Monday, March 20, 2006

Joint Strike Fighter and ally battles

JSF Fracas Risks Bad Blood Between Allies
By David A. Fulghum, Douglas Barrie, and Andy Nativi, Aviation Week

More details here about the battle between the US, Pentagon and it's allies (led by the UK) on the development of the stealth fighter.

I tell you, sifting thru port facts and details was a far cry easier for me than all the hoopla surrounding this JSF program. It has been in the works for quite a few years now.

And it appears the battles are not only involving technology transfers, but also alternative engine designs, and what corporations/countries are getting the contracts to build. The primary engine design would allow a complete monopoly on to U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.'s (UTX) Pratt & Whitney. The alternative design was led by General Electric Co. (GE) and U.K.-based Rolls-Royce PLC(RR.LN). The new Pentagon plan is to cut the alternative engine... not necessarily okay with the Brits.

Reading thru this more complete article on the battles raging, I find myself more confused than ever. In
the NYTs article by Leslie Wayne, the impression was given that the US was holding on on technology transfer.

This week, Britain, the principal foreign partner in the program to build the next-generation radar-evading supersonic jet, delivered an ultimatum at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Lord Peter Drayson, Britain's top weapons buyer, said Britain would withdraw from the program unless it gained better access to software technology and stealth technology needed to maintain and upgrade the planes it buys.

Today's Aviation Week story muddies the waters as to whom is being the protectionists.

There are already worries that the frustration over the JSF will taint broader defense-industrial relationships between Washington and London. A British industry source says U.S. officials are already irritated by what they view as protectionist overtones within the British government's Defense Industrial Strategy. There are also concerns about a U.S. backlash against British sales efforts in the U.S., such as on the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin combat search-and-rescue bid.

There's several issues at stake with the battle. One is investment relationships between the US and our allies - not to mention the long term effect of business sustaining the fighter fleet.

And another fly in the ointment could very well be the health and fruition of the JSF program itself if the UK withdraws. Pressed for more details by Able Danger advocate Curt Weldon, Pentagon undersec'y representative, Ken Krieg, stated he didn't feel the negotiations were to the no-return point of failure, but added that continance of the fighter program without the UK was "possible". Weldon wanted something better than speculation. I'm liking Weldon more and more...

Full story at link above, and some additional excerpts below.

Anglo-American feuding over the Joint Strike Fighter threatens to spill over into the wider transatlantic relationship. On the domestic front, there is bad blood between Congress and the Pentagon over the fate of the aircraft's alternative engine.

Britain is leading the assault on Washington over the contentious issue of technology access on the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), with other program partners, such as Australia, in support.

Dumping the JSF is now an option on the British agenda, if London cannot gain what it calls "operational sovereignty." This was the blunt message made by the British Defense Procurement Minister Paul Drayson, during his visit to the U.S. Capitol last week.


Last week, in special hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, British, Australian and Italian officials expressed unhappiness about lack of consultation in the U.S.'s handling of the JSF program and technology transfer delays. The stakes for the U.S. and its partners are huge. If the program is a success, by 2030, JSF could make up 85% of the world's tactical fighter fleet. With that would come continued profits from sustainment and maintenance programs lasting 30-40 years.

After JSF, the only large military programs on the horizon are the rapidly merging long-range strike and surveillance efforts expected to produce a family of manned and unmanned aircraft. Therein lies a trap for General Electric (GE) and Rolls-Royce: They can't continue development of the F-136 if the JSF alternative engine program dies. But F-136 derivatives would be the only competition to Pratt & Whitney. The British government's stance appears uncompromising. Drayson says he is making clear the risk to U.K. participation because: "I know the British can be accused of understatement."

During the hearing, Drayson was asked by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) if Britain was willing to contribute more money to fund the alternative program. Drayson says Britain had invested 2 billion pounds ($3.5 billion) into JSF "on the basis of a two-engine approach" and that a minimum buy of 3,000 aircraft would sustain that plan.


British concerns were only reinforced by the U.S. proposal to ax the alternative engine for the aircraft. The GE/Rolls-Royce F136 can be considered as the preferred engine for the U.K. aircraft because it potentially offers greater thrust growth. Drayson emphasizes the "potential growth capability the F136 offers" and adds, "We expect, as a level-one partner, to be properly consulted on decisions of this magnitude," implying that, on this occasion, the level of consultation was inadequate.

continue reading above


Rastus said...

Imagine that a very good friend of yours comes to you and a few others, offering a chance to go in together with him to build a really cool multi-unit beach home. All units would be essentially the same, but customizable for each investor's needs, and at half the cost of building your places individually. It sounds like a great deal, so the lot of you buy in.

But once the place is built, the friend tells you that you can all move in, but that because of security concerns (he was mugged a couple of years ago), he's going to keep all the door keys. If any of you want to get in or lock up, you will have to get him or his representative to do it for you. Sorry, but that's non-negotiable.

Would YOU be happy with that deal? I know I wouldn't. He also wouldn't be my friend for much longer.

MataHarley said...

Great analogy, rastus.

I'm hoping mdconservative, a blogger in the intelligence industry in DC, may be able to shed more light on the nuances of the fighter program logistically, after he ramps up to speed.

However the separate issue of int'l relations with our allies is definitely one that can cost the US economically, and diplomatically.... regardless of logistics.

MDConservative said...

I am against this whole selling of military hardware and technology, period. It results in situations like this. It has caused more problems between countries in Europe; designing fighters with multiple countries involved. We should have learned from the concorde and all the tiffs that England and France went through.

