The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II on Tuesday 22 November took a major hit. Not in any mock 1 vs 1 dog fight or any large scale military exercise, but in the political arena. By choosing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an interim solution to its immediate fighter jet needs, Canada is signalling that the F-35’s development takes to long and its price tag is to high.
Canada is looking to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as immediate replacements of ageing ‘legacy’ model F-18 Hornets. If a deal with Boeing is finalized, delivery of new jets should take no more than two or three years.
With the F-35, that would take considerably longer, not to mention the fact that development and testing of this 5th generation fighter jet – and its software along with it – may not even be finished by then. Recent progress in the program still doesn’t mean the jet is capable of firing its internal gun, for example.
Canada has pondered and postponed an F-35 purchase for many years. Today’s selection of the Super Hornet does not exclude the possibility that the Canadian government in Ottawa may still purchase the F-35 at a later stage. However, the 400 billion USD weapons program has been the subject of much criticism in Canada, especially its 100 million USD per piece price tag.
Nevertheless, Canada’s choice is remarkable and concerning for Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s Joint Program Office (JPO) in Washington, since the country is a level 3 partner in the program. Other level 3 partners are Australia, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, all of which have selected the F-35 as their new fighter jet.
In fact, Canada now is unique in being the only partner nation in the program not to actually buy the F-35 – for now. By doing so, it’s industry will benefit from taking part in the program, without tax payers having to cough up billions of dollars to actually buy the jets. For other nations however, it means that their jets will have higher price tags, since fewer jets sold means that development and production costs per aircraft remain higher than anticipated. That will cause some sour faces in other partner nations.
Yes, both Lockheed Martin and Ottawa will downplay this and probably point to a possible Canadian fighter jet competition still to be held. But the truth is, it is a major hit for the JPO’s promise of lower unit costs and the F-35’s reputation – which saw a change for the better in 2016, partly due to appearances in the Netherlands and the UK.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of other fighter jet competitions that see the F-35 and Super Hornet go head to head, such as the current ones in Belgium and Finland. The former beat the latter earlier this year in Denmark. Following today’s decision in Canada, that makes the score even.
It is a kingdom known by its beautiful fjords, shock-and-awe inland scenery and very friendly, maybe slightly reserved people. Once a domain of Norman the Scandinavian country stretched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean is prepping to be have some new toughness to show: the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. Airheadsfly.com dug into the Norwegian view of what is coming. This is what we got back from our sources inside the Norwegian Armed Forces.
As announced by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in July, a total of ten F-35s will be on strength by late Summer 2017. Three of these will be flown to Norway before the end of next year. Initially they will form part of the Operational Training and Evaluation (OT&E) effort, before becoming part of the first Norwegian F-35 squadron. As of 2019, the F-35 will take over roles and missions of the current F-16 fighter jet. In that year Norway expects to declare Initial Operational Capability with the F-35. But which roles will be taken first, has not officially been confirmed yet.
Evenes to become “combat base”
The future Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in the north will be at Evenes, near Narvik. It is a big move north from Bødo, Airheadsfly.com feels. Evenes was initially chosen as a Forward Operating Base that would mainly utilize existing infrastructure to support the F-35. But, under a more recently presented long-term plan, Evenes will be a “combat base” for the RNoAF, “including operations with new maritime patrol aircraft” that Norway will choose to replace the aging Lockheed P-3 Orions at Andenes.
“Evenes will also gain dedicated ground defence and ground based air defence systems.” However, no details on when the “significant investments in infrastructure will be made that go above and beyond what is required for the previously planned QRA functions of Evenes” a Norwegian Armed Forces spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com. The F-35s are to commence operations from Evenes in 2021 or 2022, with the new plans for Evenes first having to go through the Norwegian parliament for approval.
Current Norwegian Air Force bases of Andenes and Bardufoss were deemed not feasible for F-35 operations after the closure of Bødo. “The primary reason was noise concerns, along with other technical considerations related to the ability to conduct fighter operations in line with the stated requirements.” Bodø Air Station’s air strip has already been formally transferred to civilian aviation authorities, ahead of its future closure, after the last passenger aircraft landed there on 1 August 2016.
Joint Strike Missile
Oslo is confident that the F-35 will perform and will be better than than the F-16, also when it comes to operations in the Arctics. “The F-35 will provide a marked improvement over the F-16 in all aspects of High North operations. It offers superior range and situational awareness, and will allow Norway to operate freely throughout our air space under all conditions thanks to its survivability.
The addition of long-range precision guided weapons such as the Joint Strike Missile will also add considerably to the capabilities of the Norwegian Armed Forces.” The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) is developed by Norway’s own Kongsberg Defence Systems as a Anti Surface Warfare and Naval Fire Support weapon that even includes a Link 16 connection.
