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F-35 news roundup

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From DefenseNews:

There's a print article by Loren Thompson, who I normally dismiss, on the costs really aren't that bad. I was unable to find a linky, but gist is the current cost estimating methods aren't based on actual costs, but on legacy programs. As things are now, the actual costs are significantly lower than predictions based on legacy. He also points out some monkeying of the cost data, comparing a clean F/A-18E/F to a JSF, but not book keeping the cost of the sensor pods and all the other crap a clean jet needs that a JSF comes with out of the box. Makes some good points, no sources (its an Op-Ed), YMMV.

U.S. Navy Pledges Support to JSF

By VAGO MURADIAN

Published: 21 May 2010 17:39

Despite plans to buy up to 124 additional Boeing F/A-18E/F fighters, the U.S. Navy remains committed to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft in both its naval and Marine Corps STOVL versions, a top aviation officer said.

Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, head of naval aviation programs, said the Navy needs nearly 700 Lockheed Martin JSFs to upgrade the service's carrier power-projection capabilities starting in April 2016.

He said the mix of naval and Marine aircraft to be purchased has not been determined. Service officials continue to assess an array of sometimes conflicting cost data to more accurately project the price of the ambitious program.

HASC OKs F-35 Alternate-Engine Funds

By JOHN REED

Published: 19 May 2010 15:36

U.S. lawmakers are moving ahead with their pledge to fund the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, inserting funding in the House Armed Services Committee's markup of the 2011 defense authorization bill.

Made by a GE/Rolls-Royce team, the engine would compete with Pratt & Whitney's F135.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said May 19 during the markup that "competition is warranted and critical and costs nothing more, according to the GAO."

F136 supporters on Capitol Hill say competition could save millions of dollars by driving engine costs down and ensuring high quality from the engine-makers.

GE officials lauded the committee's move.

"Given the enormity of the JSF program, competing engines on the aircraft is the best way to put the acquisition reform act into action," said David Joyce, CEO of GE Aviation. "With the growing concern over cost overruns in defense programs, competition continues to be the best cost-control mechanism."

The Pentagon is fighting the idea, saying an alternate engine will save no money and that it is a distraction for the troubled F-35 program. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he will recommend that President Obama veto the bill if it has alt-engine funds.

In addition to funding development work on the engine, the markup orders the Pentagon to budget for the engine in 2012.

The markup also takes a step to force DoD to actually use the funds authorized for F136 development by limiting F-35 development funds in 2011 "to 75 percent until the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics certifies that all funds for development and procurement of the F-35 competitive propulsion system have been obligated," Air Land subcommittee chairman, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said.

The legislation also contains language inserted into the bill by the subcommittee last week limiting the number of F-35s the Pentagon can buy next year to 30 jets until the program meets certain milestones toward getting back on schedule and budget, according to Smith.

Dutch Lawmakers Vote To Pull Out of F-35 Tests

By JOHN REED

Published: 21 May 2010 16:34

The Dutch parliament voted May 20 to pull out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test program and cut its purchase of its first F-35, the Netherlands' Embassy in Washington confirmed.

But the decision will be reviewed by the new government that will be voted into office following the country's June 9 elections, Embassy spokesman Floris Van Hovell said. And after that, the parliament will have final sign off on the new government's choice.

European news reports have cited fiscal constraints as the rationale behind the parliament's decision, he Hovell said.

Edited by MarkW

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From DefenseNews:

There's a print article by Loren Thompson, who I normally dismiss, on the costs really aren't that bad. I was unable to find a linky, but gist is the current cost estimating methods aren't based on actual costs, but on legacy programs. As things are now, the actual costs are significantly lower than predictions based on legacy. He also points out some monkeying of the cost data, comparing a clean F/A-18E/F to a JSF, but not book keeping the cost of the sensor pods and all the other crap a clean jet needs that a JSF comes with out of the box. Makes some good points, no sources (its an Op-Ed), YMMV.

.......

