Reports Canada to Commit to F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

by: Matthew Potter
July 16, 2010

Category: Australia, Business Line, Canada, Companies, Congress, Contract Awards, Countries, Department of Defense, development program, Events, Holland, Lockheed Martin, Military Aviation, production program, Proposal, Restructuring, Services, U.S. Navy, United States | RSS 2.0

The U.S. led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program has seen its struggles over the last few years. It has had test, schedule and cost issues that have increased the total cost of the program and stretched out its planned development and production. Designed to replace the aging fleet of F-16, F/A-18 and AV-8 aircraft used by the U.S. and its Allies its has been developed by Lockheed Martin (LMT) and funded by the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and other countries that ultimately will receive it.

Due to the cost increases some of the countries in the joint program have been reconsidering their commitment. Holland’s legislature has made noises about delaying their further investment due to the lower quantities that their budgeted money will buy. The problem the Allies face is that they based their budgets on the lower estimated costs and now either have to find more money or face a smaller fleet of the new F-35.

Due to the program’s delays all of the planned users face a “fighter gap” as their current fleet ages and the JSF is not there to replace them. This means that more money must be spent to maintain the older aircraft or capability will be diminished. The U.S. Navy is planning to extend the production of their F/A-18 to help fill the gap.

Canada is expected to announce today that they are keeping their commitment to the program by awarding Lockheed a contract for up to sixty-five of the aircraft at a cost of over $15 billion. This plan has raised objection from the opposition Liberal party who would like to wait and possibly hold a competition to buy a replacement for the countries CF-18 aircraft.

Certainly there is an argument for delaying the contract award and perhaps looking at other aircraft already in production. The counter would be that these would not be as capable or last as long as the F-35 which is expected to be in service well past the mid-point of the current century.

The U.S. Department of Defense despite all of the cost and schedule issues has remained committed to getting the F-35 into production and in the last year the program has seen quite a bit of progress. The problem may be in a few years when the Federal budget and defense spending may have to be cut. The JSF is the largest procurement program in that budget and might seem attractive to cuts.

Even small cuts around the edges may cause long term problems as they would stretch out production increasing the total cost of the program.

Canada may be wise to award their contract now if they structure it correctly to protect against further delays and cost increases. Of course they may have limited options to do that.

The decision by Canada to support the program will aid it in keeping on track and keeping its funding. Canada may help the JSF get done.

Photo from Rob Shenk’s flickr photostream.

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