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JSF

Lightning Strike: Huge F-35 Deal Will mean JSF Lands in Israel

Cost Offsets

The JSF saga continues, but it is nearing its end.

We may not be gaining access to critical JSF components, but the tough to swallow price tag may now be muted according to Israeli sources. In the form of a 4 billion dollar manufacturing cost offset which will somewhat lessen the economic sting of a JSF costing twice as much as an F15 latest gen Boeing fighter..

Israeli defense companies have scored one of the biggest deals in the industry’s history: They will be making about $4 billion worth of parts for the next generation of American fighter jets, industry sources told TheMarker.

While no official announcement has been made, Israeli defense officials have been talking with the U.S. defense companies involved in the development and production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. [...]

It is a testament to how badly Israel, the US & Lockheed want to make this whole thing work. After the JSF balloon in cost, both the USA & Lockheed need orders for the jet badly. Israel needs help paying for it.

Prestige

The IAF is indeed a huge win in the jet fighter realm.. The Israeli airforce is world renowned and other countries pay close attention to Israeli procurement. Israel would be the 1st original non official partner on board buying the jet. A huge prestige win for Lockheed & a needed vote of confidence in the JSF.

We can only go with 19 instead of 75 for now, but rest assured a procurement win of 20 or so from Israel will eventually mean a few hundred JSFs sold to other countries down the road. Something the Pentagon & both Lockheed will need to bring down the cost of the jet for US use via mass export / increased production over the next two decades.

F-35 Lightning II / JSF

A large local manufacturing win in Israel will lighten the JSF costs significantly. Please Israel, Lockheed and the US Congress - Which is committed to Israel's security & having us fly the latest US fighter. If these design wins are confirmed, the JSF will be landing in Israel soon to Boeing's F-15 displeasure. (Photo courtesy USAF)

Nothing is official, but if Israel can lend abiltiy, expertise & benefit from the gigantic JSF economy of the future it is almost a certainty that the JSF will have a trump card the F-15 cannot compete with on price alone.

There are other factors at play between the two jets competing over Israeli airspace, but the JSF cost balloon was a substantial & critical one.

Eagle Takes Flight: Israel Eyes Maiden F-15SE Tests

Procurement Wars as Lockheed Boeing Face Off

If you follow the Hashmonean you already know about the saga playing out to vie the Israeli skies.

In one corner, the largest procurement defense contract in US history known as the JSF – The fighter of the future addled by teething problems and ballooning budgets. In the other, the veritable air to air superiority fighter of the 20th Century – The F-15. Now updated with new aerodynamics, enclosed weapon bays, modern avionics, Air to Air radar absorbing coatings, and sporting a new moniker the F-15SE (Silent Eagle).

I have followed the saga closely..

JSF F35 Lightning II key procurement factors for Israel remain:

Economics, Time Frames, and Access. We already know the JSF, who’s costs have quadrupled for Israeli procurement (150 Million+) cannot be bought in numbers originally envisioned. We already know that deliveries will not meet critical threats and our need for long range interdiction soon. We already know that Israel & the Pentagon are in a long running battle regarding access to key F-35 JSF electronic systems & components. Initial squadron deliveries of vanilla JSFs themselves to Israel are no longer envisioned before 2016-2018, if then.

F-15 - We already know that Israel has maintained 100 – 0 kill ratios flying the eagle. We already know we can fly them with one wing blown clear off. We already know that Israel has previously procured Eagles with custom requirements & Israeli avionics in the F-15I RAAM (Thunder), and we have a long term training, supply and maintenance regiment in place.

Video on An Israeli F-15 flying with one wing..

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Escalation.

What has changed? The Eagle has taken flight. Boeing, having lost the initial X-Plane prototype race to Lockheed which produced the F35, now seeks a little sweet revenge. Key words? Aggressive flight testing schedule.

The Israel Air Force closely followed the maiden flight of the F-15 Silent Eagle, which took to the skies over the weekend in the US. Debate continued within the Defense Ministry over whether it should buy the aircraft in the face of expected additional delays in the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The flight took place over St. Louis, headquarters of the plane’s developer, Boeing Co.

During the 80-minute flight, the plane, called the F-15E1, opened and closed its left-side conformal weapons bay, which contained an AIM-120 Instrumented Test Vehicle (ITV) missile that was not launched.

“The Silent Eagle demonstration flight validated our initial engineering design approach,” said Boeing F-15 Development Programs Director Brad Jones. “Our intent was to verify all systems are operational in a flight environment. This flawless flight allows us to move into the next phase. In the next couple of weeks, we will ferry F-15E1 to the test range and launch an AIM- 120.” [...]

Crunch Time -  We will not be getting the F-35 JSF access we want.

Last month it was reported that a critical factor for Israel regarding the JSF continued to lay with access. The Obama administration & Israel like to say loud and proud that defense ties are phenomenal. But Israelis are sharp tacks. We mere mortals suspect that JDAMs, Fuel, ordnance and other goodies were withheld when Obama came into office as pressure tactics on the Netanyahu govt.

Should future conflict erupt with a 3rd party under a future less friendly administration.. We may be stuck without access to key electronic systems, replacement parts and the JSF computer core – Woohoo! Grounding one of the most lethal air forces in the world while we wait for C-5 Galaxies to disgorge components coming from the USA..

Why is it likely we won’t we be getting full access? Because this tidbit made the news last week regarding ongoing JSF negotiations..

Israel wants the Obama administration and Lockheed-Martin Company (NYSE: LMT) to set up a US-run logistics and maintenance center for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet in the Negev, reports “Defense News”, quoting US and Israeli government and industry sources. Lockheed-Martin is the chief contractor for the F-35, which is due to become the next-generation mainstay of the Israel Air Force.

The request is basically a new Israeli condition to Israel’s commitment to procure the expensive planes.

“Defense News” says that Israeli officials consider construction of a large logistics center to be a critical factor for independent operational capabilities, especially since airports and seaports are liable to be targets of rocket and missile attacks in a war.

You know it baby! They call it just in time delivery today.  Stock & lock them computer cores, systems, replacements and all the JSF goodies right here in the holy land. That way when the going gets tough.. The tough don’t all of a sudden decide to get all political on us.

Fighter of the future or old faithful?

Perhaps both. Or maybe simply the aerial wars continue – If you’ve ever pulled a few Gs in a 100 million dollar fighter plane you already know, brinkmanship is all part of the dogfight. A decision is expected in Israel by fall.

Confirmation: Senior IAF Officers Question JSF Plans

Deja Vu

Last week I was complaining about the JSF fighter, and asking if we had ‘screwed the pooch’ on the planned purchase due to the fighters legendary problems.

JPOST now confirms that senior Israeli Air force officers are re-thinking the viability of our JSF plans due to the delays, and considering more F-15s as a more logical solution. That’s pretty much what I figured in last week’s post, and many others. Last week wasn’t the 1st time I’ve questioned this particular procurement piece..

In September 09 I wrote this..

Initially we were looking at 35-45 Million. Then it went to 50 Million. There was no shortage of shock when the figures jumped to 65 Million, this is when debate started to really heat up because well, the spiral was going upward out of control. In the USA the Pentagon itself was non too pleased either.

Then we started hearing 85 Million dollars per plane. I know my eyes popped out of my head – But 100 million for a stock variety JSF nulls one of the main JSF thrusts & selling points, it’s former afford-ability. At that rate Israel clearly cannot pick up the numbers previously envisioned. At higher rates it becomes questionable whether we can pick up any at all..

What’s a few Billion between friends?

The F35ii Lightning.. No telling when it will actually strike though.

Now we are learning the plane will cost over 135 Million in America, for US purposes.. and that’s before that number has frozen.

If you tack on Israeli requirements (still unresolved after 3 years of negotiation) we best figure minimum 150 Million, probably much closer to 200 Million. Hello! TOTALLY UNPROCURABLE for us in numbers we envisioned. We could buy twice as many F15s, which as JPOST says - are ready to get all the way to Iran.. loaded to the hilt.

In May 2009 I wrote the following while evaluating the new Boeing F15-SE as a contender to replace our JSF order..

25 additional F15-SEs could dovetail nicely into the established maintenance, training and equipment pipeline more quickly & cheaply. [...]  The F35 is late to the party and under dressed, the F15 Strike Eagle will have to do the job in the near term. In that case we should order more of them.

Earlier in May when the new F-15 was unveiled I was beefing about the JSF costs in a familiar refrain, comparing it to an equivalent F15 purchase instead..

In the long run the costs savings for Israel may be substantial, in training, maintenance, and upgrades to existing F-15 fleets.

Confirmation

I’m therefore less than shocked to read the excellent Yaakov Katz at JPOST pen the following yesterday..

Major delays in the production of the fifth-generation stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will likely lead to the postponement of Israel’s procurement plans, which initially set the signing of a contract by the end of March.

One top IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Defense Ministry was unlikely to sign a letter of agreement (LOA) with the Pentagon before the end of 2010. “Everything now appears to be pushed off by at least a year,” the senior officer said.

On Sunday night, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi flew to Washington for talks with top Pentagon officials. Ashkenazi plans to speak with his American counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, and other Pentagon officials about the delays in the production of the JSF and how it will affect the IDF. [...]

Nor does it surprise

That such a tale would continue along these lines..

Israel had planned to order a first squadron of 25 jets within the coming months and to procure another 50 by the end of the decade. Due to the delays, some IAF officers are calling for a review of the procurement plans and to consider the possible purchase of additional F-15Is made by Boeing Company. Israel already has a squadron of F-15Is that are capable of carrying massive amounts of weaponry and flying long distances, including to Iran.

“There is some thought in this direction,” a top IAF source said recently. “Based on the development requirements, the F-35 is supposed to be a more advanced plane primarily since it is stealth, but delays in the production have led to new thinking within the IAF.”

Ya think?

This whole contract has been bungled on every level. Back in America the plane is not ready, its costs have literally quadrupled from initial estimates. The Pentagon started playing games with Israel that are yet to be resolved, not allowing Israel access to key computers or the ability to install IAF electronics, weapons & systems. That really added insult to wallet injury. It’s a cluster fark A to Z thus far from every end.

It’s not only Israel either, our American friends & allies (Well if you consider the Brits allies lol) are taking it on the jaw with this weapons system too. Big mess, Lockheed we love you.. But what the hell is going on over there!?

Friends in high places

Another point of interest is the fact that our guys are talking F15I instead of F15SE. Could it be because we already know the Obama administration won’t sell us the new F15SE without making us jump through flaming hoops? Can’t be, American Jewish Democrats assure us this is the friendliest US administration EVAH!

Buyers Remorse? : Joint Strike Fighter Woes Continue

Maybe we can walk to Iran?

Israel is still negotiating the endless contract for the JSF fighter, who’s sky rocketing price & endless delays are now becoming the stuff of legends.

Via the Weekly Standard we visit Aviation Week where rumors now abound of what some are calling the JSF manufacturing disaster, the fighter is now years behind due to problems and delayed flight testing. We will never see it by the 2014 time frame envisioned, which itself is two years behind what Israel had initially projected..

If February was a bad news month for the Joint Strike Fighter, with the program boss fired, a 13-month delay in test and a two-year slip in Air Force initial operational capability, look out for March. A Government Accountability Office report is rolling down the tracks, along with a Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) which, as we told you in Defense Technology International a month ago, is almost certainly going to record a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach.

Meanwhile, the flight test program continues to log an all-time slow record. [...]

The Obama administration along with Sec Def Gates have nailed the F-22 coffin shut. Despite claims to the contrary and attempts to soft pedal the issue officially in Israel – Our arms purchases from the US are moving at a glacial pace. We still don’t have resolution regarding Apache Longbow attack helicopter upgrades which I maintained were frozen by the Obama administration along with access to several other platforms. It’s now been a year that we are negotiating for half a dozen chopper upgrades for a helicopter we already fly, can you say deep freeze?

All this JSF woe leaves Israel, not too mention US forces in a bit of a lurch. There’s no JSF any time soon, and interim replacement platforms are simply seemingly not even on the menu for Israel to look at (F-15SE). None of it bodes particularly well when one considers the chorus of voices ever rising that the JSF simply ain’t that great in the 1st place..