Unquote

Everyone I think would agree that the F-35 situation is complex, and there are lots of numbers being thrown around that are subject to "interpretation". Thompson's "Op-Ed" stuff I (and a lot of other people) take with a grain (actually several grains) of salt given his relationship to L-M and previous statements. Here are some items to ponder that are generally considered to be factual (based upon analyses of US government agencies tasked with keeping contractors "honest" and furnishing reliable information to Congress) and of major concern:

1) The F-35 program is significantly behind schedule (Sweetman's Donner Party analogy seems apt) and seems likely to slip further

2) The F-35 program is significantly over budget to the extent that legally mandated reviews and evaluation of re-certification are fairly certain

3) The "promises" of the F-35 have yet to be demonstrated in a "real-world" environment

This is a mess, and there seems to be plenty of blame to go around as to who is responsible. As I have mentioned in other posts, it's usually a good thing to have choices - and (IMO) there are damned few here, none of them good.

The situation with vague allusions by LM and other parties to being "under budget" and "future cost savings" (given their "legacy" on this and other programs) strikes me as the cold-blooded rationale of a pusher - Hey kid, the first hit is free......

- Dan

Edited by Vpanoptes

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Yeah, there's a lot going on. I would caution that Sweetman is hardly an unbiased reporter of facts, though. He is in the pocket of the Airpower Oz guys as he tries to remain relevant, and the only way he can do so is by taking potshots. Reminds me of Floyd Lands when it comes to credibility.

I get a kick out of everyone bashing the program and suggesting alternatives, especially the buy more F-22 crowd (not exactly the role model of a trouble free program).

On the plus side, no modern airframe has demonstrated its "promise" in a "real world" environment relevant to the F-35 except the B-2. Not sure that is the yard stick to measure the system by. The other plus is the F-35 is pretty much delivering as advertised so far, with no major issues (Thompson was right about that). BUT, and it's a big but, flight test is really just getting going.

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I am pretty put out with the F-35 myself. It seems to me that the Super Hornet is everything you want: on time, on budget, and on target. It is too bad that the F-35 costs skyrocketed. Might it be a good idea to require future contracts be held to original estaminets or at least no more than 15% over?

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I haven't seen anything about this, but has Boeing looked at putting stuff like TVN and uprated engines on the SH to move it into more of a super maneuverable class? Seems like that might be a really low risk way to go, especially if these new engines are even more fuel efficient (more range/TOS).

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They are developing uprated engines for the Rhino but as far as I know, TV is not on the wish list by the Navy ...

More Power and More Efficiency being the biggest wants ...

I'd love to see what a Rhino could do with TVN though ... :thumbsup:

Gregg

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1) The F-35 program is significantly behind schedule (Sweetman's Donner Party analogy seems apt) and seems likely to slip further

2) The F-35 program is significantly over budget to the extent that legally mandated reviews and evaluation of re-certification are fairly certain

3) The "promises" of the F-35 have yet to be demonstrated in a "real-world" environment

- Dan

To be fair, i can't think of *any* modern system that has been on time and on budget. Delays, cost overruns are usual.

BUT, and it's a big but, flight test is really just getting going.

Haven't the airframes now flown over 200 flights? Or was it 200 flighthours. Either way, seems the flight tests are going reasonably well.

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The biggest problem currently on the program (aside from cost) is the flight test execution. F-35 is 1-2 years behind schedule, and they should be closer to 1,000 FHs by now.

hey are developing uprated engines for the Rhino but as far as I know, TV is not on the wish list by the Navy ...

More Power and More Efficiency being the biggest wants ...

It would be nice if the Rhinos didn't have to carry three gasbags and hit the tanker at the end of the cat stroke to drop a 500 lb bomb 300 miles away... :lol:

Set the Superbug aside for a moment, the Corps is the big winner if the new schedule sticks. A day one, 5th gen fighter 3 years before the USN has theirs? I know that has some brass chafing. And everything the STOVL already can do far exceeds the AV-8B performance.

Edited by MarkW

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Well, it's 30 years newer than the AV-8B, it BETTER out perform it ...

