After the CSIS’s event on 23 September about “Future Vertical Lift: Insights from the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator,” Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners related in a research note how
One point raised during the discussion was whether Future Vertical Lift should be modeled along the lines of the F-35. This could entail multi-national involvement in development of helicopters to replace medium lift and attack variants.
A Joint Vertical Future aircraft (JVF)? It’s always an appealing idea, spreading development costs across multiple countries, and then spreading the fixed elements of sustainment costs across a huge multinational fleet. Besides, as a friend at Naval Air Systems Command once put it to me,
probably by the 2030s, the bad smell of JSF development will have dissipated, and so another joint program for something—drones or hypersonic missiles or whatever—will follow in the footsteps of TFX and JAST.
The Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), the first effort at One Fighter to Rule Them All, was Robert McNamara’s scheme to equip both the US Navy and Air Force with the F-111. That ended painfully. The Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program, as I was relating the other day on the Defense Industrialist blog, was the forerunner of the JSF, which began way back in 1994. That’s ongoing. That I feel compelled to restate the terms, in case not every history-of-armaments nerd recalls, may be a testament to how easily harsh lessons of weapons development are forgotten, at least over the decades.
On the other hand, as I related back in 2013, Stan Newberry, then deputy head of requirements at Air Combat Command, had a great line on the subject for Sandra Erwin of National Defense magazine. “Don't get too excited: all of us are trying to avoid another joint acquisition.”
The winners of such a winner-take-all would relish the idea, but frankly, we shouldn’t expect such an outcome in rotorcraft. There’s just too much commonality between military and commercial requirements, so technical success in the commercial business will continue to matter in the military realm. The economics of the industry are such that the big rotorcraft companies don’t face endlessly and sharply dropping cost curves, so there’s no urgency for any merger to monopoly. As there’s not, competition law and policy in the US and EU will prevent it. And finally, with multiple rotorcraft companies then producing multiple types of usable vertical lift aircraft, there’s no sound reason to try to force a single design across, say, the 28 member states of NATO.
Put another way, one could just as plausibly ask Airbus and Boeing to build an airliner together.