President Donald Trump suggested that a larger purchase of Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet may be in the offing. “We are looking seriously at a big order,” Trump said Friday of the fighter jet, with another Boeing plane, the newest 787 Dreamliner, looming in the background. “I think we may get there.”
The Defense Department is studying the capabilities of the Super Hornet, designed in the 1990s, against those of Lockheed’s F-35, which is still in development even as it’s being produced. Trump indicated that price differences between the two fighters could sway the Pentagon to replace some orders for the F-35, which the president has criticized for cost overruns and delays, with more purchases of the Boeing jet.
“If the price doesn’t come down, we would,” Trump told reporters. “The F-18’s a great plane and now put a stealth component onto it.”
Reporters earlier spotted White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus holding a brochure for the F/A-18 XT, a proposed Super Hornet upgrade that could serve as a stand-in as Lockheed ramps up production of the F-35, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system
Advanced Super Hornet
Trump told reporters that, unless prices continued coming down on the F-35, he would be prepared to cut future F-35 contracts and order more Super Hornets instead. He also advocated taking steps to increase the stealth of the Super Hornet, according to Time’s White House correspondent Zeke Miller.
The Navy has already requested money for two Super Hornets in its 2017 budget, and is set to request another 14 in 2018.
The F/A-18 XT twin-engine plane is also designed to come equipped with longer-range, low-drag, stealthy conformal fuel tanks; long-range sensors that can detect and target threats without having to depend on radar; a new advanced cockpit system to enhance situational awareness, providing the pilot with the capability to see, track and target multiple long range targets; and improved low-observable next-generation radar cross section for increased survivability, according to the company.
Lockheed has been pushing out data to defend the troubled F35 program
The U.S. Air Force is the largest F-35 operator of all the international forces with a planned purchase of 1,763 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s biggest acquisition program estimated at nearly $400 billion for almost 2,500 aircraft. The Marine Corps currently flies the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, with plans to purchase 353 STOVL jets and 67 F-35C carrier variant aircraft. The U.S. Marine Corps declared F-35B IOC in August 2016. Together with the Marines, the U.S. Navy will bring 5th Generation capability to the sea with 260 F-35C jets. The U.S. Navy plans to declare F-35C IOC in 2018.
His arguments are
* negotiating a better price on incomplete, crippled fighters will not save taxpayers any money in the long run — because the prices being negotiated between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon are prices designed to fool the public about the F-35’s true costs. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon both know that any “discount” or price reduction negotiated in public will quickly be made up on the back-end
* fatal mistakes made during the conceptual design process well over 20 years ago, the F-35 will forever be crippled by intractable weight and heat issues that ensure that the program will never deliver a reliable, cost-effective fighter.
* In order to protect the F-35 from cancellation, the Pentagon has lowered key performance requirements and helped Lockheed cheat so that it could continue the charade that the F-35 will actually meet its bare-minimum threshold ranges.
* the published $32,000-per-flying-hour cost is a made-up number; its real cost per flying hour will likely be closer to the $62,000 of the much less complex F-22. Its truly dismal sustained-sortie-generation rate of one sortie (mission) every three or four days means that, as is the case with our F-22 pilots, F-35 pilots will only get a fraction of the 30 to 40 hours of stick-time (actual flying time) per month necessary to gain and maintain fighter-combat mastery
Despite the problems a military program whose cost has soared from $233 billion to an estimated $379 billion has pilots and generals who will vouch for it. Recent estimates suggest the F-35 program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years. The F35 is getting over $10 billion per year. Does money buy friends and support ?
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office (JPO) acknowledged in 2016 that schedule pressure exists for completing System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and starting Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT and E) by August 2017, the planned date in JPO’s Integrated Master Schedule. In an effort to stay on schedule, JPO plans to reduce or truncate planned developmental testing (DT) in an effort to minimize delays and close out SDD as soon as possible. However, even with this risky, schedule-driven approach, multiple problems and delays make it clear that the program will not be able to start IOT and E with full combat capability until late CY18 or early CY19, at the soonest.
* weapons problems
* software problems
* heat and overheating problems
* Vertical oscillations during F-35C catapult launches were reported by pilots as excessive, violent, and therefore a safety concern during this critical phase of flight. The program is still investigating alternatives to address this deficiency, which makes a solution in time for IOT and E and Navy fielding unlikely
* Excessive and premature wear on the hook point of the arresting gear on the F-35A, occurring as soon as after only one use, has caused the program to consider developing a more robust redesign.
* The Services have designated 276 deficiencies in combat performance as “critical to correct” in Block 3F, but less than half of the critical deficiencies were addressed with attempted corrections in 3FR6. [aka they are only even attempting to try to fix half of the critical problems in this current round of fixes]
* Significant, well-documented deficiencies; for hundreds of these, the program has no plan to adequately fix and verify with flight test within SDD; although it is common for programs to have unresolved deficiencies after development, the program must assess and mitigate the cumulative effects of these remaining deficiencies on F-35 effectiveness and suitability prior to finalizing and fielding Block 3F
* Overall ineffective operational performance with multiple key Block 3F capabilities delivered to date
Available only about half the time
* Continued low aircraft availability and no indications of significant improvement
2.5 times more maintenance needed than the permitted amount
On the positive side, they believe they have fixed the ejections seat so that they are now pretty confident it will not kill or seriously injure lighter pilots who eject. Pretty confident but not enough to change the rule that prevents lighter pilots from flying the F35. Modifications to the pilot escape system (lighter helmet, delayed parachute deployment for lighter pilots) were needed after testing in CY15 showed that the risk of serious injury or death is greater for lighter-weight pilots. Because of the risk, the Services decided to restrict pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying the F-35. The Air Force may be able to reopen F-35 pilot training to lighter-weight pilots (i.e., below 136 pounds) in early 2018. DOT and E is not aware of the plans for the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy to open F-35 pilot training to the lighter-weight pilots
Developmental flight testing is projected to end no earlier than mid-2018, based on independent estimates on completing mission systems flight testing – the testing that will likely take the longest to complete
The Gap would not be that big if the F35 were cancelled
It would take close to 2030 to field fixed F35s in large numbers.
China currently only has about 600 modern aircraft and is still many years from sorting out the ability to make competitive jet aircraft engines. Russia also has budget problems and will not ramp up its jet fighters to large numbers that would threaten the US.
SOURCES National Review, National defense magazine