Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Rising Cost and the Delay of the F-35 Project

The problem of rising price to develop F-35is a serious concern on the Hill. In view of ongoing sequestration, the Joint Strike Fighter project can squeeze other defense needs. Originally, F-35 was supposed to be money saving and multipurpose plane. However, continuous engine and software troubles lead to delays in its deployment and skyrocketing price. When an engine trouble happened on June 23 this year, all F-35s grounded for inspection. Senator John McCain calls F-35 as the worst example "of the military-industrial-congressional complex," while other senators, including Sen. James Inhofe, are mostly optimistic with this problem (“The Pentagon’s $399 Billion Plane to Nowhere”; Foreign Policy; July 8, 2014).

Among US allies, proponents for this fighter, such as Professor Narushige Michishita at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, argued that F-35 would be the best option for Japan. "If this was about a Cold War-type competition, then the F-22 would have been better. But if this is a long-term peacetime competition, you need numbers and presence, and close coordination among allies," he says. On the other hand, Carlo Kopp, Defense Analyst at Air Power Australia, an Australian think tank, warned that it would erode defense capability of the United States and its allies, due to complicated technology that would make it costly (“Struggling in US, F-35 fighter pushes sales abroad”; FOX News; January 27, 2012).

Regarding technological problems, some experts see that F-35 is overweight and underpowered. In order to satisfy requirements of the Air force, the Navy, Marine Corps, and allied partners, this single engine fighter has come to weigh 35t, while twin engine F-15 weighs 40t. Even if engine problems can be resolved soon, some analysts worry fundamental design flaws (“Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’”; Reuters News; July 14, 2014). In addition, due to a multi-partite joint project, its software becomes too complicated. As a result, F-35 will be deployed in 2016, ten years since its first flight (“Why Is The US Military Spending So Much Money On The F-35 Fighter Jet?”; Business Insider; February 21, 2014).One fits for all fighter can become overweight and technically halfbaked as seen in the F-111 project by Secretary of Defense-then Robert McNamara of the Kennedy era.

Technological complexity in machinery and software snowballs the price. Though F-35 was supposed be more reasonably cost than F-22, the price per plane grown year by year. It is estimated that the unit cost will $148 million for F35A, $232 million for F35B, and $337 million for F-35C in 2015. Meanwhile F-22 costs “only” $150 million per plane. Now, F-35 symbolizes unaccountable connections between the Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin (“How DOD’s $1.5 Trillion F-35 Broke the Air Force”; Fiscal Times; July 31, 2014).

Despite budget constraints, F-35 remains a priority for the next generation fighter as the Air force will focus on high tech weapons (“Air Force Plans Shift to Obtain High-Tech Weapon Systems”; New York Times; July 30, 2014). Though some scale back can happen in the total number to be deployed, Professor Gordon Adams of the American University comments that F-35 program is too big to fail. Since Lockheed Martin operates in 45 states, lawmakers need their presence to sustain employment in their constituencies (“Why Is The US Military Spending So Much Money On The F-35 Fighter Jet?”; Business Insider; February 21, 2014). What McCain calls “the military-industrial-congressional complex" makesthe project increasingly nontransparent.

Considering ongoing troubles associated with the F-35 program and Congressional debates in the United States, American allies need to reexamine the problem. If it delays too much, and its price snowballs furthermore, some of the original plan may have to be revised. In any case, it is most vital to watch Congressional testimonies in Washington very carefully. In addition, allies need to exchange information among themselves. For example, Japan can gather much information from experts in Britain beyond the Cameron administration, because the options for Japan’s FX fighters and Britain’s flight squadrons for the next aircraft carriers overlap: F35, Typhoon, F/A18 Super Hornet. Britain is the Level 1 partner of the Joint Strike Fighter project, and exploring defense partnership with Japan. Also, we need keen attention to the progress of stealth programs in Russia and China.Taking all things into account, American allies can judge whether to buy all F-35s as originally planned, or explore some portion of alternatives for their plans.