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03 April 2013


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Looking forward to part III of 'How to "X" the F35'. Intend to write my own post about it fairly soon.

Apart from that, I was under the impression that the main purpose of the 1.700 number nowadays is to ensure that the program continues to "look cheap"?

By hanging on to that figure against all facts and odds, the "average" cost over the entire program isn't rising so much, and O&M costs per plane also looks lower... Among other things.

An official, realistic on the number of frames would very very quickly get out of hand. The single surviving version of the F-35 would *at best* become a rerun of the F-22 program...

F 22 = 750 -> 170
F 35 = 3000 -> 680

Which doesn't look that bad until you realise that they have to be shared between quite a few services and countries...

But as long as you stick to that big, beautiful 1700 number (+ other services and allies) you may delay the onset of the death-spiral a few years.

And to keep allies (and their industries!) onboard and get as many fighters to the USAF as possible.

No wonder there's such an effort to declare planes and flights "operational".

The real mystery to me is why some Asian allies have made such a strong show of solidarity recently? Or maybe its all logical in the alternate reality that is the F-35?

If the stakes were not so high, all this would almost be entertaining.


I do not know where the 'required' numbers of service aircraft come from. I expect that the requirement goal is set via operational analysis on plausible war scenarios and also on deployment cycles, for the latter particularly for the Navy and Marine Corps where extrapolating from the present cycling approach must certainly be part of the evaluation. I'd also imagine that the latter case is perhaps a secondary and less persuasive case than operational capability requirement estimates.

I am certain that, as has been the case for nearly every program that I can think of, the project cost, schedule, and performance dynamic will introduce its own constraints on the ultimate buy numbers.
(Carriers seem to be a rare instance of a system procured and fielded in the 'required' numbers - more on that an future posts and around the web to be sure).

Economic conditions will intervene also.

So the 'how much is enough?' question will, as in Entoven's time, come down in large part, at least in terms of setting the requirement goals, to what the operational & systems analysis presumptions drive toward.

Thus, the ossification or re-visitation of those presumptions set the desired buy numbers.

So, DoD can possibly revisit the operational requirement presumptions and come to an informed position on plausibly fewer inventory numbers for 4th/5th gen fighters.

Or programmatic and technical shortcomings and economic forces can, as they arguably most often have, lead to fewer numbers of fielded systems.

As the 2,443 DoD buy is certainly untenable, the juicy question is, What will dominate the drive to the fewer numbers we will ultimately procure/field?


Will the buy reduction come via inform reassessment of operational capability goals or will ongoing and continuing programmatic snafus and the economic environment intrude?

Probably at least some of both but most likely mostly one or the other. And that will tell us a lot about how DoD ultimately adjusts to the end of the Cold War and figures out its other-than-Cold War force structure.

This will be interesting to watch.

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  • James Hasik is a senior fellow at the Center for Government Contracting in the School of Business at George Mason University, and a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. Since September 2001, he has been studying global security challenges and the economic enterprises that provide the tools to address them.


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