Nice conjecture on the Rhino, it rarely goes on missions with three tanks ...

It would be nice if the F-35 could meet a scheduled event ... ON TIME ...

That'll happen when it makes up the 2+ years it's behind ...

Gregg

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I am pretty put out with the F-35 myself. It seems to me that the Super Hornet is everything you want: on time, on budget, and on target. It is too bad that the F-35 costs skyrocketed. Might it be a good idea to require future contracts be held to original estaminets or at least no more than 15% over?

This is precisely why the F-35C is supported...the Super Hornet is not what the US Navy wants for 2020+. No matter how big an engine, gas tank, lasers, etc. you add to the E/F, it's just not survivable on Day 1 of a major conflict (or even Hybrid in 2020+). Not claiming F-35 is "untouchable" but it's better than an E/F signature wise.

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Set the Superbug aside for a moment, the Corps is the big winner if the new schedule sticks. A day one, 5th gen fighter 3 years before the USN has theirs? I know that has some brass chafing. And everything the STOVL already can do far exceeds the AV-8B performance.

They are getting the airframes early, but I think the Navy was smart in waiting for the expanded capability of the full Block 3 software drop before bringing them in.

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This is precisely why the F-35C is supported...the Super Hornet is not what the US Navy wants for 2020+. No matter how big an engine, gas tank, lasers, etc. you add to the E/F, it's just not survivable on Day 1 of a major conflict (or even Hybrid in 2020+). Not claiming F-35 is "untouchable" but it's better than an E/F signature wise.

Spoke to Rear Adm. Mike Manazir (N88) earlier today. Those were almost exactly his thoughts... he actually had nothing but superlatives for the F-35C's capabilities. From what he said at times, you'd think the jet was damn near "untouchable".

They are getting the airframes early, but I think the Navy was smart in waiting for the expanded capability of the full Block 3 software drop before bringing them in.

The Marines told me they're going to add in the Block 3 software/upgrades to their early jets as those are released for USN and USAF. They figure the Block 2B version they'll have at their IOC is better than anything the DoN has flying... Guess we'll see soon enough if that was a good call.

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To be fair, i can't think of *any* modern system that has been on time and on budget. Delays, cost overruns are usual.

Super Hornet, P-8A.

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Super Hornet, P-8A.

That makes a good point. It's really "risk" that makes a program go bezerk, or more simply, how far down the road you are kicking the "technology" can. If you want to kick it far down the road, that adds risk and the track record is not good.

The early SH's were really just mid-lot C/D Hornets in a new airframe...dorking with the wing (taking out the twist and adding a dogtooth) was really the only risk that program had to making IOC. Everything else was spiraled up later....even the software they created was common with the C/D.

P-8A...fairly mature platform and systems (everything is already fielded except for the stores mods). Again...a pretty low risk, high TRL program.

Spongebob

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Spoke to Rear Adm. Mike Manazir (N88) earlier today. Those were almost exactly his thoughts... he actually had nothing but superlatives for the F-35C's capabilities. From what he said at times, you'd think the jet was damn near "untouchable".

Sweet! I'm not as screwed up as I thought! Or maybe I am?!?

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To be fair, i can't think of *any* modern system that has been on time and on budget. Delays, cost overruns are usual.

Haven't the airframes now flown over 200 flights? Or was it 200 flighthours. Either way, seems the flight tests are going reasonably well.

Here is another look at the JSF by Noah Shachtman:

‘Joint Strike Fighter’ Really 3 Different Jets, Pentagon Says

Read More

At least, that was the plan. And that was what JSF-maker Lockheed Martin promised: three planes sharing 80 percent of their parts. But the Defense Department no longer believes it. An influential Pentagon team now says that the aircraft “being developed by the F-35 program [may] have as little as 25 percent in common,†Inside Defense reports. Production costs once estimated at $59 million per plane today are looking more like $112 million. R&D costs have gone up another 40 percent, lifting the total price to $323 or so billion for 2,443 fighters.

