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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

F-35 JSF: Becoming Your Own Peer Threat1
. . .While Killing Off the “Best Bang for the Buck Option - the F-22A Raptor

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   11th November, 2009

Peter Goon, BEng (Mech), FTE (USNTPS),
Head of Test and Evaluation, Air Power Australia

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

The Hon Robert Gates
US Secretary of Defense
For Information: Mr Michael Sullivan
GAO - Director,
Acquisition and Sourcing Management

Dear Mr Secretary,

Reports of the latest Joint Estimates Team (JET) MkII review of the JSF Program cost and schedule are sounding alarm bells around the western fighter community, as they should, though belatedly.

Back in April this year, based on analysing the data and the facts then testing the evidence, APA provided independent advice to you both, predicting well in advance what the second JET review has now gone a long way to confirm.

As ever, the many who tell you what they think you want to hear (or worse), once again are claiming this JET review to be a ‘worst case’. However, the quantum and levels of risks that were pushed to the right, early in the JSF Program, coupled with the quite large dis-economies of scale now inherent in the concurrent design, development, testing and procurement/production phases of the program say something quite different. Prudent assessments of these factors yield the harsh reality that the JET review estimates are, in fact, the  ‘best case’ scenario for the JSF Program.

Whichever this may be, what should be obvious to all are the results of the related cost benefit analysis between the F-35 JSF and F-22A Raptor programs; namely:
  1. Applying the cited JET MkII prediction of a US$17.1 Bn budget blowout in the JSF Program to the procurement of F-22A Raptors, at the predicted ~US$116 million unit flyaway cost (UFC) for the next 100 Raptors, in what is demonstrably a mature production program with established life cycle support (thus permitting use of the UFC as a measure of the cost for additional aircraft), would yield an additional 147 x F-22A air dominance fighters for the USAF.

  2. Analyses by internationally recognised experts show the F-22A Raptor to be between 2.8 to 3.3 times more capable than the “as marketed” F-35A JSF will ever be.  These figures agree closely with the internal Air Force comparative analysis of the capabilities of the F-22A Raptor and the F-35A JSF which also shows the F-22A capabilities to be a far better response to the current and future reference threats to US Air Power.

  3. Therefore, assuming the JSF Program is eventually able to produce the F-35A JSF with the “as marketed” capabilities, it would take between 412 to 485 x F-35A JSF aircraft to attempt to provide the USAF with the same capability as an additional 147 x F-22A Raptor air dominance fighters would provide.

  4. Since the mean unit procurement cost (UPC) of the F-35A JSF (averaged across the whole of the current program of record intended production of 1,763 units and based  upon pre-GFC and pre-JET MkI & MkII data) had clearly exceeded US$100 million per aircraft, the procurement cost for achieving this level of equivalency in capabilities could have ranged between US$41.2 Bn and US$48.5 Bn, if not more.

  5. This estimate of procurement cost is more than the total procurement budget expenditure (in current year dollars) within the present F-22A Raptor program of record which you were advised should be capped at 187 units.

  6. However, if the independent cost estimate for early production Block III F-35A JSF aircraft of US$168 million per unit, in 2014 dollars, with a risk based variance of -10%/+30%, is applied, this range in the procurement cost of an equivalent JSF force jumps to between US$69.22 Bn and US$81.48 Bn (or, moreover, considering the risk based variance of -10%/+30%, between US$62.3 Bn and US$105.9 Bn).

  7. An independent calibration of the above equally independent cost estimate for early production Block III F-35A JSFs can be determined from what the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Dr Steve Gumley, advised the Joint Defence Committee of the Australian Parliament back on 10 July 2008 and confirmed in evidence before the same committee on 21 August 2009. Though the derivation of this determination is beyond the scope of this letter, we would be happy to provide the details to you at your earliest convenience.

  8. The upper levels of the cost estimates in para 6 are, by some degree, far more than what a force of greater than 500 F-22 Raptors, including all spiral upgrades and the evolutionary development of an FB-22 as a cost effective means of meeting the Regional Bomber requirement, should cost if such a program were to be correctly focused and managed in the National Interests of the USA and its allies like Australia.

  9. Since the RDT&E costs expended on producing the F-22A Raptor are now ‘sunk costs’ - a reality that appears to be lost on some - this approach not only provides ‘more bang for the buck’ but a far greater ‘best bang for the buck’ outcome than current plans.

  10. One last point, of some importance, is the quite obvious and undeniable fact that the overall life cycle cost to field between 412 to 485 x F-35A JSF aircraft will be well over double that for 147 x  F-22A Raptor air dominance fighters and require, at the very least, 3 times the number of that increasingly scarce and expensive resource, fighter pilots, to operate.
At this point, some may now be asking the question, “How can all this be?”

Respectfully, Mr Secretary, the advice you and others have been receiving in relation to the comparative costs of the F-35A JSF and the F-22A Raptor have been part of an elaborate, albeit well understood, pricing strategy known as Goldilocks Pricing. In part, this link reads:

- The term Goldilocks pricing is commonly used to describe the practice of providing a "gold-plated" version of a product at a premium price in order to make the next-lower priced option look more reasonably priced; for example, encouraging customers to see business-class airline seats as good value for money by offering an even higher priced first-class option.  . . . More technically, this form of pricing exploits the general cognitive bias of aversion to extremes. This practice is known academically as "framing". -
Wikipedia - Pricing

This pricing technique of framing was further exploited quite early in the JSF Program by those with various agendas, ensuring the comparison provided to senior government officials and the people of the United States and countries like Australia was inappropriately skewed.

The upshot of their efforts resulted in the ‘comparison’   being between the total acquisition unit cost (TAUC) of the F-22A Raptor (including amortisation of all acquisition program costs such as the RDT&E costs) and the a long way into the future estimated average unit recurring flyaway cost (avg. URFC) for the F-35A JSF, based upon a production run of several thousand  aircraft and a learning based cost curve that beggars belief.

The attached chart of US Cost Definitions from the US DoD Acquisition University clearly shows any such ‘comparison’ to be a non sequitur, if not bordering on outright self deceit.

Some lessons from the A-12A Avenger II Program about providing overly optimistic and unrealistic estimates on cost and schedule as well as capabilities have clearly been learnt, but only in reverse.

The belief that the JSF Program is able to provide ‘more bang for the buck’ is, yet again, another non sequitur - one of the many logical fallacies in the marketing sophistry and spin that has poisoned the JSF Program from day one.

The conclusion that the JSF has not met, by a significant degree, its stated aim of ‘affordability’ is self evident.

The wall of total indifference to reality, which has pervaded the JSF Program from the outset, has demonstrably gone too far, and is now presenting a self evident risk to the national security of the United States and its allies, like Australia.

We and our professional colleagues around the world have been warning of this risk for some time. It is now at the eleventh hour and we consider it both prudent and timely to, respectfully Mr Secretary, ask that you “. . . Tear down this wall!”

A good place to start would be to revisit what Colonel Dwyer Dennis told us all down under back in August 2002, and use the simple flight test methods described within to see whether the JSF does meet its Key Performance Parameters, such as Combat Radius, for real.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Goon

Peter Goon

Principal Consultant/Advisor

Head of Test and Evaluation

Co-Founder, Air Power Australia

Peter Goon and Associates


Mob:     +61 (0)419806476

Source: Defense Acquisition University

1 With due deference to Prof Anthony Cordesman and his report entitled: "AMERICA'S SELF-DESTROYING AIRPOWER; Becoming Your Own Peer Threat", CSIS, December 16, 2008.

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