The international partners in the JSF program – including Australia – really need to come together to lobby the US government to recognise the disproportionate share of the early production costs of the F-35 they will be forced to pay in the next five years.
The combined partner nation JSF requirement is about 750 aircraft, less than a third of the US’s stated long-term requirement of 2,443. But the US’s FY13 budget has proposed moving 179 F-35s five years to the right to effectively cap US low rate initial production (LRIP) production at about 30 aircraft a year until 2016 – ostensibly because of production and development ‘concurrency’ issues, but more likely because of the US budget crisis.
But by deferring these 179 jets in order to supposedly save about $6 million in concurrency issue repair costs per aircraft for the aircraft it doesn’t buy, the US will in effect pay about $10 million more per unit for the aircraft it does buy… and so will the partners. On top of this, the US has also earmarked about $2 billion to upgrade 300 USAF F-16s because of the slower F-35 service introduction, while partner nations are also having to consider further legacy fighter upgrade programs or gap-bridging buys.
Because of the US slowdown, the partner nations and early FMS customers like Israel and Japan will actually be taking more jets than the three US customer forces combined during this period, and will thus be paying a higher unit cost for these aircraft than they would otherwise have – as much as 10 per cent more – due to the lower than expected US build numbers.
So while we may have seen the start of a movement between the partners with a Canadian-led gathering in Washington in early March, the partners need to take it to the next level and demand a more proportionate deal from the US, not just for the aircraft’s acquisition, but also for the industrial participation of their local industries.