Thursday, June 22, 2017

F-111 & F-35

FLG remembers years ago when he read that the F-35 was going to be a single fighter for all the services.   This shared platform would save money, they said.   Immediately, FLG thought of the F-111:

The U.S. Air Force and Navy were both seeking new aircraft when Robert McNamara was appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense in January 1961.The aircraft sought by the two armed services shared the need to carry heavy armament and fuel loads, feature high supersonic speed, twin engines and two seats, and probably use variable geometry wings. On 14 February 1961, McNamara formally directed the services to study the development of a single aircraft that would satisfy both requirements.
Long story short, it didn't work out, and the Air Force got the F-111, which never quite met the original needs, and the Navy ended up with the F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun fame.    The desire to save money by building a shared platform ended up wasting a bunch of time and money.

Getting back to the F-35, when reading about how building one aircraft for all of our services and also for allies would save money, FLG was skeptical.   But hoped it would turn out better.   At first glance, their were a lot of requirements built into the design (stealth, computer systems, etc) that seemed like it could lead to cost savings, even after tweaking for each service branch.  Turns out FLG's skepticism was valid, with a long history of cost overruns.   Though the Pentagon disagrees with that characterization.

What FLG has learned from F-35 program is that the requirements for the different services are so varied (the Navy needs to land on carriers, the Marines need to takeoff and land vertically, etc) that there isn't much cost savings to be had, and in fact trying to shoehorn them all into the same platform means the services have to accept less performance or add massively to the cost to keep their desired performance.

“Despite aspirations for a joint aircraft, the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C are essentially three distinct aircraft, with significantly different missions and capability requirements,” the Senate stated in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017.
It seems the Navy and Air Force have learned that lesson AG for the second time:

Having learned from the $300 billion-plus, tri-service Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program that one size does not always fit all, the Pentagon will likely embark on separate next-generation fighter programs for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.

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