With the first Danish F-35 now officially handed over to the Flyvevåbnet, it seems to be a suitable time to look at the aircraft that perhaps arouses the strongest emotions of all HX-contenders. I have earlier criticised the Kampfly-programme under which the F-35 was chosen (though I should note that the F-35 not being able to fairly prove that it is best fit for the Danish requirements doesn’t mean it isn’t), and a number of decisions surrounding Denmark’s future fighter have raised questions about how a potential HX-winning F-35 force would look in practice (*cough*, the RDAF Skrydstrup budget). To get some answers to the questions, I recently had an opportunity to chat with Scott Davis, Lockheed Martin’s Managing Director for Finland.
While few if any analysts doubt that being stealthy is good, or that the F-35 is the stealthiest of the five HX-contenders, questions have been raised about the trade-offs that brings, and whether the same effects can be achieved cheaper and with greater versatility through the use of active electronic warfare systems? However, the F-35 is far from a one-trick pony, and while the marketing is often heavily focused on the passive measures taken to lower the aircraft’s signature, it does in fact sport a state-of-the-art active EW-suite as well. The two key pieces of hardware here are the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 AESA radar with a large number of transmitter/receiver modules, as well as the huge Pratt & Whitney F135-engine pushing the aircraft and, crucially, providing electric power to all the subsystems.
The fact that the EW-suite is built up around internal systems means that all the power and cooling needed can be drawn from the aircraft’s main systems, as well as allowing the AESA radar itself to function as seriously sized jammer. Not only does this mean that the jamming power is more than an order of magnitude greater than those of traditional pods according to Lockheed Martin, but they also note the fact that the large antenna surface allows for a very narrow beam, lessening the risk of detection from enemy passive sensors. Scott acknowledges that podded solutions are easier to tailor for a wide range of threats, but while he won’t disclose the closer specifications of what the AN/APG-81 can do as a jammer, there are some things he can tell:
All things that can kill you […] is within our jamming range.
That includes both hostile aircraft as well as missiles, or in general anything that can give a fire-control quality radar track.
However, the aircraft is also able to use the radar in passive mode, during which it in essence becomes a large listening device. With several aircraft in formation sharing passively acquired data through the high-bandwidth MADL datalink (which is designed to be difficult to detect and jam compared to earlier standards such as Link 16), it can then rapidly triangulate other emitters.
If you’re not transmitting, you’re in effect an electronic sponge.
The nice thing here is obviously the synergies that can be had through having your aircraft naturally being able to operate closer to the adversary without being detected, but also being able to do so either completely passively or only using systems that are relatively hard to detect. In essence, with these capabilities feeding into each other the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Granted, electronic warfare capabilities are among the aspects that are hardest to judge based on open sources. However, if the F-35 even achieves par in the EW domain compared to the competition, it should according to all logic be better off overall in a combat situation due to the aforementioned synergies coupled with the stealth features, all other things being equal.
However, in reality all other things are rarely equal, and while Scott is correct in identifying the F-35 as the “Next European fighter” based on the large number of European air forces acquiring the type, most do so in significantly smaller numbers than the F-16 fleets they are replacing. In the case of Denmark, the plan is to replace the remaining fleet of around 50 left in service from the original of 77 F-16A/B (7 of which were attrition replacements) with just 27 F-35A in a single squadron. In Norway the cut wasn’t as drastic, but it still sees 52 F-35A replacing an original 74-strong F-16A/B fleet (of which 56 were upgraded to MLU-status). Still, Norway is also consolidating operations to a single base, further underlining the fear that a Finnish F-35 order might lead to a 40 aircraft Air Force and the closing of one of the two fighter squadrons.
Programme Director Lauri Puranen has however shot down at least the latter idea, stating that concentrating the Finnish fighter force to a single base hasn’t even been discussed, and Scott Davis is confident that the fear of an F-35 specific infrastructure cost causing issues is overblown. One example often brought up is that of Eielson AFB in Alaska, which has seen huge spending on F-35 infrastructure. However, much of those investments were due to the base not having been home to combat coded fighters in recent years, meaning that it was more of an expansion than a modernisation project.
