4:24 PM, Feb 16, 2012 • By RICHARD CLEARY and THOMAS DONNELLY
The $489 billion cut to defense budgets engineered by Barack Obama — as well as the played-for-fool Republican accomplices on Capitol Hill — won't just mean less American military power. These cuts have significant consequences for America's allies, as well.
Consider the case of the F-35 Joint Strike fighter program. The Obama Pentagon has reduced the 2013 purchase of Lightnings from 42 to 29 and reduced the planned five-year buy by more than 100 aircraft. This will drive the cost of each F-35 up, yet again; the development costs of the plane remain the same regardless. And because the JSF program has been an international effort since its conception, Obama’s decision increases the cost for everyone.
Thus it comes as little surprise that yesterday Italy announced a significant reduction, from 131 to 91, in its planned F-35 purchases. Rome’s decision threatens to sow doubt among other international partners. The timing of the announcement, only days after the U.S. fiscal year 2013 budget was released, shows that the Italians are following Obama's lead — the White House has given them cover in using defense reductions as the principle ingredient in accepting government "fiscal discipline." In “extending” the U.S. buy of F-35s—in practice, the purchase of 179 fewer Joint Strike Fighters through fiscal year 2017—the United States has thrown into question the economics of the program and opened the door for partner-nations to back out of commitments.
The consequences could be felt most critically in the Pacific. Proliferating the F-35 among America's Pacific partners — traditional allies like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore — and potential new ones such as India — is a sine qua non of any meaningful military retrenchment in the region. But already Australia, arguably our closest ally, is on the verge of backing out. The Aussies had agreed to buy at least 100 F-35s. A Pacific "pivot" without the Lightning would be a fizzle.
The F-35's reliance on international partners should be a strength. It affords interoperability, giving the United States a platform around which it can build an international coalition capable of global reach. The Joint Strike Fighter’s inclusion of Italy and other partner-nations should also be a boon to the U.S. defense industrial base, whose future is tied to the F-35 project. Further, the program’s economics favor international purchases, balancing capital costs over more airframes, which also offers the advantage of greater allied power. All of these potential benefits, however, turn on a question of political commitment in the United States. In an environment where the Defense Department is increasingly the bill-payer for domestic, social programs, the F-35 has become a tempting target, and, with the specter of sequestration in sight, there may be more F-35 acquisition “extensions” in store.
But there's more bad news in the Italian decision. Italy has been a stalwart proponent of the jump jet "B" version of the F-35 that is also critical for future capabilities for the U.S. Marine Corps. Indeed, Italian aircraft carriers are essentially the same size as Marine amphibious ships. For the moment, it is unclear how Italy intends to apportion its cuts — like the Marines, their carriers will be of little use without an airplane — but if cost is the sole driver, Rome will be tempted to go exclusively with the cheaper F-35A and perhaps mothball one of its carriers entirely. The British have already backed out of their F-35B commitment, even though they have yet to kill the two carriers they've been building in anticipation. The British think they can squeeze a catapult on their small carriers to accommodate the U.S. Navy's version of the F-35, designated the "C" model, but it remains to be seen if the engineering makes any sense or is worth the cost. Israel and Singapore, as well as other Asian allies whose airfields are now threatened by Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles, were also intrigued by the jump-jet F-35, but a rise in price is inevitable and will be discouraging.
Indeed, the fate of the F-35 program is as good an indicator of the depth and breadth of Barack Obama's retreat from U.S. military preeminence. If more international partners on the project start bailing or similarly "extending" their F-35 plans, the pace of American and allied decline will accelerate.
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 po
1:30 PM, Jul 18, 2011 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
In a letter to new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week, Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the top men on the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested it was time to look into terminating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Angered by cost increases for the first three lots of low-rate production on the Lightning, the two senators asked Panetta to tell them “what would be our legal obligations and our costs if we were to terminate the F-35 program now.”
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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