The chances of a cheaper F-35 are decreasing, the reasons are many, including China
WASHINGTON, (BM) – Cuts in defense spending will complicate the task of reducing the price of produced F-35 fighters, said the head of the United States Department of Defense Joint Programs, Lieutenant General Eric Fick on July 22 at a hearing in the US Senate Oversight and Reform Committee, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
Fick said that the cost of the aircraft depends on the size of the batches under production contracts – the larger the batch ordered, the less it costs to produce one F-35 under the contract.
According to him, the cuts in the defense budget mean that the Pentagon will not be able to order larger batches (“lots”) of F-35s and therefore will not be able to reduce the production price of the aircraft.
The Lieutenant General has promised that the Pentagon will continue to communicate with the federal government and manufacturers, primarily Lockheed Martin, to reduce the price of the aircraft.
The Pentagon purchases various weapons, including the F-35, in separate contracts – “lots”. In October 2019, contracts were signed for lots 12-14 and the military announced that already in lot 13, which will be executed in 2021, it will be possible to achieve the target – to reduce the purchase price of one F-35A to less than $ 80 million.
According to the contracts, the aircraft for lot 12 will cost the US Air Force $ 82.4 million, for lot 13 – $ 79.2 million, for lot 14 – $ 77.9 million. Earlier, Lockheed Martin delivered to the US Air Force and countries participating in Program F -35 61 fighters in 2017, 91 in 2018 and 134 in 2019.
141 F-35s were slated to be produced in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic has drastically cut production. Only 24 aircraft are expected to be assembled this year.
Turkey is also having a negative impact on the price of the fighter
Back in April last year the Vice Admiral Mat Winter said that if Turkey is ejected from the F-35 program, it would deal an immediate blow to the production rate for new planes and place fresh stress on an already strained supply chain.
The F-35 program manager Vice Adm. Mathias Winter told then the lawmakers on Capitol Hill that “the evaluation of Turkey stopping would be between 50- and 75-airplane impact over a two-year period.”
That hit to production comes from the 6 percent to 7 percent of the aircraft’s parts that are made in Turkey, Winter said, and “we would see within 45 to 90 days an impact of the slowing down or stopping of those parts to the three production lines.”
The loss of those parts would be felt acutely as the approximately 3,000 suppliers working on the F-35 “are struggling with the demand signal on them,” Winter added, as more planes enter service and older ones are increasingly in need of repair.
The Pentagon confirmed that Turkey continues to produce parts for the F-35 fighter jet
US will not refuse to purchase F-35 combat aircraft parts manufactured in Turkey until 2022, US Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said on June 30.
According to Andrews, the decision to not break the agreements concluded with Turkey was made by the Pentagon at the end of 2019. The lieutenant colonel explained that an immediate termination of contracts would be costly and destructive for the American army.
A Pentagon spokesman said the US has identified alternative sources of supply for the F-35 parts that are currently being manufactured in Turkey. As Turkish contracts expire, the U.S. Army will enter into new contracts with other manufacturers.
Nevertheless, Turkey continues to make parts for the F-35, and the US Senate did not like that
On July 13 this year a group of US senators from both parties called on the Pentagon to stop purchasing components of F-35 fighter jets from Turkey.
In a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday, lawmakers warned the Pentagon that any plans to purchase components of F-35 fighter jets from Turkey undermine US pressure on the country in connection with its purchase of the Russian S-400 defense system.
Recall that earlier the United States officially excluded Turkey from the multinational program in 2019 for the deal with S-400, and it stopped training on a jet plane for Turkish pilots.
A letter signed by Democratic Senators Gene Shahin and Chris Van Hollen, Republican Senators James Lankford and Tom Tillis, which indicated that Under Secretary of State Ellen Lord said the Department would terminate Turkey’s participation in early 2020. However, this promise was not fulfilled, the letter indicated.
Instead, a Pentagon official recently announced that Turkish contractors will continue to produce key components for F-35 fighters until the end of 2022.
In a letter, lawmakers also pointed to a violation of human rights by the Turkish government, adding that they “remain concerned about the direction that Turkey is taking under the leadership of President (Recep Tayyip – ed.) Erdogan.”
“From human rights violations in Syria and Iraq to arbitrary arrests of Americans in Ankara and defense cooperation with Russia, Turkey does not act as a responsible entity and does not cooperate with the West at the level that we expect from a NATO ally,” the letter said.
In the long run, China could make the F-35 more expensive
Just a few days ago, Chinese media reported that China was currently working on a new fifth-generation fighter based on the Shenyang FC-31.
Its price will fluctuate around $ 70 million, and this makes the FC -31 not just good, but almost an uncontested offer on the stealth fighter market.
No other country is able to offer stealth fighters at such a price that gives the Chinese aviation industry a great chance to gain a foothold in the global military aviation market.
What will the potential buyer receive if FC -31 is offered for export? Firstly, unlike the F-35, the FC-31 (J-31) has not only a more attractive price, but also two engines.
It is not worth saying once again that a plane with two engines is much more reliable than a single-engine fighter. Moreover, the flight characteristics of the J-31 look much better. For example, the maximum speed of the J-31 is 2200 km / h, compared to 1930 km / h for the F-35.
Both aircraft are approximately the same in size and weight: the length of the J-31 is 16.9 m, the wingspan is 11.5 m, the maximum take-off weight is 25 tons, the load weight is 8 tons, the practical ceiling is 18,200 meters, the radius of action is 1200 kilometers.
But the problem with the F-35 is much bigger than China
Yes, that’s because in the coming years, the dominant position of the United States on fifth-generation aircraft will be shifted.
Leave China, Russia is working on a second version of a fifth-generation aircraft and a prototype of a sixth-generation aircraft.
China and Pakistan are also working on a next-generation fighter jet, and Iran, in addition to expected to buy from China or Russia, is also developing its own version of a similar aircraft.
And if this is a country that would be difficult to sell to American and NATO partners, then you have three more examples – Turkey, South Korea and Europe. All of them currently have their prototypes and are working on fifth-generation fighters.
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