Samstag, 1. Dezember 2012

F-35 future

How is the F-35 project developing. I am taking a look at how foreign customers are dealing with the project.

UK: 150 -> 48

The UK originally planned to buy 150 F-35, in particular as a replacement of the Harrier on the queen Elizabeth carrier. After briefly considering the F-35C (navy version for arrested landing) as a replacement and changing the flight deck of the carrier for arrested landing, the UK has switched back to the F-35B (marine version vertical landing). However, the number of planes has been reduced to 48. 48 planes roughly corresponds to the total capacity of the queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. This can mean two things:
The UK will only field a single new aircraft carrier instead of two; or
the UK is nudging out of the F-35B slowly but steadily.

The only reasonable use of the F-35 is the replacement of vertical landing planes. I find it unlikely that the UK will change its mind about the carrier once again. Therefore, the F-35B is the only plane on the market that can do the job. The UK will only produce a single queen Elizabeth carrier and stick to buying roughly 48 F-35B no matter what they cost. Good news for Lockheed Martin.

Italy: 131 -> 90

Italy is having to cut the budget deficit. This is only the beginning. Further spending cuts will probably let Italy drop the purchase of F-35A altogether. Only around 15 F-35B as replacement of the harriers are probably going to be bought by Italy.

Netherlands: 85 -> ?

In 2012 the Dutch parlament has voted to scrap the whole purchase of F-35 and set up a new competition in 2015. This vote is not binding and the newly elected government may change its mind. However, given the budgetary restraints, I predict that the Netherlands won't buy a single F-35 and look for a cheaper solution. The Saab Grippen looks like the best solution for a country like the Netherlands, who must defend a rather small area only.

Turkey: 116 -> 2

Turkey, like other partner nations, has complained about the United States refusal to share the software source code for the F-35. On 24 March 2011 Turkey announced it is placing its order for 100 jets on hold due to the ongoing source code refusal issue. Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said that the negotiations for access to the F-35 source codes, including codes that can be used to control the aircraft remotely, had not yielded "satisfactory results" and that under these conditions Turkey could not accept the aircraft. Despite the software dispute, Turkey agreed in principle to order two F-35As in January 2012. The smartest solution for Turkey is to produce new F-16 under license. These aircraft are capable enough in order to deal with its neighbours like Syria or Iran. The two F-35A ordered by Turkey could be taken apart in order to gain insight into American stealth technology.

Australia:  100 -> 15

The F-35 program has come under severe criticism in Australia. Due to the delays in the program, Australia decided to buy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as a preliminary replacement. The economy in Australia is booming and there are no great budget constraints. Furthermore, Australia will buy American because the US is the most important partner in the region. I wouldn't be surprised if more super hornets were acquired than F-35.

Norway: 46 -> 46

So far Norway has not changed its decision to order 46 F-35A. The country is rich and can afford to burn lots of money.

Denmark: 48 -> ?

Denmark's MPs are not expected to vote on a purchase of the F-35 before 2014, and are considering alternatives such as the JAS Gripen and the F-18 Super Hornet.

Canada: 88 -> 0?

The intention to sign a sole-sourced, untendered F-35 contract and the government's refusal to provide detailed costing became one of the major causes of a finding of contempt of parliament and the subsequent defeat of Stephen Harper's conservative government through a non-confidence vote on 25 March 2011. This directly led to the F-35 purchase becoming an issue in the 2011 federal election in which Harper's Conservatives won an increased number of seats to form a majority government.

However, the political pressure to revise the decision to buy F-35 has become immense. Canada's chief of staff has stated that 4.5 generation aircraft would also meet canada's needs. Canada decided to talk to allies, competitors in options to replace CF-18s, sources. The chances for the F-35 of being chosen are very slim indeed.

Japan: 42 -> ?

I doubt that Japan will buy any F-35 due to the severe budget deficit in Japan. However, mlitary tensions with China are increasing. Japan must buy American for political reasons. Again, the US is by far the most important allie in the pacific. The F-18 super hornets look like a decent choice - just like Australia Japan is going to chose this aircraft. Japan simply cannot afford to buy an underperforming airplane merely to please the American partner. 

Israel: 20 -> ?

If the US pays for the F-35, then Israel will take them. A stealth bomber could be useful in delivering bombs to Iran. Otherwise, Israel has little use for such an airplane.

Spain: ?

Lockheed Martin has good chances to sell a few F-35B to Spain in order to replace the aging fleet of harrier jump jets on the aircraft carriers

The F-35B is the only possible replacement for the harrier jets formerly operated by the UK, Italy and Spain as well as the American marine corps. Therefore, the F-35 has a niche market that it can supply The F-35A and F-35C will find very few customers outside of the US. Foreign customers will chose to buy the F-18 super hornet, Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon instead.

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