12 March 2016

Gee, You Think?

The director of the F-35 (aka the Joint Strike Fighter) program, General Christopher Bogden, has admitted that the "Jointness" part of the program was a mistake:
Perhaps the only thing U.S. military leaders know about their next fighter jet is this: they want the program to go better than the F-35’s did.

The sixth-generation fighter effort is still in its infancy; the aircraft it produces may not fly for decades. The Pentagon hasn’t even decided whether to build separate planes for the Navy and Air Force. But the services’ leaders are already cooperating to figure out how the futuristic fighter will fit into the battlefield of the future — and how they can avoid another tactical aircraft program that winds up so late, over budget, and short of its goals.

Ask the F-35 program’s current director for advice, and you’ll get this gentle warning: joint programs are hard.

“I’m not saying they’re bad. I’m not saying they’re good. I’m just saying they’re hard,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said Thursday. “You ought to think really hard about what you really need out of the sixth-generation fighter and how much overlap is there between what the Navy and the Air Force really need.”

When the F-35 was conceived in the 1990s, the goal was to buy a common plane for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and even America’s allies. The Air Force version would fly from traditional runways, the Navy version would operate from aircraft carriers, and the Marine version would be built to take off from short runways and land vertically. The goal was to have all three have 70 percent of their parts in common, which was meant to save billions of dollars in development and logistics costs.

But engineering changes have produced three variants that have only 20 percent of their parts in common, Bogdan said at a conference sponsored by McAleese and Associates and Credit Suisse.


“We will have some different requirements for what we need based on the different things we are expected to provide for the joint force,” Lt. Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and requirements, told reporters last month. “We will use common technologies and maybe some common things, but at this point we think it will be a different enough mission that it won’t be the same airplane.”
The only joint US Navy/US Air Force fighter that ever achieved a modicum of defense was the F-4 Phantom, and that was developed exclusively for naval use.

Bogden also ignores the elephant in the room, which is that the jointness that most seriously compromised the program has been the jointness with the US Marine Corps.

The STOVL version has added about 2000 lbs to the weight of just the engine, led to poor rear visibility from the cockpit, made the wings smaller than they should have been for either the Air Force of Naval variants to save weight, and the volume occupied by the lift fan restricted the placement and the utility of the inner weapons bays.

This is not the only reason that the JSF is shaping up as a clusterf%$#, but it is a lot of the problem.


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