The fighter is, and has been, plagued by delays, cost overruns, spats with allies, all underscored by the fact that the JSF isn’t that great of a jet. The Russian PAK-FA, which took to the skies this month, is already purported to be a superior air-to-air platform — though it won’t be fully operational for a few years. Moscow has no problem exporting their best gear to second and third world nations, and the Russians take particular delight in providing nations hostile to U.S. interests with advanced weaponry. Considering that proclivity to sell to bad guys, we could be facing the PAK-FA in air-to-air combat in under a decade.

So will we be ready? The F-35′s long list of failures is opening up some critical planning issues, problems that could end up critically degrading America’s abilities to fight and win wars a few miles down the road. The Obama administration is taking a colossal risk in canceling the F-22 program and sticking all their eggs in the Joint Strike Fighter basket. [...]

Did we screw the pooch on this one?

Israel faces much of the same, only we are more boxed in. We don’t have the minimum allocation of F-22s the USA has in stock & on order before the program runs its course. We may be looking at a few decades where our new superiority fighter (If it is ever delivered) is seemingly inferior to what our enemies can buy on the open market. That would be disastrous. The Obama administration maintains its claim that Israel’s military superiority is a top priority, while selling everything we have to the Gulf like it is going out of style.. In parallel we are being limited on purchases, a perfect storm.

One day we might have to call in the Cavalry

Americans who dislike Israel often claim they don’t want America fighting our wars for us. To date that has never been the case, and haters have just been blowing off steam. Going forward however, if we can’t get our hands on the best tech with the ability to customize it to our needs – Precisely the scenario now unfolding with the JSF contract, that may very well change. A situation which is just as unacceptable to us as it is to America.

It is dangerous entrusting our security to others, and only more so entrusting it to President Obama – His priorities simply lie elsewhere. Unfortunately for us, we sleep in the bed the American voters made.

No Deal: JSF F-35 Saga Continues; Israel Still Loitering

2014 & Now Beyond

Yaakov Katz the Jerusalem Post military affairs writer is the man, but in early summer when he wrote about an IDF letter of intent to purchase the JSF fighter.. I skipped right over it. I did so despite the fact that I have been following Israel’s ground & aerial procurement efforts closely on my blog. There are a number of reasons I elected to chuck that news. One of them being that within Israel itself there is no shortage of debate on whether the fighter is still worth the effort & money.

The F-35 Lightning II / JSF

There might have been ‘intent’ all right

In my gut, I chalked up the ‘letter of intent’ announcement to politics, in this case internal Israeli politics. Following these matters I reasoned there was zero progression on outstanding JSF issues, zero progression on getting the skyrocketing price jived with IAF budgets. Instead, it looked to me that heavy advocates of the JSF internally in Israel, pushed the letter of intent in order to close the debate raging over the plane defacto style. By issuing such a letter without progression on the issues the debate is effectively silenced whether or not the relevant debating points are addressed.

Who Knows?

Whether my gut was correct remains an open ended mystery. But thanks to JPOST what we do know is:

  • The letter of intent has gone nowhere
  • The plane’s cost continues to skyrocket, it has now nearly TRIPPLED in cost from initial estimates
  • The target delivery date’s off the mark
  • None of the main issues are nearing resolution
  • Buying platforms from Obama’s Pentagon is like walking through molasses

Here are some quotes from Katz’ piece, read ‘em & weep.

A continued Pentagon refusal to integrate Israeli systems into the stealth Joint Strike Fighter will likely cause delays in the arrival of the advanced fighter jet to Israel, senior defense officials and IDF officers told The Jerusalem Post.

In July, the Defense Ministry submitted an official letter of request to the Pentagon to purchase its first squadron of 25 F-35 stealth fighter jets, but officials said Tuesday that the target for a contract – the beginning of 2010 – would likely not be met.

“The negotiations are still ongoing and we do not even know yet what the price of the aircraft will be,” said a top officer involved in the negotiations. Estimates are that the plane will cost around $100 million. [...]

