Australians worry about Joint Strike Fighter cost

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Australians worry about Joint Strike Fighter cost

Dave Fulghum, Aviation Week's AEROSPACE DAILY & DEFENSE REPORT
January 11, 2006; Vol. 217 No. 6

While being generally dismissive of price creep in the U.S.'s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, a senior Australian defense official admitted that if cost goes up appreciably, the projected order of 100 aircraft could go down.
That comment from Deputy Defense Secretary Shane Carmody follows revelations that the U.S. Navy and Air Force are making plans to pull funding from the JSF's F136 alternative engine program as a cost-cutting measure. The 100 JSFs are supposed to replace 71 F/A-18 and 26 F-111 strike aircraft.
Earlier in the year, Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill reaffirmed the fighter's cost at $45 million each fly away cost and about $80 million when total program costs are added. The extra cost includes spares, training and hangars for the new aircraft. The Australians have allotted $9 billion (U.S.) for the program. Australian critics of the program claim the cost could climb as high as $12 billion (U.S.). Both U.S. and Australian officials also note that 100 aircraft is a notional number and no final decision has been made on the ultimate total buy.
"We are still a way from even making a decision to purchase the aircraft," Hill says. He also dismissed the suggestion that the F-22 should be considered as an option as a strike replacement. "Forget the F-22," he says. "We could never afford it, and it might never be available [to us]." He lauded the F-35's ability to fly stealthy missions on one day and to serve as a bomb truck carrying exterior weapons on the next.
There are real pressures on the JSF program. The U.S. Air Force is expected to reduce its purchase of conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35As to 1,200 aircraft from 1,763 as a result of fiscal 2007 budget negotiations and the Quadrennial Defense Review. The Marine Corps and Navy plan to buy 680 short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) and conventional carrier (CV) versions of the aircraft. Britain is to buy another 150.
Prices of the various versions are pegged to a total buy of 2,593 aircraft, but that does not include sales to program partners other than Britain, nor does it include conventional foreign military sales, says Dave Scott, Lockheed Martin's director of business development with responsibility for Australia.
The fly away cost of CTOL is set at $45 million each and STOVL and CV are both at about $60 million, say company officials. The loss of 563 USAF aircraft is expected to be compensated for by projected foreign sales of up to 1,500 aircraft, they say.
The U.S. Navy has made an internal decision to pare its budget by cutting participation in the $3-4 billion General Electric/Rolls Royce F136 engine program and relying only on the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. However, there is ongoing intervention from the highest levels of the British government directly to President Bush. - / Aviation Week & Space Technology


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