Category Archives: F-35

Italy has decided: F-35s to be cut by more than 30 percent.

More technology, less personnel and only 90 F-35s: this is the outcome Italian Defense spending review.

On Feb. 15, the long awaited Italian Defense spending review was finally presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Defense Giampaolo Paola.

“Long awaited” because the review was supposed to shed some light on the future of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in Italy: Rome’s commitment to the program (as a Level 2 partner with 2.5 Billion Euro already invested and an original envisaged requirement for 131 planes) is important to keep the troubled and costly stealth multirole jet affordable.

The reform seeks to balance the spending for personnel, operations and investment, to ensure the future financial sustainability and operational effectiveness of the armed forces. In simple words: cuts to personnel and programs with the long term goal to cover the personnel spending with half the allocated budget (worth 0.9 percent of the GDP) and use the remainder between operations (including training and maintenance) and procurement (25 percent each) of advanced technologies.

Therefore, along with the reduction by 43,000 people to abate the current 70 percent of the overall defense budget for spending on military personnel, the review has led to the revision of the some important programs. First of all, the much criticized F-35 program.

Accordingly, 41 aircraft will be scrapped leaving the Italian Air Force and Navy with only 90 F-35 in the A and B version. The latter, recently removed from probation, will replace the Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II on board the Cavour aircraft carrier as well as the Air Force’s AMX, both involved in the recent Air War in Libya.

“The F-35 program was reviewed. Nevertheless it remains a major commitment in terms of technology, technology transfer to the industry and employment” Di Paola said few days after placing the first order for three F-35s.

Digital mock-up by Al Clark

Italy buys its first three F-35s. With a shocking announcement: "a JSF will cost less than a Eurofighter Typhoon"

On Feb. 7, 2012, Gen. Claudio Debertolis, head of the agency that is responsible for the procurement of new armaments, has announced that Italy has already ordered the first three Lockheed Martin F-35s.

Unit price: 80 million USD.

Talking to the lower house’s defense commitee, Debertolis explained that these first planes will cost more than the rest of the fleet since costs are going to decrease as the program, currently in Low Rate Initial Production,  continues. The Italian high rank officer is particularly optimistic, as he believes that the unit price will be around 70 million each (Lockheed Martin estimates 65M USD for the F-35A and about 73M USD for the F-35B), less than the 79 million USD currently paid for the Eurofighter Typhoon and much less of the 121 million USD per aircraft anticipated in 2011.

Quite surprising, since unit price is one of the JSF partner’s main concern, but possible, considering also that the Typhoon has just lost India’s mother of all tenders based on price.

Although there’s no official commitment yet, the initial requirement for Italy foresaw 131 examples (69 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 62 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant F-35Bs). Debertolis confirmed that determining how many aircraft Italy will purchase is not a current task, since it will depend on the Defense Budget Review. Nevertheless, even if the number of aircraft will be much lower than the initial 131, the MoD will work to make sure that the industry will get the expected compensation.

Italy is working on stretching deliveries and slowing purchase  “a much easier task than that with the Eurofighter program, since the F-35 procurement is modular therefore delays don’t imply increasing costs” Debertolis said.

Furthermore with the recent Eurofighter defeat in India, Italy is going to stop working on the Typhoon and “divert” part (if not all) of its workforce towards the F-35, being assembled at the Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) facility.

Finally, Debertolis has confirmed that Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force and the Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier.

In spite of the widespread criticism surrounding the program and the global financial crisis it looks like the F-35 has, if not a bright future ahead, at least good chances to survive the austerity measures of the new Monti’s technocratic cabinet.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Salva

"The F-35 remains essential to the future of air superiority" Panetta says. And Lockheed Martin reassures: "we will solve all JSF problems."

On Jan. 26, several hours before U.S. SECDEF Leon Panetta would say the Joint Strike Fighter remains a DoD top priority program “essential to the future of air superiority”, Charles “Tom” Burbage, Executive VP of Lockheed Martin and General Manager of F-35 Program Integration, had already explained in a Press Briefing held in Rome that, in spite of rumors and criticism surrounding the costly fifth generation combat plane, he did not anticipate any significant downsizing of the program.

“Every country is reducing defense budget but no country has reduced the F-35” he said, explaining also that one of the most appealing features of the program for international partners is the involvement of local companies, which supply components, systems and know-how, well before a single aircraft is purchased.

