Analysts Predict QDR Will Bring JSF Cuts
By MICHAEL FABEY
A Pentagon tactical aircraft study being done for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) likely will recommend fleetwide reductions that will lead to a cut in domestic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) purchases, said Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson.
The QDR team in the Office of Net Assessment â€œis likely to recommend a 30 percent cut in tactical air forces,â€ Thompson said.
That would likely mean the Air Force would return to its earlier plans to buy about 400 F/A-22s Raptors and 1,000 F-35s. â€œIn the case of the Navy, that cut could result in elimination of the carrier-based variant of the F-35,â€ he said.
The JSF program office did not comment by press time.
In June, the Pentagonâ€™s quarterly Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) noted its plan to buy 2,458 JSFs to replace Air Force F-16s, the A through D models of the Navy F/A-18, and Marine AV-8Bs. But JSF program officials in September acknowledged that the Air Force ultimately will buy fewer than its planned 1,760.
The Teal Group, which tracks the military aviation industry, also says JSF cuts are coming. It believes the Air Force purchase will drop to about 1,200.
John Kent, the JSF spokesman for prime contractor Lockheed Martin, said, â€œIf there was a single-service, U.S.-only program, talk of reductions by the OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] might be more damaging.â€
Should the program be cut, however, it would be the second time since it was launched in 2001.
The Navy buy, now slated to be about 480, used to be 548. The cut helped boost the per-plane cost between $5 million and $10 million.
A congressional analyst said that could devastate a program that has made affordability a key pillar. As numbers drop, unit prices would rise.
Christopher Bolkcom, aviation analyst for the Congressional Research Service (CRS), said major domestic cuts could boost the cost per fighter past the $100 million cited in the current SAR, a number that includes research, development and construction costs.
Tealâ€™s Richard Aboulafia said the JSF fly-away price tag needs to be about $45 million to be competitive. Initially, the export plane was planned to cost $30 million to $40 million in fiscal 1994 dollars.
Domestically, per plane fly-away costs for each service was estimated at about $35 million for the Marines, $31 million to $38 million for the Navy and $28 million to $31 million for the Air Force.
After a rebaselining of the program announced in 2004, the 2005 per-plane fly-away costs rose to about $55 million to $60 million for the Marines and Navy, and $45 million for the Air Force.
Lockheed executives said there will be enough orders to make the plane affordable for domestic and foreign buyers.
â€œWe have always believed the numbers would be floating,â€ Kent said. â€œBut they would always remain big.â€
Despite cuts, Aboulafia added, the JSF program would survive.
â€œWith 1,000 for the Air Force, and as long as the Marines keep their 400 or 500 planes, that should make for a manageable program,â€ he said, â€œproviding the exports come through.â€
Despite gloomy forecasts, Bolkcom said, the JSF likely will get the volume it needs to be a viable domestic and export program.
As a stealthy multimission aircraft that serves different services â€” not to mention different world militaries â€” the JSF would seem to fit the bill for what the Pentagon says itâ€™s been wanting, he said.
â€œThis is multinational,â€ Kent said. â€œThere are a whole lot more customers.â€
This might mean more F-22s for the USAF. :nana: