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The RCAF's Next Generation Fighter (CF-188 Replacement)

Colin Parkinson

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interesting this article:

More importantly, they contend, the coating is easily applied in the field and requires no environmental control facility as with previous versions of stealth aircraft. Lockheed says the interval between maintenance events for the F-35’s low-observable coating is now 19h – better than the targeted 9h.

Also:

From this New and Old F-35 Coatings Compared in Recent Photo of Two Italian Lightning II Jets - The Aviationist


The old livery presented very evident panel lines which were painted a lighter gray than the rest of the aircraft, resulting in the characteristic saw tooth panel lines above and on the sides of the fuselage. In a weekly update by Lockheed Martin’s General Manager Jeff Babione dated April 13, 2017, the new coating system was announced as able to cut-off 128 hours in the painting process, resulting in a reduction of the costs by USD 16,000 per aircraft and 49M USD in the total life of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

Here is an extract of the aforementioned update:

Through a new coating system, the team was able to give the F-35 one uniform coat that saved a significant number of hours per unit in defects and rework.

James Thistle was the first to suggest the new coatings, now referred to as the Z13 overcoat. It took five years and a lot of hard work to incorporate the new coatings. The team used AF104 as a trial run with no issues, and James said it was worth the wait.

The Z13 overcoat significantly reduces the need for many of the labor-intensive tasks that drove rework and repair hours up.
 

MarkOttawa

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Surprise! Two Boeing-connected former NORAD commanders push Super Hornet, start of an article:

The best option for Canada? Former NORAD commanders’ perspectives on the next-generation fighter​

In a presentation to the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence in March, Gen Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), was asked his thoughts on Canada’s future fighter capability. He deftly sidestepped the implied question about which fighter might be better, politely declining to “weigh in on the fighter debate.” But he did offer his perspective on the general fighter capabilities NORAD requires for its threat response – long range, endurance to loiter, significant weapons capacity, and the ability to rapidly share information.

It’s a capability list two of his predecessors can appreciate. Admirals Timothy Keating and William Gortney both served as commanders of USNORTHCOM and NORAD (November 2004 to March 2007 and December 2014 to May 2016, respectively), but neither is reticent about which fighter jet the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) should acquire to replace its fleet of CF-18 legacy Hornets.

Now retired, both consult for Boeing. Each has over 5,000 hours flying off the decks of aircraft carriers in the A-7E Corsair II, FA-18 A-model Hornet, and in Gortney’s case, the FA-18E Block I Super Hornet. Having led the unique binational command, in which the NORAD commander operates inside both the U.S. and Canadian chains of command, they appreciate what is at stake when RCAF pilots and aircraft are assigned to quick reaction alert duty.

With VanHerck’s response priorities in mind, both believe the Boeing-built F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornet, more so than the Lockheed Martin F-35A or Saab Gripen E, is best suited for Canada’s NORAD role...

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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Excellent Finnish blogger Corporal Frisk talks to LockMart about their F-35A bid for Finland's new fighter--start of the post:

Lifting the Fog​

Lockheed Martin’s bid for the HX programme is likely the one that has caused the most speculation, and this blog has seen its fair share of that as well. Scott Davis, Lockheed Martin’s Managing Director for Finland, was happy to chat and clear up some of the remaining confusion.

Let’s begin with the elephant in the room: the offer in their BAFO is for 64 F-35A, and this is most certainly the number the company expects to supply Finland in case they win. The package of weapons they would supply does include an undisclosed number of weapons that include AIM-120C-8 AMRAAM, JSM, and AGM-158B-2 JASSM-ER. All of these are included in the BAFO as regular to-be-delivered items, and not as options. Davis acknowledged that he had been unnecessarily vague in his comments at the earlier HX media event, leading to speculation about options to adjust the figures either up or down. However, it is now evident that Lockheed Martin joins Boeing and Saab in the 64 fighter-game.
The JASSM-ER needs no further introduction, as in essence it is an upgrade of the Finnish Air Force current silver bullet. The weapon slings a 450 kg warhead out beyond 900 kilometers, where an IIR-seeker provide terminal guidance. The current weapons sport a one-way datalink, but it seems like the AGM-158B-2 will feature the updated two-way WDL of the AGM-158D JASSM-ER (the missile formerly known as JASSM-XR). Is it better for Finnish requirements than the Taurus KEPD 350? The Finnish Air Force thought so last time around, but as noted in my last post the weapons sport rather different design philosophies, and it isn’t necessarily a question with a straightforward answer.

A weapon in the class of the JASSM is needed to wipe out certain hardened targets, but the smaller weapons also offer interesting capabilities, especially as internal carriage offer other benefits besides stealth as well. As long as the weapons are carried internally an external observer will not be able to say if the aircraft is loaded, and in that case with what kind of weaponry. For an Air Force that cherish ambiguity – perhaps a bit more than really is healthy – being able to both train and perform QRA-missions in peacetime without sneaky plane spotters with diplomatic immunity being able to tell what the aircraft carries is likely to captivate their imagination. This allows for example raising the number of AMRAAMs carried in response to intel you don’t want the adversary to know you have, or even to change the loadout from a pure air-to-air one to a land-attack or anti-shipping one, all depending on the situation (you can obviously also do the classic ‘lets fly by their ship at low altitude with doors open and show that at least one aircraft carries JSM’ to really have them guessing about how many of the F-35s zooming around are ‘just’ fighters and how many are potential threats to maritime forces). It’s not a war-winning feature, but it is a positive secondary effect recognised already during the Cold War when USAF F-102/106 deltas were flying around at potential flashpoints...[read on]

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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Article at Skies magazine on Swiss choosing F-35A--and RCAF:

Swiss bet on F-35’s affordability, did they get it right?​


Switzerland announced its selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35A as its new fighter on June 30, 2021, beating off competition from the Boeing Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, and Eurofighter Typhoon. Switzerland’s Air 2030 competition was valued at up to US$6.5 billion (CHF 6 billion) to replace the Swiss Air Force’s current fleet of F/A-18C/D Hornets and F-5E/F Tiger IIs. A flight demonstration phase in 2019 and comprehensive technical evaluation led to the decision to purchase 36 F-35As from the U.S., along with five Patriot missile air defense systems from Raytheon.

In a statement, the Swiss Federal Council proposed that Parliament should approve the procurement of the F-35A and Patriot. “An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost. The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future.” Switzerland will become the 15th nation to join the F-35 program of record.

News of the Swiss decision sent shockwaves through the fighter aircraft industry. The F-35 has attracted criticism over operating costs, mission capable rates and maintainability, and its perceived suitability to the air-to-air role. Yet Switzerland brushed aside that negativity, boldly stating that the F-35 is cheaper than the competition on all fronts, and that it beats them all hands-down on capability.

If a small country like Switzerland considers the F-35 to not only be the most affordable solution, but also the best solution to meet its primary role of air policing in a docile environment — we aren’t talking night one, low observable ingress into a high-density air defense network here — then it could threaten to effectively snuff out any competition to the F-35.

Canada’s Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) will undoubtedly be under close scrutiny to see how the F-35 stacks up against the budgets and the competition — which includes Boeing’s Super Hornet and the Saab Gripen E.

According to the Swiss, it’s game, set, and match to America’s fifth-generation stealth fighter that can cover all fighter roles, and do it better and cheaper than anyone else!

Switzerland’s search for a new fighter aircraft has hit a number of notable bumps along the way. In 2011, it selected the Saab Gripen to replace the F-5, however, in a mandated referendum on the decision, the Swiss public refused to back the deal. The country’s defense procurement agency (armasuisse) re-launched the competition as Air 2030. In 2019, armasuisse effectively ejected the new Gripen E from the running after it recommended the Swedish contender should not attend a new round of evaluations because they were designed to evaluate aircraft that are “operationally ready” in 2019. Saab argued that Gripen E would be very much ready and in service by the time Air 2030 was required. Yet, the Gripen was out.

The series of evaluations of each remaining competitor took place at Payerne Air Base in 2019 [emphasis added]. A further referendum on whether Switzerland should buy a new fighter, or not, was held on Sept. 27, 2020, and this time it was accepted by a small margin, with a budget cap of CHF 6 billion placed on the new fighters.

Following prolonged analysis of the data, the Swiss Federal Council announced its findings, and said that all contenders had met the required specifications. However, with 336 points, the F-35 “showed the highest overall benefit and was the clear winner with a lead of 95 points or more over the other candidates.” It added that the F-35 had scored highest in three of the four main criteria that had been evaluated.

