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All Politics is Local

Aerospace business in the 21st century.

12:00 AM, Jul 23, 2010 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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But meeting the requirements of all these nations – and folding them into one aircraft – is causing the cost of the F-35 to continue to rise.  What it now costs to just purchase the aircraft is only a small portion of what is now defined as the “total ownership cost” of this program.  Plus, depending on how soon in the production process a nation buy’s the aircraft, one alone could cost well up to $200 million. This is a staggering figure when you consider how cheap and easy to operate the F-16 is – the very aircraft that the F-35 is meant to replace.

But, again, one of the main drivers is the jobs and other economic benefits that each participating country seeks to boost.  There is no rationale to have more than one F-35 production line – namely, the one in Fort Worth, Texas – and yet Italy has been pushing for a second production center because it would create jobs.  BAE Systems in the UK rejected the idea of a production line at their plant – but only on the basis that the upgrades and other improvements-contracts they will have over the life of the program will likely be worth four times more (in both the number of jobs and profit) than the original manufacturing contract.

Keeping people employed is always good, but especially in these economic times it seems sill to put pressure on national treasuries – regardless of whether it is the F-35 or the ridiculously expensive €140 million Airbus A400M in Europe.  The latter does slightly more than a U.S.-built C-130 military transport but at a much higher cost. 

Cuts will have to be made to pay for these programs, resulting in furloughing military personnel, which kind of defeats the purpose of trying to save jobs in one place only to lose them in another.

Shrinking defense resources are going to become a serious problem sooner or later.  Weapons programs are going to have to go back to being affordable somehow, but it is hard to see how or when this might happen with so much of what keeps politicians in office – creating jobs – being the primary driver in how weapons are developed and procured. 

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