That cost is fairly astounding, initially we were looking at 35-45  Million. Then it went to 50 Million. There was no shortage of shock when the figures jumped to 65 Million, this is when debate started to really heat up because well, the spiral was going upward out of control. In the USA the Pentagon itself was non too pleased either.

Then we started hearing 85 Million dollars per plane. I know my eyes popped out of my head – But 100 million for a stock variety JSF nulls one of the main JSF thrusts & selling points, it’s former afford-ability. At that rate Israel clearly cannot pick up the numbers previously envisioned. At higher rates it becomes questionable whether we can pick up any at all..

The Israel Air Force had initially hoped to sign a letter of agreement in the coming months, but officials said that until the differences were resolved and a price was determined the contract would be postponed. If that happens, the arrival of the aircraft – initially slated for 2014 – will also be pushed off.

“The plane is not yet operational and is not even in production,” a senior defense official said. “The first military to get the plane will be the US, then the UK and then Israel.” Commenting on the price, the official said that if the plane crossed the $100 million mark Israel would have to seriously reconsider how many aircraft it will purchase.

Indeed, a reminder to myself of a lesson I learned long ago blogging. The proof is in the eating of the pudding. Whether it be Apaches, JSFs, tankers or anything else. In Israel these days we are seemingly in a full holding pattern, and we will continue to loiter while we wait for clearance from our American friends in the Obama control tower..

Should be plenty of background reading on the ongoing saga in the related links below!

Early Delivery: TEFEN Takes Off with 75 Nextgen JSF F-35s for Israel (Updated)

1st In: Leading off what will surely be a long list of foreign purchase orders Israel tenders 25 Stealth JSFs (Updated Below)

Despite the JSF’s numerous next generation capabilities including stealth technologies, you could hear this F-35 order coming from a mile away. Well, 3 years at least.. That’s how long Israel has been talking about acquiring the new fighter about to roll off assembly lines. Another major chunk of the TEFEN procurement plan in the air has been filled. 25 conventional JSF fighters (A mode) with deliveries starting in 2014, and an option for 50 more in the form of VTOL versions of the multi-role fighter.

The JSF is a fine next generation platform, but this deal 3 years in the making, and with another 4 years in the waiting - comes less than 3 months after Israel’s smarting rejection for the American bird of prey, the F-22 Raptor.  America already has 100 Raptors with US forces, new ones rolling off assembly lines would have been able to help Israel now, as opposed to in 2014.

Critical detail: Israeli electronics

The 1st JSF under construction at Lockheed

The 1st JSF under construction at Lockheed

Being amongst the first to receive the new fighter is certainly a score, but the back story on the remaining issue, the ability to install IAF electronics at the factory is the real nail bitter. The IAF routinely replaces large electronic components in its fighters as part of customization, radars sensors, displays etc. One of the prime benefits is the ability to work with other Israeli systems like armaments, fuel pods, air to air missiles which are also developed by Israel, as well as keeping the planes as superior as possible.

The F-16I SUFA, and F-15I Raam are prime examples of this customization, benefiting from Israeli options installed directly during manufacturing which is much cheaper than buying a fully decked plane and then replacing its systems – for obvious reasons. This important detail is still outstanding in the JSF talks

[...] Israel said it plans to buy a fleet of F-35s as it upgrades its military technology. The first batch of 25 would be the variant of F-35 designed for conventional take off from military airfields, but the later 50 could include a version that can land and take off vertically, similar to a helicopter.

If approved by Congress in the next 30 days, Israel will likely sign an official contract with the US Air Force in the coming months and begin receiving the aircraft in 2014.

While news of the Pentagon approval was positively received in the Defense Ministry, officials said it was still too early to celebrate since Israel has yet to receive final Pentagon approval to allow the IAF to install Israeli-made systems in the plane.

The result of the negotiations will be a determining factor in the number of aircraft Israel decides to purchase.

The technology issue was discussed last week between the IAF and a team of US military officers from the JSF Program who were in Israel. It also was at the focus of talks Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris held in Washington earlier this month.