[Eielson AFB] was a plus up, adding two more squadrons of fighters […] The logistics footprint of the F-35 is actually less than that of the F-16
In general, the aircraft has turned out to work well in colder climates, including not only in Alaska, but also in locations such as Burlington, Vermont, and over in Norway. Asking about whether actually operating the aircraft in cold weather as opposed to ‘just’ doing cold weather tests have revealed some major insights, Scott confirms that this has indeed been the case. “We’ve definitely learned some lessons”, he confirms, but also states that overall it is going very well and that the “Norwegians are very happy”.
And speaking of happy Norwegians, they just did the first drop-test of an JSM from an F-35. The anti-ship missile is stealthy, sports a passive IIR-sensor, a secondary land-attack role, and crucially can be carried internally on the F-35. As such it is more or less a perfect fit to the aircraft in that it is difficult to detect throughout the attack run, and while Lockheed Martin can’t discuss details of the weapons package offered to the Finnish Air Force, we know from the DSCA-notifications that it is on the table. An interesting detail that often is overlooked for the F-35 is that a better capability to close with your enemy will not only give you more accurate information about what is happening and where, but also offer the possibility to use shorter-ranged (read: cheaper) weapons to hit defended ground targets.
Another question which has popped up related to HX is whether the aircraft can be properly dispersed, especially considering the ALIS/ODIN maintenance software which likes to be connected to the international network to which it sends data. There’s also the added question of cybersecurity risks surrounding the data being sent. Scott, however, isn’t concerned, and notes that sovereign data management is already found in the system, with the user filtering what data they want to share. The Portable Maintenance Aids (in essence dedicated laptops, to be replaced by pads come ODIN) also allow maintenance to run smoothly during dispersed operations regardless of whether the system is connected to the main database or not. The rumoured 30 days limit to offline use is also just a rumour, with nothing more dramatic happening than day one falling out of the aircraft’s memory on day 31 if it hasn’t been able to upload the data in between. Interestingly enough from a Finnish point of view, the USAF is also awakening to the need for dispersed basing, largely as a result of the threat from China. This has seen the logistics footprint being tested in recent exercises such as Cope North 21 earlier this year, which saw Eielson-based F-35s deploy from their home in Alaska to remote airstrips in Guam. The US Air Force’s agile combat employment concept (ACE) is based on a hub-and-spooks principle, i.e. a central permanent base supporting austere satellite fields, not completely unlike the Finnish concept of operations. During Cope North, a key base was the unassuming Northwest Field, which saw fighters operating from it for the first time since WWII.
However, even if the F-35 turns out to be both affordable and deployable, there’s still some particular questionmarks hanging over the project. One is regarding sovereign mission data management and exploitation. Things would be routed through the US (not unlike Boeing’s offer), but with the large number of parameters involved in the F-35’s threat library, Lockheed Martin is careful not to make any promises regarding turn-around times for updates (unlike Boeing’s offer).
We are in discussions with numerous Finnish suppliers about multiple opportunities for potential future work on the F-35. Details on the nature of these discussion are competition sensitive so we won’t disclose that information.
Another question that still waits for an answer is the industrial participation aspect of things. With both Saab and BAES/Eurofighter GmbH having promised production of both the aircraft and the engines in Finland in case their respective bids win, and with both having released general numbers for the amount of Statements of Work they have prepared, as well as highlighting key subsystems that are open for cooperation, the answer to my question about the IP-package was surprisingly timid. In particular after the weak showing in the Swiss AIR2030 programme where the offer was for “assembly of major components” of four (!) out of 40 fighters locally, and considering the challenges the rather strict Finnish requirements for industrial participation (3 Bn Euro, of which the majority is direct), it does sound strange that Lockheed Martin isn’t able to provide any details at the time being when they otherwise are rather talkative.
