Reduced purchase of US Air Force F-35As, increased supply rate among debated items
While the US Air Force has deployed some 250 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35As, at the current purchase rate of 60 per year, it would take until 2048 for the service to reach its planned number of 1,763.
That number is called into question, as the Air Force and the Pentagon Office of Cost Assessment and Program Assessment (CAPE) conduct a Tactical Aircraft Study (TACAIR) on the service’s future fighter requirements – an undertaking announced on the month last by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Charles Q. Brown (Daily Defense, February 17).
“There is a need for fifth generation capability,” Brown said at the time. “There is a need for NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance] and that particular ability to stay competitive against our opponents, and then there’s a mix for low-end combat. I don’t know it would actually be an F-16. I wish I could build something new and different that isn’t the F-16, which has some of these capabilities but gets there faster, uses a digital approach. “
Brown said such a replacement for the F-16 could be a blank sheet design.
John Venable, senior defense policy researcher at the Heritage Foundation and former F-16C pilot, said House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Could earn a pass to his comments this month that the F-35 is a “huge failure” due to Smith’s “lack of air power expertise”, but Venable said Brown’s comments on the TACAIR study “are of real puzzles “.
In a March 19 editorial for National interest, Venable wrote that the 2018 “Air Force We Need” study conducted by former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson – a report that outlined the need for 386 operational squadrons by 2030, supported the requirement to 1,763 F-35A. The study called for increasing the number of operational fighter squadrons of the Air Force from 48 to 55.
“The Air Force Chief of Staff and others argue that there are places in the world where you could save money by flying less capable fighters,” Venable wrote on March 19. “So what? We have a lot of jets that can fill that role now. Ongoing Russian or Chinese programs that sell or ‘lend’ high-end surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to any nation willing to buy them do of untenable fourth-generation fighter employment. The Russians have done it in Syria before, and these incredibly capable SAMs are proliferating around the world. “
Still, Dan Grazier, a military member of Jack Shanahan at the Center for Defense Information and United States Marine Corps veteran, believes the F-35 “could be significantly downsized due to a combination of technology failures and costs that soar “.
“If that happens, Pentagon leaders owe it to US taxpayers to study what went so wrong with this program and not repeat their mistakes,” said Grazier, who added that NGAD could end up borrowing the same difficult path.
Like Rep. Smith, Grazier suggested reducing the purchase of F-35s and replacing the older Air Force A-10s, F-15s and F-16s with close air support and more air-to-air fighters. combat effective “that we could reliably deploy in adequate numbers without breaking our taxpayers’ piggy banks.
“As long as the F-15 and F-16 designs can continue to provide useful service, they should be kept in inventory and replaced if necessary with new cells,” Grazier wrote in a March 22 email. . “The Air Force already has the infrastructure in place to support these programs. Whenever possible, all services should try to evolve their existing systems to meet their needs rather than constantly designing new weapons and vehicles. If an aircraft is combat proven, it doesn’t make much sense to abandon design just because individual cells have reached their limits.
“Any new program that replaces them should incorporate existing technology as much as possible to take advantage of the features that have made the F-15 and F-16 so successful,” Grazier said. “Managers should then take a very disciplined approach to the new technologies that they incorporate into the design. They should avoid adding unnecessary complexity to the new aircraft and produce the simplest aircraft possible to accomplish the intended task. This will help control costs so that the Air Force can purchase enough aircraft to meet the needs of the service. It will also speed up the acquisition cycle considerably so that we don’t have to go through another development process of more than two decades as we know it with the F-35. “
While the Air Force has paid a premium in the past for the stealth attributes of the F-35 and F-22, Grazier said “stealth features should be incorporated into these future, simpler designs” due to the threat. advanced air defense systems and foreign fighters, such as the Chinese J-20.
“The services should also look for alternatives to flying manned planes in heavily defended airspace,” Grazier said. “There have been great improvements in long range precision fire over the past two decades. Such technology would need to be improved to carry out the majority of deep strike missions currently performed by aircraft. The services should also work harder to improve our own air defense systems to deal with the threat posed by opposing aircraft. “
The Heritage Foundation has proposed to increase the F-35A purchase rate to 80, 100, and 120 over the next three years, and an internal Heritage Foundation analysis of the Air Force’s needs determined a need “for just 1,265 F-35A – about two-thirds of the planned purchase of 1,763 aircraft,” according to Venable, who added that accelerating the purchase of F-35A to 120 per year would result in a fleet of 1,265 Air Force aircraft by 2030.
“In discussions with Lockheed Martin, they have indicated the possibility of adding a significant number of planes to their production schedule, but they cannot shorten the financing from 2 to 3 years until the delivery time without effort. almost Herculean due to the global nature of production. Venable wrote in a March 22 email. “On their own terms, with one level of effort and funding from the Manhattan Project, they could cut the funding time to delivery in half, from 1 to 1.5 years, even in times of war. This thought is disturbing and makes it even more important to increase the acquisition rate as much as we can now. “
Venable said that in fiscal 2022, a fully combat-capable fifth-generation F-35A will cost $ 77.9 million, while a fourth-generation baseline Boeing [BA] F-15EX without targeting pod or electronic self-defense system will cost $ 87.7 million
These shortcomings render the F-15EX “incapable of flying combat missions”, according to Venable. “When you add the extra systems and equipment needed to make it combat-capable, an F-15EX will cost between $ 102 million and 30% more than a stealth fighter capable of fighting in all combat environments. The cost per flight hour of the F-35A [currently $35,000 to $38,000] is almost a washout with that of the F-15EX, and the fighter pilots who have flown the F-35s love them.