Will JSF Be A Split Decision?

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Will JSF Be A Split Decision?

The US Defense Department is said to be leaning toward dividing up the spoils in the Joint Strike Fighter cook-off currently in progress. Two competitors are fiercely working toward the day when one will be selected as the winning entry. But it may not be winner take all.

The downselect a few years ago to finalists Boeing and Lockheed Martin virtually assured McDonnell Douglas that it would have no future in the defense aircraft picture. After previously failing to secure a winning position in the competition for what is now the F-22, McDonnell Douglas had its hopes pinned on the JSF. Northrup Grumman had similarly been ruled out as a prime and started marching toward its destiny as a super sub-contractor. After the fatal JSF ruling, McDonnell Douglas quietly found a place for its people and programs at industry giant Boeing.

While the Lockheed/Martin Marietta, Boeing/McDonnell Douglas and other mergers/consolidations in the US defense industry were causing shockwaves around the world, no one was predicting one possible outcome - that any face-off in the one remaining military aerospace program of the future might cripple the loser.

That scenario is what some say is causing the Pentagon to look at dividing up the JSF pie.

Consider the implications. The Joint Strike Fighter is the remaining program of any significance to be decided. The winner will likely sell close to 5,000 aircraft around the world. The other two fighter aircraft going into this century are the F/A-18 E/F upgrade and the F-22. The F/A-18 is an aging platform that has been extended through derivative design. While it has plenty of life left it cannot long remain competitive with newer aircraft designs. Lockheed's all-new F-22 design has already faced budgetary pressure in the US Congress with a recent stay of execution assuring Lockheed of some hope of business for that platform over the next thirty years. If Lockheed Martin wins the JSF competition as some industry experts expect, the company will control both "future" programs plus can continue to live off of its best-selling F-16 export. Boeing's F/A-18 and F-15 programs will not be able to sustain the company's long-term vitality in military aircraft considering the main customer for the F/A-18 is the US Navy and the costly F-15 has struggled to win export orders.

Would a Lockheed Martin win push Boeing out of the military aircraft business? No, because Lockheed Martin already contracts with Boeing to help with much of the F-22 program. But new programs are the intoxicant that keeps top talent around. Working as a sub to the prime contractor on a program rarely makes anyone's heart beat faster.

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