WASHINGTON – There are mounting problems in building the new stealthy F-35 “fifth generation” fighter not only in terms of cost but ensuring that its three variants for the Air Force, Navy and Marines can even be delivered, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
There also are concerns about international customers who are banking on the aircraft to replace their own aging jet fighters.
In fact, the Europeans have decided not to go down the expensive route of developing their own aircraft and instead have provided assistance in the development of the F-35 as their future front-line aircraft.
Lockheed Martin first received the contract in 2001 to produce the plane, and there now is little hope that it will be ready for full production and deployment by the projected 2020 date, aviation analysts say.
The development is placing even greater stress on the aging F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s and the more recent stealth fighter F-22, whose production was halted in favor of proceeding with the F-35. Almost all of these aircraft, produced by Lockheed Martin, have been in service since the 1980s.
While they have been updated with new avionics and internal technologies, they are becoming less competitive with the new fifth generation fighters being developed and beginning to go into production in Russia and China.
Since it’s been 11 years since the contract was awarded, and there’s still uncertainty when the F-35 will be available, there is mounting concern that it may not be the aircraft envisioned in 2001 as plans are proceeding to prepare for the “sixth-generation” fighter to be ready by 2030.
Now, the sustainment cost for the F-35 is estimated to approach $1 trillion, and the new head of the joint program office for the F-35 is thinking of abandoning Lockheed’s support system for the aircraft and open it up to competition.
Critics say that the approach may work in the long term but it won’t ensure delivery of the aircraft by 2020. By then, it is estimated that only a fraction of the requested 2,400 will be operational.
The services needing the F-35 will still have to rely primarily on updated F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s and F-22s, as will European partners who will have to weigh whether to continue their investment in the F-35 or instead place their limited funding in upgrading what they have.
At this point, the services, especially the Air Force, need to worry about the U.S. industrial base that not only supports the development of the F-35 but has been involved in the production of the older aircraft.
In recognition of maintaining the industrial base and meeting legitimate defense needs, critics say the decision may have to be made to continue production of the older aircraft and devise new ways to adjust military plans to new capabilities to meet future needs by 2030.
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