It said the F-35A achieved the best result when it came to “effectiveness” because it had a “marked technological advantage over the other candidates
[emphasis added]: it includes entirely new, extremely powerful, and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace. The F-35A is able to ensure information superiority; this means pilots benefit from a higher situational awareness in all task areas when compared with the other candidates. This is especially true for day-to-day air policing.”

It also said that stealth played a part in its findings, with the F-35 being “designed from the ground up to be especially difficult for other weapons systems to detect. The resulting high survivability is a great advantage for the Swiss Air Force.” Significantly, it also said that because the F-35 is “easy to operate and is able to provide information superiority, it requires less training and has a better ratio of flight-to-simulator hours.” In fact, the Swiss evaluators decided that this latter factor means the F-35A requires around 20 percent fewer flight hours than the other candidates, and this means it will require 50 percent fewer take-offs and landings than the Swiss Air Force’s current fighters.

Moreover, it said that the F-35, as the newest of the candidate fighters, will be best placed to sustain its technological lead over the planned service life of 30 years [emphasis added--and new fighter in RCAF service?]. The F-35A also scored best when it came to product support, and achieved the highest rating due to its “efficient operation and maintenance, modern training design, and the high security of supply throughout its service life.” This is attributable in part to the F-35A being manufactured in high numbers and being common to air forces within Europe.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Swiss evaluation also said the F-35A achieved “by far” the best result in terms of costs — both in terms of procurement and through life [emphasis added]. The report stated: “At the time the bids were made in February 2021, the procurement costs amounted to CHF 5.068 billion — well under the financial cap of CHF 6 billion set by voters. Even when accounting for inflation up to the time of payment, procurement costs will remain below the credit limit.” The evaluation said the total costs of the F-35A (procurement plus operating costs) amounted to approximately CHF 15.5 billion over 30 years. It said that the Lockheed Martin proposal was an incredible $2.16 billion less than the nearest rival over the projected 30-year service life!

The only area where the F-35 didn’t achieve the best result was when it came to offsets to boost Switzerland’s defense industrial base.

The Swiss Federal Council report makes compelling reading with its unwavering support of the F-35 in almost all respects. The fact that it beat all of the competition on both unit and through-life cost is remarkable, especially when considering the high profile issues with operating costs that are being voiced by a number of operators. Lockheed Martin has undoubtedly made impressive progress with its push for an $80-million unit cost for the F-35A, and this would have been an extremely competitive price tag in Air 2030. Indeed, the Federal Council clearly stated that the F-35 was offered at the lowest price, even lower than a Super Hornet, which cost in the region of $50 million a piece in the U.S. Navy’s second multi-year purchase batch.

The Swiss statement on through-life cost makes stark reading against fierce words from Washington over F-35 operating costs. Members of Congress have gone as far as to threaten to cut F-35 production numbers due to unacceptably high sustainment costs. Indeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is backing this thinking until operating costs are brought under control. It’s so serious that the GAO is recommending a delay in a Milestone C full-rate production decision on the F-35 until it meets a specific set of performance goals.

Recent reports point to an increasing gap in what operators thought they’d be spending on F-35 operations, compared with reality. U.S. Air Force chief Gen Charles Q Brown recently said that he’s contemplating using the F-35 only for “high-end missions” as a means to reduce operating costs. Earlier this year, Gen Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command, said the “capability, the availability, and the affordability” of the F-35A are the three elements of the program that consume most of his time and focus. “We’re not exactly where we need [to be] on target with affordability,” Kelly said. Referring reporters to the F-35 Joint Program Office for specifics, Kelly guessed that the F-35A was running at a cost per flying hour (CPFH) of approximately $35,000 at present. In terms of confidence level of getting to the target of $25,000 by 2025, he said: “I’m not brimming with confidence.”

It’s not just the USAF that’s putting the spotlight on F-35 operating costs. British defense secretary Ben Wallace told a Parliamentary defense select committee on June 23 that he wanted to see “progress” when it comes to controlling maintenance costs on the U.K. fleet of F-35Bs.

Operating cost was a subject tackled by Swiss defense minister Viola Amherd as the F-35 decision was revealed. She said the decision was not made on the basis of reports from the GAO, which “cannot be checked.” She said Switzerland made its decision on the basis of “binding offers.” If the F-35 fails to meet its promised cost performance, the Swiss Federal Council said it would consider the contractor to be in breach of contract [emphasis added].