50 thoughts on “Stealth, Dispersed Operations, and a big Jammer”
The strange thing with the F-35 is that its EW system is strong where the F-35 is strong (and thus doesn’t need an EW system to protect it), the forward sector in the X-band. And it’s weak where the F-35 stealth is weak, outside the forward sector and below the X-band, where search and acquisition radars can map its presence so enemy air defenses and fighters can attack it, now totally undisturbed as the F-35 alternative lacks a Growler or EA pod.
I had exactly the same thought about F-35 EW being strong exactly where its stealth make it less usefull.
Jamming with radar seems an interesting feature when added to an already full spectrum EW Suite but in this case it is hard not seeing it as a “it will be good enough” solution. Still, it could be very effective against other combat aircrafts operating in the same band. Conversely surface radar below X-Band will remain out of reach as well as missiles, probably rather operating in Ku-Band than X-Band…
Interesting detail about the radar being able to steer a very narrow jamming beam but that requires precise bearing and elevation measurement of the target. Not always easy if you go ‘full passive’ : that leaves question about passive sensors performance, not discussed in this post… and probably nowhere else 😉
The F-35 MultiFunctional Array (MFA), the array radar antenna, has three functions: 1. Radar. 2. ESM receiver 3. Jammer. This is now common for AESA radars. The F-22 was first, F-18E second, and F-35 third. Gripen has 1 and 2, the final Typhoon radar (ECRS mk2) all three. The spotting and aligning of the target for the jammer is done by the ESM function. It’s a very high power ESM and Jammer function, but it has limited angle coverage (a 140° forward cone except for Gripen and Typhoon 200°, and limited frequency coverage, X-band).
Ok thank you, I didn’t pay attention to the ESM part, that makes sense now.
In addition, Gripen and Typhoon also have dedicated receivers and emitters, albeit with lower power, to make up for angle and frequency coverage.
The MADLs with its emphasis on forming a Tactical Air Unit with a four-group can probably be a bit of a game changer judging by how how Gripen and Viggen have been using the same concept with the TDMA. Radar will always be the best way to detect and target enemy aircraft but on a silent or heavily jammed battle field data aggregation from signals detected in multiple locations will be extremely important.
The F-35 seems very well suited for the anti-ship mission. However, one can still ask: how does it compare with Typhoon/Rafale and the planned, future supersonic/hypersonic missile?
Regarding SEAD/DEAD, one may ask: is it not so that drones have taken this mission, or will do so in the future? The Turkish Bayraktar TB2 is said to cost 5 million or so. Turkish drones were very successful in the recent Azeri-Armenian war.
Five million is still not “cheap”. But it is cheaper than any HX contestant. Furthermore, a lost drone does not involve any pilot losses.
Also, in case of protracted war, drones are probably easier to replace than manned fighters. Drones are lower tech and can be manufactured more easily.
Corporal, I’m always amazed by the opportunities you get to chat with these very interesting people! 😉
But that’s too easy for you with these very talkative firms. You need true challenge : what about asking Dassault Aviation some news?
Dassault doesnt really make any comments regarding HX, they are very low profile. I havent seen any ad’s either.
I think LM is ok to give comments to Corporal as they know his writing style, loads of text but rarely facts/conclusions that would devastate manufacturer’s image in HX.
You’re right, for better or worse that’s how Dassault Aviation works. It’s true for HX and any other competition : that’s why it is a true challenge to get them talking ;).
Indeed, LM can give comments to Corporal without risk and its true for all other contenders. General public has more and more interest in these kind of competition, I believe Dassault Aviation strategy of ‘secrecy’ may not be the best one on the long run.
Even if it’s not really relevant in the selection process, a bit of good quality ‘public relations’ work can do some good for reputation.
=> The USAF want absolutely to cancel the f-35 that’s all.
“Air Force Lieutenant General Clint Hinote, the service’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration, and Requirements, made his remarks regarding the F-35A in an interview that Defense News published today focusing on a wargame last year that simulated an attempted Chinese invasion of Taiwan. ”
“We wouldn’t even play the current version of the F-35,” Hinote told Defense News.
“It wouldn’t be worth it,” he continued. “Every fighter that rolls off the line today is a fighter that we wouldn’t even bother putting into these scenarios.”