Moreover, the F-35 has recently collected some important achievement, making Burbage and the rest of the company optimistic about the future of the entire program.

First came in December 2011 the selection of the JSF as the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) next gengeration aircraft, following the F-X competitive bid process that saw the Lockheed plane win on both the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet.

Then the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) was removed from probation one year ahead of schedule. Finally, the F-35C (Carrier Variant) was fixed with a new tailhook system that will be tested beginning next April, making arrested landing on aircraft carriers possible after the series of failed tests.

Last year was particularly important for the revolutionary plane. It flew about 20% more than expected, performed sea trials taking off and landing (vertically) from USS Wasp and “had no issues on the ship”, Burbage said, in spite of the alleged noise and heating problems.

Dealing with the series of issues highlighted by the JSF Concurrency Quick Look Review and other official and unofficial reports leaked at the end of last year, Burbage explains: “we are currently 20% into the test program. Today’s issues are not going to affect customers that will receive the aircraft years later, when the problem is fixed.”

In the last few days, Burbage and its entourage have met the Italian Minister of Defense Di Paola and the top Italian Air Force and Navy officers. Talks were satisfactory and Lockheed is quite confident that in spite of the financial crisis and raising criticism at political level, Italy will keep the commitment as Level 2 partner (worth 2 Billion USD already invested) in the program, which calls for total U.S. purchases of 2,443 F-35s in both A, B and C versions for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and envisages 697 planes for other partners (UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey).

Japan aside, the F-35 has export chances also in South Korea, that is the only non-partner country Lockheed Martin is in talks for a possible JSF sale. Should the F-35 be selected in South Korea, the number of planes procured by Security Cooperative Participants (Singapore and Israel)  and foreign customers (including Japan) will exceed the number of F-35s ordered by partners.

Since there’s no commitment yet nor any value was set, no reduction or cut in the amount of aircraft can be foreseen. Italy is not buying 131 planes. The initial requirement was for 69 F-35A and 62 F-35B (40 for the Air Force and 22 for the Navy), but Italy will buy the plane in batches: 4 planes, then 5 planes and so on. Therefore, Italy will have some F-35s, some of them will be STOVL ones to equip the Cavour aircraft carrier.

Eventually, in the U.S. the F-35 survived the Pentagon budget cuts: the US will continue buying F-35s, but will slow its purchase of the stealth fighter planes.

Indeed, it’s a very good period for the Joint Strike Fighter.

 

F-35 First Night Flight video

On Jan. 19, 2012, the Lockheed Martin F-35A CTOL (Convetional Take Off and Landing) performed its very first night flight launching from Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward, the aircraft AF-6, launched at 17.05LT and landed after sunset at 18:22 LT. An F-16 chase plane accompanied the Joint Strike Fighter during its first after dark sortie.

Note the green night formation lights, used by combat plane flying in close formation.

F-35: flying on phased out fuel or programmed by a videogame freak?

Soon after publishing the article about the “F-35 from the Cockpit” I’ve received some emails and comments about an interesting thing readers have noticed in one of the webminar slides used to show the Joint Strike Fighter glass cockpit’s symbology.

As the following image seems to suggest, the most advanced 5th generation combat plane, integrating the best stealth technologies, full sensor fusion and a futuristic X-ray-like capable helmet, flies on JP-4 fuel, a dangerous kind of propellant, quick to ignite and explode, that was largely used from 1951 to 1996, when it was phased out and replaced by the safer, kerosene-based, JP-8.

Image: Lockeed Martin (highlight mine)

As explained in the website of Air BP (“the specialised aviation division of BP, providing fuels, lubricants & services to our customers in over 50 countries worldwide”):

although JP-8 has replaced JP-4 in most every case, the potential need for JP-4 under emergency situations necessitates maintaining this grade in specifications MIL-DTL-5624 and Defence Standard 91-88.

However, unless the JP-4 was/is used for testing purposes, it is quite strange that while some combat planes are beginning to perform test flights on eco-friendly biofuel or synthetic fuel, the F-35 is flying on a type of jet propellant presumed to be phased-out or used only in emergency situations.

Unless, the F-35’s glass cockpit symbology, so “user friendly” to remind some early flight simulator games, was not only designed for a “videogame freak” as test pilots said during the webminar, but also by someone who used to play with arcade games with some simulation elements (as F/A-18 Interceptor or F-19 Stealth Fighter) in the  ’90s, when the JP-4 was still in use :)