Category Archives: Fighters

US F-35s arrive in Japan

The first US F-35 Lightning II aircraft to be based outside the US, arrived in Japan on 18 January. Jets belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 touched down at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima, beginning the squadron’s permanent basing here. Interestingly, the journey from the US took the F-35’s over a week to complete.

The aircraft involved are of the vertical short take off & landing variant and within the United States Marine Corps (USMC) replaces  the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and EA-6B Prowler. The USMC was the first to reach to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on Lockheed Martin’s new fighter jet.

“The arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional-security of the Pacific,” said Maj. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Commanding General. “We are bringing the most advanced technology to the Pacific to respond to the wide range of missions we take part in and provide greater support to our regional allies.”

Prior to arriving in Iwakuni, VMFA-121 was stationed with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. During the squadron’s time in Arizona, the aircraft successfully participated in numerous exercises and training events. “Our training in the U.S. has prepared us well for our mission here in Japan and we are very honored to have such a warm welcome,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. J. T. Bardo, commanding officer of VMFA-121.

No comment was given on why the flight from the US to Japan took over a week to complete.

F-35 price set to fall – but it already was

The price of a single Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is set to fall, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said last week. She announced the cost reduction as part of pending deal with deal with US president-elect Donald Trump. The deal should also see the creation of thousands of extra US jobs. It puts a a lot of extra pressure on the F-35 program.

According to Hewson, the price of the next 90 aircraft will reduce significantly under the deal. The question remains by how much the F-35’s unit price will fall and how this relates to a price reduction announced earlier. Currently, the price is 98 million USD for a single ‘vanilla’ F-35A, but that price was already set to drop to 85 million USD by 2020,  as result of ‘numerous affordability measures to drive costs out of the program.’ Both the F-35B and F-35C versions remain more expensive than the F-35A.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Negotiations

The reduction mentioned by Hewson most likely concerns aircraft in Low Rate Initial Producion (LRIP) lot 10, which is currently being negotiated and includes 94 jets for the US plus other nations . A deal on LRIP-9 was only signed last November, involving 57 aircraft worth 6.1 billion USD. The cost of LRIP-9 was the subject of many months of hassle and talks between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon.

It most likely these drawn out negotiations that sparked Trump’s criticism. Meetings with several top Pentagon and F-35 program officials did little to impress Trump. On the contrary, it probably only incented him in his determination to drive down costs. As we wrote earlier, he may actually do the US a favour by doing so.

A US Navy F-35C during carrier tests. (Image © US Navy)

Air Force One

It’s the second time Trump appears to have pressured a large aircraft manufacturer in lowering costs, the first of course being Boeing. After Trump’s threat to cancel the contract for a new Air Force One, Boeing was quick to say that it will keep costs below 4 billion USD.

But Trump’s victories so far only exists on paper. Wether Lockheed Martin and Boeing indeed succeed in keeping down costs, remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see also how they do it. And it will also be interesting to see Trump’s response if they fail – not to mention the response of F-35 customers. They already knew the unit price was set to fall, but now they’re counting on even lower prices.

It puts a of pressure on a weapons program that is anything but pressure-free.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Japanese F-35A, seen in the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Polish analysis points to more F-16s

Poland is looking at possible solutions to replace ageing Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter and MiG-29 Fulcrum jets. According to an analysis made by the Polish MoD, one such solution could be the purchase of up to 96 second hand F-16s from the US. Wether this will trully materialize, remains to be seen. Poland currently operates 48 advanced F-16C/D jets.

It’s no surprise that the Polish are looking to replace their Soviet-era Sukhois and MiGs for something more suited to operate alongside the F-16. This could very well be F-16C/D aircraft previously used by the US Air Force, although these jets would require extensive updates to fit them into the existing Polish F-16 fleet. Also, while the US is to put aside many F-16s in the years to come, a substantial number of those will end up us remote controlled QF-16s.

Poland has been mentioned before as a country that may very well purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II at some point in the future. According to Warzaw, the jet is to expensive now, plus industrial offsets seem out of reach.

Perhaps Poland has started manoeuvring itself in a more favourable position for a future F-35 purchase by saying it is willing to expand its capabilities by buying a Lockheed Martin product, but not at any costs. In that light, the announcement on Friday 13 January that Lockheed Martin is close to a deal with the US government about reduced F-35 costs, may be welcome news for Poland.

Time will tell wether we indeed see more F-16 in Polish colours, or F-35s.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Italy orders M-345 and looks for Mangusta replacement

Italy has signed a deal with Italian company Leonardo for the delivery of an initial five M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) aircraft to the Italian Air Force, Leonardo reported on Friday 13 January. Also, a contract was signed for the development of a new light attack and recce helicopter for the Italian Army, replacing the Mangusta. The combined value of the contracts totals over 500 million EUR.

The M-345 HET first flew only on 29 December last year. Leonardo reports that the Italian Air Force has a requirement for around 45 M-345s to replace MB-339 trainers which entered service in 1982.  Most noticable, the M-345 HET is to equip Italy’s aerial demonstration team Frecce Tricolori, which now also uses the MB-339. First M-345 delivery is expected by 2019.

In its training role, the new aircraft will work alongside a fleet of 18 twin-engine Aermacchi M-346s ordered by the Italian Air Force for advanced pilot training. Leonardo puts the M-345 and M-346 on the market as ‘the world’s most advanced training system for military pilots’. Airheadsfly.com flew the M-346 last October and was impressed.

Manugusta replacement

The helicopter contract involves the study, development, industrialization, production and testing of a prototype and three initial production helicopters for the Italian Army. The program is aimed at replacing the current fleet of AW129 Mangusta light attack choppers with 48 new assets By that time, the Mangusta will have been in service for over 35 years in operations.

An Italian Army AW129 Mangusta (Image © AgustaWestland)
An Italian Army AW129 Mangusta (Image © AgustaWestland)

200th F-35 delivered, but development delays continue

The F-35 program celebrated the delivery of the 200th operational jet this week. The aircraft, the second destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), departed Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production facility for Luke Air Force Base, where it will be used to train Japanese pilots. Meanwhile, an official Pentagon progress report mentions continued delays in the F-35’s development and testing schedule.

Along with the delivery of the 200th jet, Lockheed Martin  reports that the entire program has now logged 75,000 flight hours while training more than 380 pilots and 3,700 maintainers. Also, the year 2017 kicked off favourably for the F-35, with the first deployment of operational jets to Japan.

Software issues

However – apart from Donald Trump’s fierce remarks on the F-35 – the program’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) mentions delay after delay in development and testing in a fresh report released this week by the Pentagon. The delays among other issues  concern development of the ‘full warfighting capability’ block 3i software, plus problems related to weapons delivery and the aircaft’s gun system, which is now being tested. Also, the report mentions the issues US Navy pilots experience during catapult launches.

ALIS

Structural deficiencies are reported in the aircraft’s tail section. Furthermore, a new version of the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was supposed to be released in 2016, but this failed to materialize. During operational tests, maintainance crews struggled with the huge amounts of data ALIS generates.

As a result, Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) will likely not start as scheduled in August 2017, but perhaps as late as in 2019.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest