US boosts combat power by amplifying F-35 spare part supplies

Recent information acquired by reveals that the Pentagon has entered into three substantial contracts with Lockheed Martin Corporation [commonly known as Lockheed Martin or LM] and Pratt & Whitney. The combined worth of these contracts exceeds the significant sum of 1 billion US dollars, primarily allocated for the benefit of the United States.

Spotted: Turkish KAAN stealth also with inverted canopy as on F-35
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

In an endeavor to fortify their aircraft’s operational readiness and combat effectiveness, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have escalated the acquisition of Helmet-Mounted Displays [HMDS]. The purchase of these advanced devices is accompanied by an increased procurement of maintenance services and spare parts for the F135 engines, the powerhouses that propel the F-35 fleets.

The contracts

On August 21, as stated in the report, the Pentagon made public the awarding of two significant contracts. The most notable among them was a contract modification with Lockheed Martin, valued at $347 million. The terms of this fixed-price contract stipulate the procurement of helmet-mounted displays designed for F-35 fighter pilots across diverse military services.

There will now be six air-to-air missiles in the F-35 'belly'
Photo by Bartek Bera

The latter entity entered into a contractual agreement with Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of RTX, with the intention to acquire parts for the F135 engine. This agreement was established based on a fixed price spanning multiple years. The primary use of these parts is for the construction and maintenance of F-35 fighter jets, which are extensively utilized by the United States military and its associated allies.

Furthermore, a significant development unfolded on August 22, when the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin entered into a substantial contract valued at $607 million. This contract was primarily aimed at augmenting the acquisition of fighter subsystems and spare parts.

The overarching objectives of this agreement are manifold: firstly to drive down expenditure through large-scale, long-term purchases; secondly, to sustain the fleet maintenance capabilities over a prolonged period. Such a strategic move denotes a serious commitment to efficiency and sustainability in the military sector.

Cutting-edge engine: third stream of air may power US F-35-F135 engine
Photo credit: Pratt&Whitney

Life extension

According to the Pentagon, this succession of contracts represents an extension of the prior accord with Lockheed Martin. The aim of the previous agreement was to prolong the lifespan of various components through the enhancement of manufacturing and upkeep technologies.

Consequently, suppliers, by harnessing the potential of not-new yet fully functional spare parts, will be in a position to bolster their provisions. This strategy will not only culminate in a significant reduction of supply costs but will also contribute effectively to the enhancement of fleet availability.

In the report, it was asserted that the primary contractor for the referenced contracts was none other than the US Air Force Base Command [NAVAIR]. However, a significant portion of these contracts, amounting to approximately US$330 million, originated from other allies.

In Russia: Copied Soviet Yak-141's unit damaged the F-35 in Texas
Photo credit: Flickr / Samuel King Jr.

Through the execution of these contracts, the involved parties are presented with an opportunity to distribute procurement costs amongst themselves. This mutual cost-sharing strategy effectively diminishes the burden of operational support costs. Consequently, it aids in the maintenance and sustenance of the F-35 fleet’s long-term combat capabilities.

Unpleasant facts

In an attempt to reduce expenditure, certain performance attributes were inevitably compromised. These encompassed aspects such as maneuverability, missile payload, and the magnitude of the radar system. Notably, the diminished altitude capacity of the F-35, although frequently disregarded, stands as a substantial drawback of this cost-cutting initiative.

Not only Russian Su-27 can do it - the F-35 landed on a highway
Photo by James Deboer

From a historical perspective, it has been observed that fighters with a single engine typically operate at lower altitudes compared to those equipped with twin engines. For instance, heavy-duty fighters like the F-22 and J-20, both of which are twin-engine aircraft, have the capacity to operate at altitudes surpassing 18,000 meters. In contrast, the Russian interceptors, specifically models such as the MiG-31 and MiG-25, which are larger in size, can even exceed altitudes of 20,000 meters.

For the successful execution of operations at high altitudes, several factors play a crucial role. These include expansive control surfaces, a high-thrust engine system, a specialized configuration for such engines, and thrust vectoring capabilities. Regrettably, the F-35, a key player in current aviation, falls short of incorporating these critical features. This deficiency significantly curtails the operational altitude of the F-35, thereby imposing a substantial limitation on its performance.

Operations conducted at high altitudes provide combatants with the strategic advantage of imparting greater kinetic energy into their missiles. To illustrate, consider the AIM-120D air-to-air missile when launched from an F-22 at its maximum operational altitude. The missile’s range is notably extended, allowing it to engage targets at a significantly greater distance as compared to a similar missile fired from an F-35.

Limitation of situational awareness

In today's warfighting environment, the F-35 outperforms the F-22
Photo credit: via Twitter

The F-35’s compromised altitude capabilities pose a notable drawback, particularly because a quintessential function of fifth-generation combat aircraft encompasses the provision of heightened sensory mechanisms to facilitate extended lines of sight above the radio horizon. This particular shortcoming drastically curtails the F-35’s situational awareness, thus imposing a substantial hindrance.

The gravity of this issue intensifies when considering that not only can the F-22 and fourth-generation fighters like the Russian Su-35 function at significantly elevated altitudes, but also the J-20. This aircraft ingeniously melds the physical structure of the F-22 with the advanced avionics of the F-35, allowing it to navigate almost to the brink of space. This characteristic bestows the J-20 with a formidable altitude supremacy over the F-35 in conceivable confrontations.


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