Nothing should be sold until the next generation of hardware is in active service. The Brits are a great ally, but these joint programs only cause problems. A good friend of mine is an investment genius. But he never gives tips to friends because if the stock crashes then there are problems in the friendship. That is where we are now... in a sense.

1) I have been informed that the Brits are over stating what is really needed. “Operational sovereignty” is only a political line. They are well aware they will receive all the support they need.

2) This really comes down to more of an industrial espionage issue. Stealth technology is obviously one of the most dearly kept secrets. When you sell an aircraft (any military hardware) to another country a threat matrix is made up that makes it possible to assess the danger of States having it. The better the friend the higher technology you will give. For those in the middle ground and risky you either don't sell them anything or older generations. But there is just some technology that should remain US of A. When you fully disclose everything it makes it possible for other countries to make leaps towards our abilities. Need-to-know, otherwise you end up having the technology in the wrong hands.

If the JSF goes to multiple countries, you can’t just see them buying one or two and know the exact way to maintain them. The British will buy more but there are other countries that will be buying them. If we tell the Brits, well, we have to tell all. When we sold the F-14s to Iran, we had a team that maintained the craft for them. When things went south, the failsafe was effective. They deteriorated, and from day one could no longer fire missiles. Over time it is likely that systems were replaced by Russian technology. But it would now be an aircraft that is not 100% fighting us, the country that just took that same aircraft out of service.

3) This presents a whole new problem because it is one thing to be selling aircraft, but this technology is such a leap it has been one we want to share with allies, but in a way that would not spread this technology. Don’t forget that the companies (the US far more than any other involved in development) had to spend much cash to get the contract. Much time in development. Plus, the idea that they would be upset because we weren’t going to have a second engine design? People may criticize but with computers today we don’t need to go through 5 versions prior to production. We are able to move through the process in a far faster and safe way.

I have to leave it pretty vague. I am sorry I could not provide further details. If more comes across my desk I will provide you an update. And if you think there was uproar about the ports, DP World is not just buying ONE company in England. I was fine with the ports, hate to bring that back up, but there are other things I find unacceptable.

MDConservative said...

To respond to the beach-house concept.

They will have the "keys" to get in and out. This goes far beyond that. Imagine the situation you mentioned, but then it isn't keys he says he is also going to have cameras in your rooms to make sure he can "stop the sink from overflowing." Maybe that is true.

I will give you a more fair analogy. Imagine your car, and most have the valet keys that do not open the trunk. Well the valet can go where he wants with the car, operate it. But you still have one place he cannot get in to, the trunk. I know the valet did not pay for the car, but to say they don't have the keys makes it sound like they will not be able to operate the aircraft.

This is no excuse, but in all honesty do you think that the British will be operating during war, from a base that does not also house the USAF?

I am pulling things together as best I can. My knowledge is more based in intelligence activities and ICBM capabilities. I happen to know a bit about some strategically stealth aircraft, and the F-22A.

MataHarley said...

THERE you are, mdcon. I was wondering what you learned on this. I keep checking your blog to see if you have something devoted to what you found out.

Personally, I agree. I don't think we should sell state of the art technology. Even to allies.

But what I am wondering is if this JSF includes technology that is already not so secret. I believe materials and structural angles are the mainstay of the stealth issue. Hang... saw that on a Discovery show! How secret can it be? LOL

The knowledgede of why the stealth planes are undetectable hasn't resulted in a detection system yet. Otherwise they wouldn't be "stealthy" anymore, right?

So exactly what is it we are "withholding" technologically? Or does this all come down to the monopoly on the defense contracts?

MDConservative said...

RAM, the Radar Absorbing Material.

Now many countries may research this (some decades back), especially after the 80's when our planes came to see the light of day. But as of yet we are the only country to have succeeded in generating this material and making it strong enough to stand up to the stress on the exterior of an air plane.

Ours is the best and it is what is used on all our stealth aircraft.

I cannot provide any sourcing but from what I can gather, they are not willing to buy replacement from us. They want the recipe, so to speak. Which in a sense goes full circle to a defense contract.

It is such a big deal because a lot of the stealth aspects comes to angles, but less so in the fighters. Over history you can look and see the general shape of fighters and bombers. The F-117, was almost by accident. It's angles are it's key to success, and RAM is used to compliment the angles. The same is true of the B-2, although the B-2 is even more extreme but the stealth aspect is by accident. Look back to the XB-35, well before stealth but the shape works with the aid of fly-by-wire. Then add RAM.

But look at the shape of the F-22A or JSF. The F-22A looks just like a mating of the F/A-18 and F-15. And the JSF like the mating of an F/A-18 and an F-16. The shapes are not all that radical from other fighters, as opposed to the F-117 and B-2. But take the new capabilities, and add the RAM and you really have an entirely new breed of aircraft. You just have less wiggle room in designing a fighter, there is a shape that just works pretty well.

(I didn't put anything on my site just because as you have seen I don't do that on my site. I spend the rest of my day dealing with technical stuff, my blog is my escape. But if I can do my best to answer a question, or at least some light...I do what I can.)

MataHarley said...

But, but, but, mdcon... LOL

Okay... now some of the Aug 2005 updated Congressional Report on the FAS site is making sense. It's "da skin"!

At the top of pg 27 of this PDF, the Brits were lobbying for the need of a second assembly line for the crafts in the UK. Can I assume that they can't do this with RAM provided by the US producers, sans technology?

Or do you think there is other technology involved?

Dang... wish you were around to take to dinner and pick your brains!