-35 joint strike fighters in coming decades, although
the numbers may change as some countries pare back orders.
Australia is one of nine partner countries involved in the
Australia earlier this month released a new strategic
blueprint after the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific, committing
to the joint strike fighter and promising to beef up its
maritime and air forces as China and India emerge as regional
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan warned
Congress last month that the $396 billion F-35 program, the most
expensive ever U.S. arms program, remained at risk of a "death
spiral" in which cuts in orders drive up the cost per plane,
leading to more cuts..
Some unclassified computer wargaming of the F-35 against
major rivals has pointed to the F-35 being defeated, with
critics claiming the aircraft is too ungainly and lightly armed
to come out on top in a close-quarters dog fight.
Development has also been plagued by problems in the
development of complex software to fuse sensor information from
on-board and off-board data systems bringing together weapons,
radar and electronic warfare capabilities.
Those include glitches with its futuristic helmet, designed
by a joint venture of Rockwell Collins Inc and Israel's
Elbit Systems to display all the information F-35
pilots need to fly the plane.
Brown said the F-35's stealth and integrated sensors gave a
"God's eye view of the world", while Australia's F-35 program
chief Air Vice-Marshal Kym Osley said helmet issues including
sensor light clouding displays, ineffective night vision and
image "jitter" were being steadily overcome.
Software programming appeared to be the biggest development
risk, lawmakers were told, with costs now projected to fall to
around $83 million apiece, with the first two aircraft to cost
$130 million each.
Australia expects delivery of its first two F-35 fighters in
2014-15, with the first squadron to be operational in 2020. It
has so far contractually committed to buying only 14 F-35s.