Eight JSF partners to be briefed next month

 - November 30, 2006, 12:12 PM

Briefings to the eight international partners in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program on what role their industries can play in the massive F-35 production effort will begin next month. Some intensive negotiations will follow, including the vexed issue of U.S. technology transfer, so that a production sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD) MoU can be signed in December.

However, “the PSFD will not itself be a commitment to buy,” noted Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin’s vice-president for the F-35,  at a briefing here yesterday. It would, however, define the partners’ industrial participation, plus their share of nonrecurring costs. This MoU would also establish the quantities and delivery dates that they require.

Two of the partners (Denmark and Norway) are formally evaluating alternative combat aircraft. But Burbage was confident they would stay with the F-35 program. Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK are the other partners. These eight countries have helped to fund the F-35 development, and six of them have contributed hardware or software. In addition, Singapore and Israel are “participants,” having paid smaller sums to be kept informed of progress. They have no practical say in program decisions.

Burbage admitted to Aviation International News that a difficult debate with the partners over technology transfer was ongoing at government-to-government level. “The U.S. has a just-in-time disclosure policy, while the partners want an assurance upfront,” he said. In particular, the UK wants clarification on the extent to which it can modify or upgrade the aircraft, once in service. However, Burbage noted that such is the tightly integrated nature of the F-35’s avionics and communications, “putting in different sensors is a really expensive thing to do.” A separate technical asssistance agreement is being crafted to cover the integration of weapons that are unique to the UK, he added.

The eight partners will be offered three categories of industrial participation in the production program:

• Further supply of the hardware or software that their industries have already contributed to the development program (with reductions in price where appropriate to reflect the larger quantities involved in production).

• The opportunity to bid competitively as a second production source on a variety of new items.

• The “strategic sourcing” of some items that match the capabilities of the partners’ industries.

Meanwhile, the first development aircraft has been completed and was transferred last Friday to the flight line at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility, initially for fueling tests. The first flight is expected “in late summer or early fall, and there are no show-stoppers at present,” Burbage said. Pilots from the partner nations’ air forces are already flying in a tactical simulator, this being “the first experience of a stealth fighter for most of them.” They will go on to fly the real thing alongside U.S. pilots during a flight test program that will be conducted at three bases–Fort Worth, Edwards and Patuxent River.

A Boeing 737 airliner is being modified by BAE Systems and will be delivered to Fort Worth in July to flight-test and integrate the F-35’s very advanced avionics. These include:

• The Northrop Grumman APG-81 radar, which is already flying in another testbed, and as a snapshot of its capability, Burbage showed some impressive ground mapping imagery.

• The electro-optic targeting system (EOTS), from which some infrared imagery for navigation was shown.

• High broadband datalinks and

• The distributed aperture system, which, among other functions, provides a 360-degree view to the pilot through the helmet-mounted sight.

Despite its size, the F-35 program survived the recent U.S. quadrennial defense review unscathed, except, that is, for the alternative F136 engine designed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce, development of which will be halted. That’s bad news for GE, but Burbage noted that Rolls-Royce has a significant share of the Pratt & Whitney F135 which will power all the development aircraft and, it now seems, all the production aircraft as well.