Israeli demands include installing an advanced radar and conformal fuel tank design for long-range missions made by Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as other electronic and weapons systems that could require changes to the configuration of the aircraft.

“We have unique needs and need to retain our superiority in the region,” a senior defense official explained. “To meet these needs we must to be able to install our own systems.”

If Israel exercises the vertical option, it would be the first time that the IAF obtains this capability, needed out of fear that Israeli airfields would be paralyzed by enemy missiles in a future conflict and planes would have difficulty taking off in a conventional fashion. [...]

It isn’t specified whether a global look at replacing systems is being discussed, or the added benefit of being able to do so at the configuration stage. I suspect the latter, as the issue is complicated by the many countries and entities involved in the JSF project and this is where details could become more difficult to resolve, holding up the process. New funding directly aimed at sorting through & overcoming export hurdles was allocated to the JSF recently, maybe this will move things along.

Next Gen decisions

Customization will involve access to much more of the plane’s systems than just buying the aircraft outright which raises security issues. If the IAF can’t customize the fighter the climbing costs of the JSF may be hard to justify. Estimated at 50-60+ million each, limitations on Israeli systems & arms may put the ongoing associated costs - together with a climbing cost per plane, right out of the IAF budget’s reach. Making the plane not cost effective enough to purchase in any real quantity as an early replacement for older aging F-16s, could mean Israel is 1st in, but not all in with the JSF currently.

Late model F16s can carry as much as a non stealthed F35 and at much cheaper prices. Stealth will benefit the opening rounds of conflict greatly despite its weight / carrying limitations, at which point a non stealthy F35 armed up with bombs becomes a very agile F-16 of sorts . A number of stealthy JSFs added to much cheaper (15-20 Million dollars) late model F16s, or a mix of less JSFs and the addition of a theoretical squadron of F-22 Raptors is conceivable, maybe even preferential when when considers how widely sold the ‘stock F35′ will eventually be.

For now, it seems like 25 is the magic number, and there are hundreds yet to be built to fill the US Air Force & partner countries requirements first. Custom, cheaper and as a result superior Israeli F35 variants will be crucial to the JSF becoming Israel’s own fighter of the future. The JSF is a full conflict ahead, in the mean time Israel has got other worries.

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UPDATE: Lockheed responds, tries to bridge gaps

The consummate sales work with billions on the line, Lockheed responded in Tel Aviv yesterday to concerns such as mine above, regarding the plane being so likely oversold & exported, and thus an even more pressing need for IAF customization. (JPOST)

[...]
“No other countries in this part of the world are in discussions,” Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin, told reporters in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Asked about Saudi Arabia, Burbage said there were no talks between Lockheed Martin and Riyadh regarding the plane.

Burbage also revealed that $200 million worth of contracts had been signed with Israeli defense companies involved in the development of systems related to the Joint Strike Fighter. He said this would likely increase to half a billion dollars by the end of the program. [...]

This isn’t Kansas

I’m a big fan of Lockheed, and Being too, and Raytheon etc etc. So I say this with love, the winning of some contracts to provide elements of the fighter is nice, but they were won irrespective of export considerations. The JSF program wanted helmet mounted visual sights, so it got Israeli companies to provide the helmets because Israel developed & employed the tech. This does not negate the legitimate request to customize the aircraft for Israel’s needs. I say that because Mr. Burbage is likely too often dealing with the JSF partners & partner countries, for whom winning local development & procurement / manufacturing contracts has been the number one barter & pressure component since the program began.

They threaten funding, number of planes sought, some even threatened to drop the program entirely.. But we are not in Kansas here or the UK for that matter. Israel is not seeking a few contracts, and I’m sure Burbage just wants to smooth over the road in case the Pentagon decides to not allow Israeli participation in customizing the F35 for its export needs, judging by the whopping 80 million each price tag - I don’t blame him for stressing in general. But this is about security for Israel, not a few design wins.

It won’t be long before Egypt, the Saudis and a few smaller gulf emirates want JSFs. It is in everyone’s best interests for Lockheed to lobby for adapting the JSF, not against. So far, judging by the tone - It suggests the opposite from the program director, meaning Israel’s difficult dealings with the Pentagon will continue.

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