When it comes to operations a long way from base – like in the Arctics, over the Atlantic Ocean or down a long the many many miles of coast line – aerial refuelling might seem like a logic addition to the capabilities of the Air Force. But Norway is not considering any air tankers of its own, nor is it planning modification to the current fleet of four C-130J Hercules transport aircraft to be able to provide in-flight refueling. “However, Norway continues to explore the possibility of contributing to a multinational effort to strengthen the availability of air refueling tankers in Europe.”
Oslo is confident it can defend any of its territories, including Svalbard. Airheadsfly.com stands corrected that Svalbard – of which parts are allowed to be run by Russia – is in fact not a demilitarized zone. “Norway has full and absolute sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is not demilitarized as such, however the Svalbard Treaty puts certain limitations on the use of military force against other states from or on Svalbard.
This does not exclude the use of military force pursuant to self-defense as defined in the UN-charter, article 51. The Norwegian government, as the sovereign on Svalbard, has the right and obligation to ensure that other states do not exploit Svalbard for military purposes. As such, Norway has the right to defend Svalbard militarily and Svalbard is an acknowledged part of NATO’s area of responsibility, as defined in the North Atlantic Treaty, article 6. Beyond that, we do not wish to discuss specific plans for responding to any potential future threats against Norwegian territory.”
During his presentation at the Lockheed Martin / RIAT 2016 press conference at RAF Fairford in July by RNoAF’s Lt. Col. Tesli, Norway’s main F-35 pilot and Norwegian F-35 detachment senior officer, the F-35 can expand the range of for example the navy by serving as its airborne recon/targeting gathering platform.
“Providing reconnaissance and targeting is not in itself a new role for the Norwegian Air Force. The F-35 forms part of a wider development where both platforms, sensors and weapons of all services gradually add range and capability, and where the F-35 in particular provides our joint force the ability to find, track, and effectively engage targets at significantly greater distances than we have been able to in the past,” a Norwegian F-35 Program spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com.
The F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, recently completed 25 missions comprising of 12 Weapons Delivery Accuracy (WDA) and 13 Weapon Separation Tests as part of a month-long weapon’s firing test surge. Historically, only one WDA take places every month given the myriad of coordination required. The highest number previously accomplished in a month, was three in November of 2014 during 2B software testing.
These successful test events — performed using the F-35’s newest block 3F software — demonstrated the accuracy of the Lockheed Martin fighter jet. Five of the test events featured dropping multiple weapons. The F-35 weapons test team was given exclusive use of the Sea Test Range, an instrumented Pacific Ocean test area off the central coast near Point Mugu Naval Air Station, California. Tests were also conducted at the US Navy’s China Lake Weapons Range, California and the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
During the surge period, a total of 30 weapons were dropped or fired, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition, AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, GPS-guided 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb, AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air heat-seeking missile and GPS/laser-guided munition.
“The WDAs rely on the full capability of the F-35 — multiple sensors, navigation, weapons envelope, mission planning, data links and inter-agency range scheduling — all working in sequence to put steel on target,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “This was a tremendous effort by the F-35 test team. They surged and worked seven days a week for more than a month to expend 30 ordnance and advance weapons testing. This testing has moved us that much closer to delivering the full F-35 capability to warfighters within the next two years.”
The F-35 is a multi-role, next-generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with speed, agility and a 360-degree view of the battlespace. The F-35 will form the backbone of air combat superiority for decades to come and replace legacy tactical fighter fleets with dominant air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities to deter and defeat potential adversaries.
The US Marine Corps declared the F-35B combat-ready IOC in July 2015, the U.S. Air Force declared F-35A IOC earlier this August. The US Navy intends to attain F-35C IOC in 2018. More than 200 F-35s have flown in excess of 66 thousand fleet-wide hours, with over 300 F-35 pilots and 3,000 maintainers trained to operate and support this next-generation aircraft.
The Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) on Monday 15 August released the first images of its first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The aircraft is one of four to be built by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The remaining 38 JASDF Lightnings will be build in a brand new Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) in Nagoya, Japan.
According to the JASDF, the first F-35 is to ground tested in Fort Worth in August. Test flights should begin soon after. The introduction of the stealthy jet will be mean the beginning of the end for the F-4 Phantom in Japanese service.
Iraq is gaining an increasingly potent F-16 force at Balad airbase near Baghdad. The number of F-16s jets available for the fighter against so-called Islamic State (IS) has grown to ten after this week’s delivery of four more jets.
The Iraqi Air Force has 36 F-16s on order from Lockheed Martin. A number of aircraft remains stationed in the US for pilot training in Tucson, Arizona, while most of the jets will head to Iraq to join the Iraq Air Force’s 9 squadron at Balad. From there, the Iraqi F-16 have already been used in battling IS.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Air Force also gains more and more Aero Vodochody L-159 trainer and light attack jets from the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the first Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle should soon also find its way to Iraq.