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Partners and Heavy Criticism; RAF Fairford July 10 & 11, 2016

The JSF Program, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After the American government had chosen the design of the Lockheed Martin F-35, the program suffered from many setbacks and disappointments. There were in the program, many technical issues on in particular, the F-35B STOVL variant and F-35C CATOBAR variant. Also, the costs of the program increased substantially.

The development of the JSF program was initially set at about 24 billion dollars. This amount was paid by the United States and its partner countries. There are different levels of partnership in the project. This contribution is characterized by a minimum contribution and different influences and participation in the design of the F-35. During the project's tender was only one Level 1 partner planned and there were up to two Level 2 partner allowed. These countries had to contribute a total of 10% and 5% of the development costs of the F-35 Lightning II, respectively. The only Level 1 partner of the United States is the United Kingdom. The level two partner countries are Italy and the Netherlands. Countries with a level 3 partnership payed at least 1% of the development costs. The number of Level 3 partners which were allowed in the project was not specified. The inscription on the third level partnerships ended on July 15, 2002. The level three partners, who had registered previously, were Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey. In addition to this role in the program there was the opportunity to participate as a Security Cooperation Participant (observatory role without participation in development). This role was eventually occupied by Israel and Singapore. Through the years, the development costs of the F-35 increased to 44.8 billion dollars. The costs of the F-35A variant were in the meanwhile increased from the initially estimated 45 million dollars to more than 60 million dollars in 2008. At the end of 2015, these costs were almost doubled to more than $ 100 million per aircraft.

The F-35 program was intensively discussed within the United States. Especially single high-ranking soldiers from the top of the US military expressed strong criticism about the performance of the aircraft. They doubted that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II would be suitable to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt in the CAS role. There was also strong criticism spread about the survivability of the F-35 in a dogfight. One of the American generals once claimed that he would have preferred a squadron of

Eurofighters over several F-35 squadrons. Since the start of the JSF program in 1993 there was also a shift from manned to unmanned aircraft for military purposes. At Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico are now many drone pilots trained. The number of drone pilots was drastically increased since 2011. The number of conventional pilots within the United States Air Force has decreased in the meanwhile. The Center for Peace and Security Studies at the Georgetown University argues that UAVs are much more cost effective for many tasks than manned fighter aircraft. These developments meant that the planned number of F-35 production aircraft was substantially reduced. As a result, the costs of producing the F-35 increased dramatically. There is much criticism of the partners in the rising costs and the attendant delays in an international context. For example, the SDD phase was not completed in 2011 but only in 2015 and the initial budget was exceeded by 45%.

A large part of the rising costs of the F-35 is due to technical setbacks in the program. The US government is afraid that advanced stealth technologies fall into the wrong hands and has therefore decided to apply less advanced stealth technologies in the export version. This ensured that there were two different projects to encourage the development of stealth techniques. Also the F-35B STOVL version had many problems with the tilting nozzle of the engine. The mechanism was too fragile designed. With the F-35C for the US Navy, the problem was much larger. There were strong doubts whether the dimensions and proportions of the aircraft were well suited to land on a ship. It was found that the main chassis is placed too far to the back on the F-35 and too close to the arrester hook to land on a ship. The aircraft would hit the flight deck too hard during landing and the aircraft will be destroyed. This issue was finally resolved on the F-35C design by making the aircraft a lot longer and wider. This allows the aircraft to a lower landing speed while it's still good to control. The software of the aircraft caused a lot of problems and rising costs. There were also many Helmet Mounted Display problems. This system had to contend with a lot of stability problems and therefore the system was not reliable. The relationship between the US Pentagon and Lockheed Martin found themselves under considerable pressure with all these issues. Ultimately, these big issues were resolved after reviewing the design.

On July 7, 2006, the production version of the F-35 was presented after a long proto phase in the Fort Worth, Texas. The first optimized F-35A was designated as the AF-1 and was handed over to the USAF on December 19, 2008. This was the first F-35 which was delivered in accordance with the normal production. The structural supply of F-35As to the USAF began from 2010. Currently there are more than 70 aircraft of the type F-35A delivered to the USAF and its partners. The aircraft is currently already initial operational within the USAF. The Marines from the United States and RAF from the UK now has a total of 35 F-35Bs in use. The delivery of the F-35C for the US Navy is with 12 aircraft still behind. This variant of the F-35 had to handle most setbacks. It is intended that the first F-35A production aircraft for the first users in Europe will be operational from 2019 in Italy and the Netherlands. The F-35B will follow a few years later within the British RAF and the Italian Navy. Some partner countries such as the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom are together with the United States participating in the Operational Test and Evaluation phase of the F-35. The aircraft is being prepared at this stage for operational deployment in conflict zones. After many setbacks, it appears at this time that the F-35 production now seriously got started. The United States Air Force has already more than 60 aircraft in use and is a major user of the F-35. The aircraft will be built in the factories of Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, and in the Italian Cameri for European production.

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