Evidence from other operators suggests that operating the F-35 is simply too expensive, so it’s difficult to see how Switzerland has landed a deal that will easily address this issue.

It’s not even the planned reduction in overall flight hours and increased use of simulators that offer the Swiss such attractive numbers. The evaluators found that even when the same number of flight hours were calculated for all the candidates, the F-35 still came out as the cheapest option.

While some of the cost details have raised eyebrows, ultimately, the F-35 deal that has been outlined for Switzerland is a tantalizing one. The Swiss figures provide a fascinating window on F-35 export pricing, which as a Foreign Military Sale should not exceed U.S. domestic prices. The Swiss result will undoubtedly have many analysts reaching for their calculators to better understand how this F-35 deal has been constructed, and how it will translate to other competitions — like Canada’s FFCP.

Canada is already a partner in the F-35 program; it contributed funding to its development and has a foothold in the global supply chain, but with no obligation to buy. A planned deal for 60 F-35As was halted in 2015 by now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said the argument for having a stealthy, fifth-generation fighter “no longer makes sense.” He argued that many other fighters are available at much lower price points. So, Canada opted for fact-based decision making to get its fighter decision right.

A decision on Canada’s fighter competition is now expected early next year, with the Super Hornet, Gripen E, and F-35 going head-to-head. Unlike in 2015, Lockheed Martin has got F-35 unit cost down; much of the early concurrent development work has been completed; issues resolved; and the very capable Block 4 version is closer to reality.

If the Swiss numbers are accurate, the F-35 could prove to be an affordable option for Canada’s $19 billion (US$14 billion) budget. However, experts are questioning how the Swiss numbers add up.

Politics aside, it’s important that any potential customer fully understands what they are getting into. Much of the real cost in a fighter program comes from the support side — the through-life cost, and the unexpected or hidden costs. There’s no point in having fighters that are too expensive to operate over a long period of time.

Fifth-generation fighter or not, it should come down to the best performing and the cheapest option.

Mark
Ottawa
 

OldSolduer

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I read an article yesterday that states we paid another 71 million to the F35 program.
 

Kirkhill

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I read an article yesterday that states we paid another 71 million to the F35 program.

Well, that's roughly the price of a new F35A. Seeing we have been contributing since Jean Chretien and Alan Williams signed us up for the programme, maybe we're buying them on time. We should have a couple of squadrons ready for delivery by now.
 

dapaterson

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We should have a couple of squadrons ready for delivery by now.

Except it's still under development, the Canadian aircraft would be different blocks (with some possibly impossible to upgrade to the final standard), operating costs would be higher than forecast, repair and overhaul would take longer than predicted, and right now one in six would be grounded due to the lack of engines.
 

SeaKingTacco

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Except it's still under development, the Canadian aircraft would be different blocks (with some possibly impossible to upgrade to the final standard), operating costs would be higher than forecast, repair and overhaul would take longer than predicted, and right now one in six would be grounded due to the lack of engines.
This would be different from our current fleet…how?
 

Good2Golf

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If we were to add up the cost for C-releases to the CF-18’s s/w vs going with the USN’s X-release s/w, including the small bit of code room the USN gave Canada on 87X and 89X, we’d have probably (fiscally) spent significantly less than our own bespoke s/w load. We need to avoid the temptation of (over-) Canadianizing things. We’re not Israel…we don’t get to make side deals with the US.
 

Quirky

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How do we Canadianize something already operating in Alaska. Do we convert the instruments to metric? Making things to fit our snowflake requirements just hampers overall procurement. We aren’t special. We aren’t unique.
 

MilEME09

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We missed our biggest chance when turkey lost its place in line to get birds more quickly. At this rate we won't see a plane in the sky till the point not much of our F18 fleet is left.
 
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dapaterson

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Auditable source code should be a prerequisite, unless we fully trust the vendors.

Can we trust LockMart?

The F35 is a bad idea poorly implemented. While it may well become a standard, and operating costs and readiness may increase, the program remains significantly troubled (due in no small part to the USMC).

Mind you, it is funny to see the CF105 assembly line operationalized, with the inherent problems of continuous prototype improvements resulting in notionally identical aircraft being materially different.
 

Good2Golf

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So source code audited by…Shared Services Canada? 🤔
 

dapaterson

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No, by military professionals.

Although SSC has lots of retired C&E folks infesting their higher ranks, so maybe that's part of their problem...
 
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