But as Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget expert with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a March report, Congress has repeatedly rolled back the service’s plans to cut its existing force structure.
“This leaves the Air Force trapped in a near-term Catch-22,” she stated. “On one hand, it is trying to divest itself of decades-old legacy airframes, which drive up [operations and maintenance] costs every year, so that it can reinvest in next-generation platforms. On the other hand, its replacement aircraft programs will not be operational fast enough to meet the ongoing demands of global operations, even if the net savings from legacy divestments are sufficient to fund new platforms.”
During the war game last fall, the Air Force invited staff members from the congressional defense committees to help shape the exercise and interpret the results, hoping to pave the way for its narrative to gain traction among lawmakers.
“We’re trying to help people see the future, what it might look like, the types of choices it would take” to win a war, all keeping in mind “the evidence-based possibility that if we were able to change, we probably wouldn’t have to fight,” Hinote said. “And that’s a reason to change.”
One curious thing is that the F-22 was not involved in the simulation. There were four planes:
4. The planned F-16 replacement
The stealthy F-35 jet may not complete its most critical stage of combat testing until about September 2022…
The rigorous testing in the $398 billion program that was once planned for 2017 was most recently scheduled for December. But the Defense Department’s F-35 program office has now projected the target date for the monthlong simulator testing as August 2022, according to a briefing chart used in a mid-March review.
“It’s still in operational testing and evaluation, and once that’s finished — and we hope it’s finished promptly -” well, it won’t be
After the test, it will take an additional two to three months to transfer and analyze the data and then draft a final report for delivery to Pentagon leaders and Congress. The report is mandated by law before a decision on whether to move into full-rate production — the most lucrative phase of the contract for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed — can be made.
Forgot the link:
Not relevant to this particular post but this request to the parliament by the Swedish minister of defence to secure additional funding for Gripen, should Finland choose Gripen as well strikes me as rather unusual.
It is in Swedish but to briefly summarize: Swedish Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist will request of the Swedish Parliament to approve of an as for now undefined sum “in the billions” for the future development of the Gripen system and harmonization with the Finnish Air Force should Finland go with Gripen.
I have not seen this kind of pre-approval before and it must be interpreted as a sign of commitment from at least part of the Swedish defence establishment.
In my opinion, this is a signal that the Swedish interest in selling Gripen goes far beyond export business and sharing costs. I think the Swedish government sees a true and substantial value in having a partner with the same systems and the flexibility it brings.
Speaking of Parliament: I can not see how the Finnish Parliament could approve an F-35 deal know that we KNOW it won’t be done with IOT&E before 2022, maybe even later. Can someone with more knowledge about politics comment on this? Finland is very much a rule-based society, and I just don’t see how the parliament could ignore a matter like this. At the very least it will give the greenies and lefties more ammo against the F-35.
Well, because everyone knows that the IOT&E process for the F-35 is complex and the lack of approval largely down to sub-par process design. After all, the aircraft is already flying combat missions for three (IIRC) countries. If the FDF LOGCOM/FINAF recommends the aircraft based on the best available data, I don’t see how the parliament of the very much rules-based society could go against that recommendation.
I do not wish to argue with you on your blog. But here I would like to say that the purpose of HX testing and simulation is actually similar to IOT&E. All other aircraft have passed IOT&E in USA. Super Hornet passed IOT&E. Every other airplane did. Why is IOT&E testing and simulation different from HX testing and simulation?
I was probably wrong about the parliament thing. It seems like “Valtioneuvosto” makes the final decision. I wish there was some place where it would be possible to discuss these things, because, like said, I do not want to turn this blog into a battleground.
About the Super Hornet: “LFT&E and IOT&E results were reported to Congress on March 30, 2000 and supported the FA-18E/F approval of full rate production in April 2000.”
I think I see it now. There is massive obfuscation behind these terms – by purpose.
I was wondering why they are using a simulator to test the F-35. It makes no sense.
The answer is: the simulator is not used for OT&E of any airplane.
The Super Hornet was not operationally tested in a simulator. It passed IOT&E without a simulator.
