1:33 PM, Dec 13, 2011 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper is reporting that the Japanese government is close to settling on the F-35 Lightning as the much-needed replacement for its F-15 fighter. That’s exceptionally good news for a program that’s both key to preserving American military preeminence and at a lot of risk due to prospective deep defense budget cuts. Indeed, Japan’s decision may actually complicate the Pentagon’s challenges in meeting the targets laid out by the Budget Control Act, Obama administration policy, and the uncertainties of the sequestration stemming from the failure of the congressional supercommittee to cut a deficit reduction deal.
The Japan deal has been a long time in the making. The Japanese air force has been shopping for a next generation “F-X” fighter to supplant the approximately 140 F-15s that have been Tokyo’s frontline air defense aircraft since the early 1980s. Japan was originally interested in the F-22 Raptor, and was willing to pay a premium price to get it – Japan also paid a premium to be able to build its own version of the F-15 – but the termination of America’s F-22 program in 2009 dashed that hope. The final F-22 is on the production line now.
Even though the F-35 program has been an international effort from its inception, including partners like the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey, as well as larger allies like Britain, and with a sale to Israel in the works, the Obama administration did not make it easy for Japan to acquire the Lightning. Working out the details of a technology sharing agreement was not easy, and the administration was also hesitant to anger the Chinese. And make no mistake, Japan’s desire to acquire a stealthy, so-called “fifth-generation” aircraft is driven by fear of China and a strong desire to deepen military ties with the United States as much as any need to replace the aging F-15s. This deal is what the U.S. policy of “building partner capacity” is all about: upgrading the capability to a frontline ally to defend itself and to operate more seamlessly with U.S. forces. Selling F-35s to Japan may not provoke the kind of furious response from Beijing as selling new F-16s to Taiwan would, but it is arguably more strategically and operationally important.
The sale of the F-35 to Japan comes at a critical time for the program, as well. The development of the plane has been plagued by the difficulties of settling on final designs and constant restructuring because of shifting Pentagon budgets. Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the chairman and ranking members, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have made the F-35 the most recent target of their jihad against the defense industry and have rammed through a provision in this year’s defense authorization act – shortly to be on the floor of both houses of Congress – to force the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin into a fixed-price contract. Considering that the F-35 is still in flight test and that defense budgets are in free fall, such a contract is even more foolish than usual. And then there are the F-35 partner nations to consider, not just the current partners, Japan and Israel, but likely future F-35 nations like Australia and South Korea, both soon to make similar fighter buys.
Indeed, there is nothing more critical to reinvigorating U.S. military posture and coalitions in the Indo-Pacific than the F-35 and a few other critical systems (such as the P-8 maritime patrol plane, the C-17 airlifter, the new tanker, the Littoral Combat Ship) that could form the skeletal structure of a de facto future alliance. It’s no surprise that Singapore is seriously considering the F-35 – particularly the “B” model jump jet. Japan’s initial buy is for about 40 F-35s, but there are likely to be subsequent procurements. Tokyo might also go for the “B” model, which would very much complicate China’s ability to target Japanese airfields with ballistic and cruise missiles. And, once India realizes its recent mistake in purchasing the “fourth-generation” eurofighter, it’s likely that there will be other opportunities.
Defense industrial and technology-transfer policy can and should be critical parts of American military strategy, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. During the Cold War and since, the Pentagon and especially the U.S. Navy and Air Force have designed and built systems for themselves and cared little about equipping allies and partners. Such as the problem of the F-22. Likewise, there were and are sales to be made in the Middle East, but with the rising threat of Iran, these, too, are more about strategy than profit.
Jan 17, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 17 • By MAX BOOT
In 1991, at the end of the Cold War, there were 710,821 active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Army. By 2001, that figure was down to 478,918. That 32 percent decline in active-duty strength severely limited our options for a military response to 9/11, practically dictating that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million. The result was years of protracted conflict that put a severe strain on an undersized force.
Robert Gates was wrong on the F-22, and much more. 12:25 PM, Jan 6, 2011 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
As Politico reports, today Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will step forward to offer a list of procurement programs the administration is putting on the chopping block in the coming year. It won’t be the first time that Secretary Gates has moved to cut high profile programs that, in his estimation, the United States military can do without. And, as he makes his case today for doing away with systems like the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, it’s worth keeping in mind that Gates’s track record leaves open the question of whether these recommendations are based on anything other than his own estimation.
9:00 AM, Dec 9, 2010 • By MICHAEL AUSLIN
After years of ignoring North Korean aggression and provocations, the South Korean government has stated that any future attacks will result in war on the peninsula. In such a crisis as happening now on the Korean peninsula, one assumes the political and military leadership of the United States would deploy its most sophisticated weapons to the Korean peninsula, both as a warning to Pyongyang and as a capable force to defend against any further aggression in support of our South Korean allies. Yet what was missing from the joint military exercises last week between the U.S. and South Korean navies, in which the U.S.S. George Washington aircraft carrier and several American guided missile destroyers and cruisers joined several Korean ships? The answer: America’s most capable attack fighter, the 5th generation stealthy F-22 Raptor.
Aerospace business in the 21st century.12:00 AM, Jul 23, 2010 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
Cooperation, international collaboration, work sharing, technology transfer – these are all buzzwords that have been used for years by the aerospace community.
Gates sings another tune.3:38 PM, May 11, 2010 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went to Chicago last summer to make the case for killing the F-22 -- the world's premier air supremacy fighter and the only "fifth generation fighter" currently in production anywhere -- he argued that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be a more cost-effectve alternative. Though the JSF "has had development problems to be sure," Gates said, "It is a versatile aircraft, less than half the total cost of the F-22, and can be produced in quantity with all the advantages produced by economies of scale – some 500 will be bought over the next five years."
Administration claims jet procurement "on track."12:41 PM, Mar 1, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
Bill Sweetman, the veritable godfather of aviation reporting, has an interesting story up on efforts to push the Joint Strike Fighter out the door on time.
If February was a bad news month for the Joint Strike Fighter, with the program boss fired, a 13-month delay in test and a two-year slip in Air Force initial operational capability, look out for March. A Government Accountability Office report is rolling down the tracks, along with a Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) which, as we told you in Defense Technology International a month ago, is almost certainly going to record a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach...
The end of air supremacy?9:32 AM, Feb 17, 2010 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
In an open-source assessment of Russia's Sukhoi PAK-FA, aka the Raptor Killer, Air Power Australia concludes, "once the PAK-FA is deployed within a theatre of operations, especially if it is supported robustly by counter-VLO capable ISR systems, the United States will no longer have the capability to rapidly impose air superiority, or possibly even achieve air superiority." Moreover, the Obama administration's decision to kill the F-22 air superiority fighter in favor of the multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may prove disastrous, as "the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter struggles to survive against the conventional Su-35BM Flanker… Against [a basic-model] PAK-FA, the F-35 falls within the survivability black hole, into which US legacy fighters such as the F-16C/E, F-15C/E and F/A-18A-F have already fallen.”
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