Lockheed Martin and Boeing hold breath over JSF
25 October 2001
By Henry Wilson, DSD's contributing reporter
Tomorrow, the Pentagon will finally reveal whether Lockheed Martin or Boeing have been successful in procuring the single most important global military contract, that for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Due to the winner-takes-all nature of the programme, the winning team will secure a deal worth $200 billion, while the runner-up could face the ignominy of losing its share of the fighter construction market. Whichever team wins, the JSF is sure to have a marked effect on the future of both the US and British Aerospace capabilities.
The JSF programme was instigated in 1993 to create a multi-dimensional aircraft designed to replace ageing squadrons on both sides of the Atlantic. Since its conception the programme has raised debate, and this week that debate reached fever pitch. The Lockheed Martin design has emerged as the more fancied of the two, although both test craft have passed all the Government set technical criteria. This has led to an intense period of lobbying from both sides in Washington. Moreover, the debate is not restricted to the relative advantages of the two bids but further to the possible fallout from a programme expected to realise 3,000 aircraft in the next decade and fulfil fighter production until 2040, possibly into the unmanned era.
The JSF design concepts line up together - Boeing [left] and Lockheed Martin [right]
The JSF must satisfy the needs of the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as those of the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. This means not only having the capability for short and vertical take-off and landing but also the characteristics of an efficient interceptor craft. Furthermore, it must possess the versatility to support a variety of weapon systems for any number of mission objectives. Whilst the next generation design aspects of the Lockheed Martin prototype has reportedly turned Pentagon heads, Boeing has been rallying around its more dependable production history.
There is a possibility, strongly refuted by the Pentagon, that if the programme remains winner-takes-all, as it has been touted throughout the selection process, the losing company would be forced to close its respective fighter factory. Political concern centres around the fact that if, upon losing, either Boeing's St.Louis plant or that of Lockheed Martin at Fort Worth were forced to close, at some point in the future the US could have only one fighter production company. Furthermore, should a production-split be advocated on Friday it may even be welcomed by the different branches of the armed forces, their innate competitive spirit requiring craft they can call their own.
As a result, some politicians in Washington have been advocating some level of production-share be implemented into the programme. Senator Christopher Bond, a Republican from Missouri, in what must stem from an effort to safeguard jobs at Boeing's St. Louis plant, has drawn up draft proposals to ensure that the production process is split regardless of who wins, a move which has fuelled rumours that Lockheed Martin will win.
The UK as the only country granted full partner status on this project, will be equally agog for Friday's announcement. It even may be that the UK' strong interest in the programme is crucial to its continuance, as the US seeks to build and maintain its several coalitions in the 'war against terrorism'. In March, Britain agreed to invest Ј1.3 billion to part fund engineering studies for the project and the Ministry of Defence is especially keen to replace its fleet of Harriers. In addition, UK companies will benefit whichever way the dice fall, in particular BAE SYSTEMS, who as well as being a partner in the team led by Lockheed Martin, is a subcontractor for Boeing. Rolls-Royce is also well placed, providing the lift technology for both competing STOVL contenders.
The current world situation has added fuel to the fire of interest surrounding this project, with President George W. Bush looking to advance the initial service date for the JSF from 2010 to 2008.
Many analysts have tried to predict the outcome of the Pentagon's decision and while most seem to favour Lockheed Martin's design, the most common reaction is finally to say the result is to close to call. Defence Systems Daily believes IT will be Lockheed Martin by the proverbial short head, but that in the end parochial political interests will ensure that production is shared in some fashion.
REF XQQAS XQQAR XQQSA