30 January 2010

F-35 Update

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H/t ELP Defens(c)e Blog
So, the F-35 B has finally engaged its lift fan in flight, (video below) which is a step toward, but considering the fact the aircraft flew only 10% of the scheduled test flights in 2009, I guess you take what you can.

The bigger news is about the F-35 C model, where a study has been released showing that it will be significantly more expensive to operate than its predecessors:
Moreover, NAVAIR estimates the total of 680 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs and carrier-variant F-35Cs, ordered by the US Marine Corps and USN, respectively, will cost $30,700 to fly each hour. This compares to $18,900 for the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II and Boeing F/A-18A-D, the aircraft types the Joint Strike Fighter will replace.

Although NAVAIR projects the F-35 will fly 12% fewer flight hours than the AV-8B and F/A-18A-D fleets, the agency expects the modern aircraft to cost as much as about 25% more to operate at peak rates, the briefing says.

The unexpected cost increases mean the F-35 "will have a significant impact on naval aviation affordability", the NAVAIR document concludes.
Note that this is competing against an F/A-18 with 2 engines, and roughly the same level of installed thrust and weight.

In fact, it is more expensive to operate than the F-15 Eagle, which is significantly larger, but costs only $30,000/hour to operate and only slightly less than that of the F-22, which is nearly twice the size, and costs $44,000/hour to fly. (scroll down)

When the inevitable costs escalation is included, and part of the hourly cost is the amortization of the initial purchase, I think that the "smaller cheaper" F-35 will be nearly the cost of the F-22.

I do not consider this an argument for the F-22, just an argument for a 2nd tier that costs less (inflation adjusted) than an F-4 Phantom to operate.

The US has air dominance because it dominates the situational awareness in any potential conflict, which is done with things like advanced communications, AWACS, etc., not a plane that can break mach 1 in a vertical climb.

Lockheed-Martin's response is that the study is "not definitive," which is defense contractor speak for, "I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for your meddling kids."


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