The F-22 was not operationally tested in a simulator. The JSE is meant for both the F-35 and the F-22, but it is not meant to be used for IOT&E.
Both the Super Hornet and Raptor passed their IOT&E long ago, and JSE did not exist back then.
Do you follow? It makes no sense to operationally test any plane in a simulator.
So then, what is the JSE? It is part of Block 3F.
The simulator is not used for testing. What is really going on, is they need to test the simulator. Once the simulator is tested, Block 3F is ready. This marks Block 3F Milestone C. Please use google to find it, because I am already starting to forget the meaning of each of these terms. I shall most certainly look them all up again and again.
JSE is part of Block 3F. It needs to be tested like any other part of Block 3F. This is what the testing is about. JSE is not used to test the F-35.
Are you following me? Do you see how the press got this thing wrong? It was by purpose.
No aircraft goes through operational testing in a simulator. It makes no sense. Would you want to be a passenger in an airline that went through operational testing in a simulator? Of course not.
If this is difficult to follow, it is because they want it to be that way.
What this also means is that Block 3F is still being developed. Block 3F is going to be ready in 2022 – that is what they say now; but as we already know, these dates have a tendency to shift forward in time.
And if this sounds hard to swallow, remember that every other aircraft in American history has passed IOT&E, we don’t hear so much about them, and none of them, not a single one, did any part of their IOT&E in a simulator like JSE.
This sounds a bit strange. What I can find is that JSE was created for and I quote “Supporting F-35 Operational Testing and 4th – 5th gen integration testing as well as future testing needs of the F-35 and other platforms. “ https://www.navair.navy.mil/nawctsd/sites/g/files/jejdrs596/files/2018-11/2018-jse.pdf
And if you read the DOD FY 2020 report the following can be found “Summary: As of the end of September 2020, the remaining required IOT&E events are 64 mission trials in the F-35 Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) and two AIM-120 missile trials that were awaiting corrections to deficiencies in the aircraft’s mission systems software.” And “JSE: The JSE is a man-in-the-loop, F-35 software-in-the-loop mission simulator that will be used to conduct IOT&E test missions with modern threat types and densities in scenarios that are not able to be replicated on the open-air ranges. The IOT&E plan requires 64 mission trials in the JSE against modern, fielded, near-peer adversary threats in realistic densities.” https://www.dote.osd.mil/Portals/97/pub/reports/FY2020/dod/2020f35jsf.pdf?ver=C5dAWLFs4_N3ZLrP-qB0QQ%3D%3D
Could the reason for that older fighter platforms didn’t use JSE for IOT&E test be that it didn’t exist or that the simulators wasn’t sophisticated enough or the planes for that matter?
OK then… take everything I say with a pinch of salt. Of course I am not an expert.
Now for one thing, remember that JSE was supposed to be built by Lockheed Martin, They did not get it done, Warisboring tells us:
“The JSE is the program’s second high-fidelity simulation facility design. The program office cancelled the first, called the Verification Simulator, after that project had fallen hopelessly behind. Amazingly enough, the program office had contracted Lockheed Martin to build the VSim. That meant the prime contractor of the F-35 would have built and manned the facility that would produce the data decision-makers would use to determine the combat suitability and contractual future of the program.
The students would have literally written their own final exams. Yet despite having 14 years to build the facility, Lockheed Martin fell hopelessly behind and then asked for overrun funding to fix their failure to deliver. Finally, the program office cancelled Lockheed Martin’s contract and made a fresh start of the simulation project by contracting with a Navy facility that had no prior experience with such large-scale simulations.”
Legal problems transfering data:
Link about final sim:
Click to access 2018-jse.pdf
Well then if we take two steps back and assume that I was wrong (AGAIN), it remains weird that F-35 needs this for IOT&E. With google it is easy to find examples of other flying things that go through IOT&E, and they don’t need a huge new simulation facility for it.
