23 December 2016

I Remember

Can you name the only major tactical aircraft platforms to come in on time and under budget?

Quick!

Hint, both are major revisions to an existing design.

Dunno?

A-7 Corsair II and F/A-18E/F.

That is the complete list of fighter/attack aircraft programs that didn't hit a major snarl during development that caused the costs to bloat.

Even the F-4C, which started out as "just sell the Air Force the same plane as the Navy" ran over because the Air Force demanded so many changes.

I love reading critics of the F-35A program saying we should just buy more F-16's!  You mean the "lawn dart"?  I've been an avid aviation nut for decades, stretching back into my childhood and I can remember what a dog the F-16A was in the press and how expensive the thing was compared to the F-4's and A-7D it was supposed to replace.  And they crashed one during initial testing.  And the fly-by-wire (while a great idea in theory) would never be dependable enough to take into combat...

All the F-16A program really had going for it was the bad taste the current inventory had generated during Vietnam.

News articles about the F-16A sure sound a lot like news articles for F-35.  It's nothing new.  Articles for the F-104 sound like articles for the F-35.

It's all the same ol'.  Untried new technology.  New technologies too expensive compared to existing inventory.  Risk of allowing partner nations to make their own.  Range not long enough.  Can't carry enough weapons.  Pick something.  Except for stealth, they're all there.

The vaunted F-15 has the same trail of tears for its development.

The F-14 crashed on its second flight!  Never mind the pain of getting the AIM-54 to work.

I also love how people who're totally skeptical about the press when it's reporting about gun control just placidly accepts the accuracy of the reporting on fighter development.

We also have the President Elect chiming in.

Yes, the costs of the F-35 program are staggering.  It's a huge change in the paradigm of what a fighter/attack plane should be.  It's embodying new philosophies in technology, those are never cheap.  It's trying to maximize commonality across three very different requirements.

Much of the airframe is defined and restricted by the USMC STOVL requirement and much is made about how that makes the program more expensive.

Fine.  How much cheaper would an F-24A for the Air Force, F/A-25A for the Navy and FV-26A (AV-14A?) for the Marines be?

How much cheaper would the entire F-35 program be if it had been held to its original 1992 JSF specification?  Would it have taken 8 years of funding to get a tech demonstrator of the AIRFRAME if the specification had been locked?  Would it then have taken another 6 to 15 years to develop the things that didn't exist but on paper?  Did we actually save money by skipping the YF-35?

Did we err in choosing Lockeed-Martin again, with their track record of successfully bloating projects for years and years?

Will President Trump pull an F-22 on the program and cut new acquisitions with not enough planes made and no real replacement available?  Will he pull an A-12 on the program and hold Lockmart's feet too closely to the fire and cause them to be unable to make any planes and stay in business.

Hopefully he'll be able to hard nose them into clipping the fat from the program and we'll get what they've promised.  They were very close to hitting the price goals before he started in.

I'd like to suggest something for the F-35 program.  An F-35D.  It's simply an F-35C with the gun from the F-35A in it and telling the Navy and the Air Force "this is your plane".  Add the gun because the AF demands it, make the rest of it Navy because there's nothing about carrier capability that keeps it from operating from a runway.  I'd have made the AF use unmodified F-4B's too.

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