Pentagon view; Fewer F-35s will be needed, a top defense official predicts

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Pentagon view; Fewer F-35s will be needed, a top defense official predicts

DAVE MONTGOMERY, Star-Telegram Washington Bureau, www.dfw.com, 9 Feb. 2006

LS,

Met de inkt van de Quadrennial Defense Review nauwelijk droog komt de tweede man van het Pentagon, Gordon England, in een interview met de Fort Worth Star-Telegram met de voorspelling dat in de toekomst minder JSF toestellen nodig zullen zijn dan thans voor ogen gezien, mede vanwege de steeds belangrijker wordende rol van onbemande gevechtstoestellen. VS Luchtmacht woordvoerder Karas bevestigt die voorspelling. Dit is van belang wanneer later dit jaar onderhandeld gaat worden over een Memorandum of Understanding door de internationale partners (waaronder Nederland) voor de aanschaf. Daarbij vormen de verwachte aantallen aan te schaffen toestellen een belangrijke maatstaf, ondermeer voor het vaststellen van een prijs en de te verdelen werkpaketten. Het lijkt er dan ook op dat de Amerikanen, om niet nog meer onrust onder de JSF partners te veroorzaken, de JSF aantallen in de QDR op peil hebben gehouden en de eerder voorziene beperking in de aanschaf (van liefst eenderde) tot nader order hebben uitgesteld: d.w.z. tot nadat de JSF-partners zich definitief aan de aanschaf hebben gecommiteerd.



WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military will likely need fewer joint strike fighters than previously projected because of future advances in the warplane's capabilities and the planned expansion of the military's fleet of unmanned aircraft, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said Wednesday.
England, a former Fort Worth aerospace executive, led the Pentagon's just-released Quadrennial Defense Review designed to reshape U.S. strategy over the next 20 years. He also oversaw deliberations on the 2007 defense budget that President Bush sent to Congress on Monday.
In an interview in his Pentagon office, England said the total number of joint strike fighters -- now projected at 2,443 for the Air Force, Navy and Marines -- "will come down" over the decades-long life of the program. He envisioned a similar trend in other acquisition programs.
"As the systems improve, weapons improve ... the trend will be less total numbers I think of just about everything," England said. "You will also have this constant buildup of unmanned capability."
The defense review, which took more than a year to conclude before its release last week, calls for nearly doubling the number of unmanned aircraft. The study also calls for a dramatic increase in special operations forces and a new long-range bomber to be fielded by 2018.
The F-35 joint strike fighter, being developed by a manufacturing team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics of Fort Worth, is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history, with a projected cost of $256 billion. Lockheed Martin is also producing the F-22 Raptor, which would be extended for two more years, through 2010, under the latest defense budget.
"I don't think there's any disagreement from us on that," Air Force spokesman Doug Karas said.
The Navy and Marines earlier reduced planned F-35 purchases from 1,089 to 680. The reduction was made while England was Navy secretary, before being named to the No. 2 Pentagon post in May.
The F-35 will be used primarily to replace 1,691 aging F-16s and A-10s in the United States. Great Britain also plans to buy 150 for its air force and navy. "The F-35 planned procurement for the U.S. and U.K. has held steady at 2,593 for four years, and those numbers were reaffirmed in the recent [Quadrennial Defense Review]," said John Smith, Lockheed Martin's F-35 spokesman in Fort Worth. "We will continue to work closely with our customers to satisfy whatever their production requirements might be."
Loren Thompson, a military analyst for the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., who has extensive Pentagon contacts, said the Air Force has an internal plan to ultimately reduce the number of joint strike fighters from 1,763 to somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200. Karas said he could not confirm the plan but acknowledged that "the ultimate buy will be less."
F-35 critics in Congress, as well as government watchdog groups, have depicted the next-generation aircraft as increasingly unaffordable in an era of federal budget deficits and increasing defense budgets. But England said the projected downturn in the number of joint strike fighters is independent of budget pressures, adding that he foresees no reduction in the program's cost.
"I'd expect that the number will come down almost independent of cost," he said. "I don't see that the cost will be coming down, but I do see that the capability per unit will be going up, and therefore, over a long period of time, you'll have less units."
The F-35 has capabilities nonexistent in the aircraft it will be replacing, including radar-evading stealth technology and superior electronics. Planners expect the aircraft to be automatically upgraded throughout the life of the program to include advanced weaponry and other features.
Even with a potential reduction in U.S. military sales, England forecast a healthy future for the joint strike fighter, predicting that a robust international market will keep the program alive for more than 30 to 40 years. "Probably, for the rest of my life, people are going to be buying these airplanes," said England, 68. "They're going to outlive me."
England also defended the Pentagon's decision to scrap an alternate engine for the F-35 despite a diplomatic backlash in Britain.
The engine is being co-developed by General Electric and British-based Rolls-Royce as an alternate to another engine by Pratt & Whitney. Supporters of the program, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said two engines would create competition and therefore reduce costs.
But England said analysts concluded that there would be no substantial savings, making the alternate program expendable.
"We do not have a backup engine for the F-18. We don't have a backup engine for the F-22," he said. "And while it would be nice to have a backup engine ... our assessment is that it doesn't save us money in the long run. ... And if it's not necessary, we'd rather spend the money on something else."
The 2007 budget also continues the V-22 Osprey co-produced by Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth. England said the hybrid aircraft will provide a "very important capability" in the military's evolving strategy to confront conventional enemies as well as nontraditional threats such as terrorists and insurgents.

Dave Montgomery, (202) 383-6016 dmontgomery@krwashington.com
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