Interview of Dan Grazier by hush-kit :
“The real costs of all the F-35 variants can be found in the service’s budget documents, all of which are available online. The F-35A cost $110.3 million per aircraft in 2020, the F-35B $135.8 million, and the F-35C $117.3 million. These costs differ significantly from the advertised prices. The difference is that all the costs necessary to build each aircraft are spread across multiple budget years. The services budget for advance procurement to purchase components in earlier years, but then claim that the money spent in the actual production year is the total cost which is definitely not the case. This is a deliberate public relations ploy to make the F-35 look better on paper and make it appear as though the program is meeting its cost goals.”
How are quoted cost manipulated?
“Besides the advance procurement budgetary trick, the Pentagon also fails to factor in all of the other costs that go into producing a functional aircraft for the rosy figures quoted so often in the press. They don’t mention the research and development costs that should be distributed across each aircraft purchased, the cost to construct the specialized facilities wherever F-35s are based, and now the costs to “modernize” the F-35. It’s important for everyone to understand that much of the work the program managers claim is to upgrade the F-35 now is really to complete design work that was supposed to be included in the original R&D effort but was deferred in an attempt to stay within their budget and schedule forecasts.
Well I think that the official purchase price always looked too good to be true. It is not an automotive process where the scale factor allows to go down to some extent when you go to tens of thousands pieces a year. There are a relatively a lot of planes planned here but I newer saw any numbers which would compare a 100 a 1000 and maybe 3000 of F-35. Additionally they could also move those costs to the service hours later on. Maybe that’s why the service cost is reported to be so high. Of course this is only pure speculation on my part.
The level of “discussion” on the comment section has gone so low its hard to imagine how it could go any lower. It used to be fun to read the comment section but now there is hardly ever anything a sane person would bother reading. The pissing contest has gone beyond absurd.
Boy am I glad the HX competition is soon over. See you then.
Yet I disagree with the stealth-capabilities of the F-35. Let’s not forget the delays the F-35 had; giving “opposite forces” the time needed (almost 15 years) to develop countermeasurements. Also, as soon the bird carrys armory at the external pods (also think “external fueltank”), the RCS is …kinda big and the stealth’s outcome on aerodynamics a big handicap…
I’m not sure that the F-35 currently – after USAF reducing the order by 50% already and now making a study if the F-35 is still viable option (…well “how to replace the F-16” aso, but with the option “completly forget the F-35”), the brits cutting their order by 55%, turks out of the race, dutch not very happy with the -A (apparently, the norwegian neither)… Considering the finnish and swiss airforce suffered both the same faith when spareparts for the F-18C/D became rare when the US needed them themselves after “enduring freedom”. Think of what happenes with all the blackboxes if there’s a shortage… Thus:
Q is on how Rafales Spectre, Typhoons Pretorian and the Gripens EW handle the situation the F-35s stealth could come in handy. Also the question is how reasonable it is to get an “about to be cancled 5gen” (think of “not the last country using it”-requirement for the HX/costs per flight-hour for the F-35A), with FCAS and Tempest already in planning/development.
IMHO, it’d be better to get either Rafale/Typhoon, and negotiate some “early adopter discount” for FCAS, or buying the Gripen with the similar option for Tempest…
Cheers from the “Air2030”-country with similar decissions to make 😉
Corporal Frisk, have you seen this, and know anything what’s behind the critics? The story are locked, but maybe you know more about it?
Finnish HX Program Manager discusses poor performance of Gripen and F-35 during tests…
IN 2016 Denmark ordered 27 f-35s. The first one just left the factory in a standard … unusable in operation according to the USAF.
In 2016 India ordered 36 Rafales. Today it has 18 already in operation …
I know it is not comparable. I just note the result.
USAF have NOT said that the F-35 are useless today. You need to read your news once more, and look at what was said. The set was a wargame in the 2030s timeframe.
“We wouldn’t even play the current version of the F-35” Hinote said.
And India currently are playing rafale against J-20.
Ok, but a wargame made with the intended 2030 F35 standard.
Unfortunately LM has now the habbit to deliver late, under spec and over budget.
