The F-35 program starts the year having to show credible results before the U.S. defense budget for 2011 gets locked in.
Gates will be around a while longer. He is now in the middle of a controversy that he helped sustain. That is; in his world, everything was going great with the F-35 program and there wasn’t much to worry about. That was the message for most of 2009. His service chiefs perpetuated the myth of F-35 program health. In the end, the DOD suppressed reports of F-35 ill program health in order to get the F-22 cancelled.
A report to the DOD by the Navy claims that F-35 operating costs are going to be no bargain.
Note: find in that article the "Congressional aide" must be a Kit Bond (Super Hornet assembled in his district) Boeing fan along with the "industry source" that has to be Boeing. The "$5000 per hour" claim to run a Super Hornet is missing a few colors of money.
Real or perceived, this matters to the graduates from the boat school that have to figure out how to pay for even more expensive grey floaty things in an era of troubled budgets. This report has to be considered on several levels not least is the already mentioned seal of approval given to the program last year when the Navy boss fibbed in front of our elected officials.
History is no help. Lockheed Martin has briefed on several occasions over the years that the F-35 is as cheap to maintain and sustain as a legacy fighter aircraft. Who is right? With all the other claims that have come up to be unproven by Lockheed Martin and the gone-native DOD F-35 program office; can we believe anything they say?
In the beginning of the last decade, LM published a paper stating that the F-22 was designed to be maintenance friendly. That is that only 5 percent of the maintenance actions would require refurbishment of the stealth material of the aircraft. Initial operating capability for the F-22 was declared in 2005. It took the USAF a while to build up tribal knowledge on how to maintain and sustain the F-22. This is that real world thing separated from claims of earlier PowerPoint warriors where real maintainers in real active F-22 squadrons take time to get their skills up. It wasn’t until 2009 that the USAF got things figured out to where F-22s deployed and had nice, high mission capable rates. This would be normal for most new types of aircraft.
The F-35 is designed to have around 1-2 percent of its maintenance actions require refurbishment of stealth materials. We really don’t know how much money it will cost to sustain an F-35 squadron. There have been no real maintainers from real Navy (or other services) units that have flown it in day to day operations. Until this happens we will not know. With the development problems of the aircraft—along with much flight testing to be done—it will be a very long time before we see a run of 4 to 5 years of operational flying. For this, F-22 problems in early IOC years will be F-35 problems in early IOC years.
It is doubtful if many of these facts will get to the decision makers for the 2011 defense budget intact. Meanwhile, Boeing is right there with the Super Hornet ready to sign up the Navy for a safe opportunity to go low-risk and enjoy a new-car smell.