“The J-20 has been deployed by the PLAAF at the Hotan air base and they have been flying close to the Indian territory near Ladakh and adjoining areas. The deployment of strategic bomber aircraft is also still on by the Chinese,” government sources told ANI.
The move by the Chinese Air Force to redeploy their latest and most capable aircraft at air bases near Ladakh comes soon after India started rapidly operationalising the Rafale fighter jets”
I know the truth is hard to hear but this is it F-35 have eaten its white bread.
I have submitted a link above on the GAO report about the accountable aspect of the f-35.
Here’s one about the political aspect :
“We hear rave reviews of the F-35, when it is flying,” said the GAO’s Diana Maurer, who testified Thursday about her findings detailed in the report. “The bottom line here is that services have a plane that they cannot afford to fly the way they want to fly, at least in the long term.”
Norcross joined Garamendi in vowing only to include F-35s requested by the Pentagon in the next budget.
“I want to buy a shiny new one. I love them coming off the line … but the cost is that we can’t get those parts, so you have that shiny new one while the [older] ones are just sitting there” unable to fly, he said. “That’s the trade-off, and … it just seems we can do it better than that.”
“The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD’s demonstrated progress would enhance DOD’s accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet.”
Sorry for the broken links :https://www.gao.gov/assets/extracts/b6a190d466a00702291d6a9ac534ed99/rId14_image2.png
Interesting from the US Gov accountability office, thanks. So from the airmchair perspective some simple maths.
F35 A sustainment costs per plane at 7.8 MUSD /Y (note 2012 USD i.e. more costly than so today).. 7.8 MUSD X 64 (Finnish plane request) =499MUSD > 414 MEURO in sustainment cost per year.
Finnish sustainment budget 250M€ (in total for the new planes) 250/64 = 3,9 MUSD per plane
= Finland needs to accomplish 50% lower sustainment costs than the US to be able to field 64 fighters. Sounds unfeasible unless you would choose not to fly the planes at all.
So if you apply some sensitivity analysis to the above if Finland could manage 20% lower sustain costs than the US then the maximum fleet of of F35 needs to be capped at 40 planes to be able to meet the operations budget. .
40 F35’s vs 64 Superhornets or Gripens… it needs to be a heck of a fighter to be able to pull off that cost benefit.
Sorry before anybody notices, mixed up EURO with MUSD when reaching the 50%. With right currency applied it still means 40% lower costs compared to the US (which is probably eaten up by the fact that the report is using 2012 USD) in order to reach the requested plane number. Still seems unfeasible but somewhat better. At the same cost as US, the fleet would be capped at just shy of 40 planes whereas with a 20% better operations cost than US the fleet would go up to 48 planes.
I’m advocating for Rafale. But even for Rafale the math about sustainment cost are not easy. It’s even harder for the f-35 since sustainment cost are 50% higher than every other fighters.
By far this limit of 250 millions/year is the Hardest limit and no one will be able to offer more than 50 fighters.
With the Rafale, there’s an easy solution:
Switzerland is about to select the type for “Air2030” (our HX-program).
If Finland and Switzerland can make a deal to purchase together (Rafale being best candidate for CH, too – bc the F-35 costs too much when using it, and for CH some other reasons like “climbrate” and “what do we need stealth for”), it would bring the sustainment costs down.
…if the Austrians can be brought aboard (they needing to replace the Eurofighter T1, too) in a “phase 2”, it would reduce the overal costs for everyone down (= more maintenanceparts needed for all three countrys, more to be produced = lessen the costs aso)…
Also, this way, neither Finland nor Switzerland would be endangered of “being the last one using the Rafale” after FCAS or Tempest are being put into duty in 2060…
We’d all win!
Cheers from Switzerland!
Yach, aside my typos (forgive me – english as 4th foreign language):
I forgot that there are already contracts in place acc. maintenance of the F-18C/D, as both Finland and Switzerland are using the same type… Would be easy for politicians to upgrade these contracts to include purchase of a new jet and a continuation/expand of the old contracts
@Mike I’m not sure that even this solution is sufficient enough. I’m better think that finland have ti think in fly hours better than in number of plane.
The best metric is how many fly hours do need the Finland Air Force ? For example Rafale is able to fly 250 hours/years and up to 1000 in surge conditions with a sortie rate at 6/days if we can believed Indian Air Force.
I understand your approach, but let’s not forget we’re talking about a fighter, not an airliner.
While the flighthour (and cost per FH) are important, it’s more about the durability and sustainability. In war or crisis, you don’t count flighthours, you count the time the bird sits on the ground until everything that’s failing or is about to fail is replaced.
THERE, the Gripen-E would be the best choice – each system can be replaced within 2 hours.
Comparing the F-35, it loses by far: it sits on the ground. Due to its “Stealthyness”, the components of the hull are so exactly measured, that if you unmount a plate in cold weather, you can’t get it back in warm weather and vice-versa. If a system has to be replaced (also think “black box” – parts of the jet only US-certified companys are allowed to tinker with), in worst case, the bird sits on the ground 24h until the right temps are reached!
The Rafale is easier to maintain than the Eurofighter (due to Dassault designed it, and not some EU-comitee (so to speak)).
The flighthours for a jet are (IMHO – i’m not a maintenance-worker or so) only important to know when the bird has to go to a “big main inspection”…
Thus, I’d say the F-35 is the wrong choice either way, no matter if you consider the costs per lifetime, flighthour or durability. Every other candidate outmatches the F-35 by far in ANY of the measurements…
(as I’ve said in a longer comment above: skip Gen5-fighters, better get a good 4++, and joyn either (or both) Tempest and FCAS-projects)
Indeed that’s why i’ve given the sortie rate per day. In fact rafale or gripen can change an engine in one or two hours that’s more or less the same. But Gripen is not able to sustain a higher sortie rate than rafale nor it is able to sustain 350 hours a month as rafale will be able.
Just out of curiosity – how do you know how many hours Raphale will be able to sustain ( I assume you mean in the air) and how do you know how many hours Gripen E will be able to sustain?
You can find a lot of the figure above here : This is one of the few public informations for HX given by Dassault.
Click to access rafale_finlande_13x18_1219_pap_v7.pdf
For the 1000 hours/year several time it has been done by a rafale for example in Syria.
For the sortie rate tou can ear Air Mashall Dhonoa for India in an interview in 2018.
As I agree with the idea to skip 5 gen (at least in the form of F-35 A and C) and go for 6 gen i do not think that HX program will do that. I think they are committed to choosing a one multirole now. When it come to the plane from the post – I expect the F-35 program as a whole to receive a substantial cut in orders and the source for it will come from the US Congress. Before I though most of it was posturing to force LM to reduce the cost(especially service) but I am convinced now that it will happen and this could influence the prices everywhere. Many congressmen were convinced that those planes are nor sustainable long term in the numbers planed and they will need the 6gen anyway. I think USNavy will work on the 6gen and have to keep the super hornets for the next 2 decades additionally.
All the candidates are multirole. It’s just the F-35 is Gen5, and both the candidates and the F-18C are Gen4(++). (Rafale and Superhornet even having “hot missions” to show off, in both A2A as A2G).
We can see this in Switzerland, too – this is a “psychological hurdle” to overcome all involved “deciders”. They want Gen5. Costs? Unsustainable in the best case; stealth? Unneeded in Switzerland. Worse climbrates due to stealthy-aerodynamic: big no go. Yet – they seem to be all in for the F-35 bc “next generation”… They don’t see the opportunities of chosing Rafale/Typhoon and get a “cheaper entry” to FCAS… They want a “next generation” and the only hope is the federal counsil having enough “outside advisors” explaining the F-35-issues to her…
I just hope the finnish gov wont make similar mistakes…
Btw – never forget the ordered numbers from USAF for the F-35A went from almost 3000 to 1500 already, and now there is an attempt/need to lower them again OR even completly scrapping the program to get a Gen6… Brits also cutting the order by 60% (for the B, admittingly), the turks as biggest “non-us-buyer” out of the race…
Let’s face it: the F-35 is a dead horse.
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