In April, the Pentagon told Congress that “the total price could swell to as much as $388 billion this summer,†Inside Defense notes. A central explanation for the cost hike: â€less airframe commonality than originally envisioned.â€

The bad news keeps coming for the F-35 program, the biggest and costliest in Pentagon history. Last week, the House Armed Services Committee said it would only provide the cash for 30 of the 43 jets planned for next fiscal year under certain conditions – some reasonable, others less so. First, the panel wants the Defense Department to speed up the JSF’s slo-mo schedule of test-flights. According to the committee, “Only 3 of the 14 test aircraft planned for the F-35 program have been delivered. Only 10% of the planned test flights last year were flown.†But the panel also wants the Pentagon spend $485 million on an alternate engine for the JSF that no one in the military seems to want or need. As if this program wasn’t complicated and pricey enough already.

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Well, good news is we are up to 5 delivered FT jets. Heck, that's over 1/3 of the anticiapted deliveries... :thumbsup:

I think the Navy was smart in waiting for the expanded capability of the full Block 3 software drop before bringing them in.

As pointed out, the USMC will have Block 3 well before then. The larger issue floating around the USN (sour grapes, anyone?) is that the Block 2 JSF, in spite of having integrated avionics, more fused sensors then any tactical fighter ever, and oh yeah, STEALTH, won't truly be a "5th gen" platform. Makes me want to knock heads together when I hear that nonsense.

If you really peel back the differences between 2 & 3, 3 is mostly more or better of the stuff in 2. There isn't anything particualry earth shattering introduced. The Death ray, for example...oh, nevermind.

Superhornet on time, on budget? Riddle me this, spunky: JSF, Unit cost growth of 38%. F/A-18E/F unit cost growth of 33% (GAO 2009 Selected Weapons Programs, page 9). How in the world is that "on budget"?! I gues it depends on what budget you use, and how apples to apples you want your comparison to be.

To be fair, they did do it a heck of a lot smarter in nibbling away at the risk--by breaking out the avioincs upgrades seperate from the airframe and engine development. That was a masterstroke of financial shell gaming--the engines were booked in one account, so only the airframe was counted in the "on time, on budget" game. They did kinda rewrite the performance requirements based upon delivered versus desired, though.

Both the SH (somewhat) and the P-8A (more so) are derivatives, versus full, ground up new designs, so not a great comparison. And I don't think the story is done on P-8A yet--though they are looking pretty good so far. I keep thinking of the Wedgetail....

Speaking of Mr. Sweetman, who caught that he was taken off F-35 reporting by Av Week a couple weeks ago? Looks like they got a bit uncomfortable with his bias. Very interesting.

Edited by MarkW

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More from DefenseNews--the Engine saga is heating up...

2 U.S. Reps Want To Strip F-35 Alt-engine Funds

By JOHN T. BENNETT

Published: 25 May 2010 15:33

Two U.S. House lawmakers this week will propose stripping from a 2011 defense spending bill nearly $500 million for a second F-35 engine and use the funds to buy National Guard and Reserve gear, according to a congressional source.

Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and John Larson of Connecticut plan to introduce an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee's version of defense authorization legislation that would cut the $485 million the panel last week approved for the F136 engine. GE and Rolls-Royce are building the so-called "alternative engine."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama "have repeatedly called for the elimination of this wasteful program, and Gates has suggested that the president could veto the [2011] DoD authorization bill should the funding remain," the source said.

"At a time when the National Guard and Reserve component face a $42.5 billion equipment shortage, this funding is critical to support the Guard's needs," the source said.

The primary power plant for the F-35 fleet is being built by Pratt & Whitney, which is based in Larson's state.

The House panel's version of the 2011 authorization bill is slated to hit the House floor this week.

The Pentagon - bridging the George W. Bush and Obama administrations - has for years attempted to kill the alternative engine effort. Each time, Congress has kept it alive.

GE-Rolls officials and other F136 proponents say keeping alive two F-35 engines will save money in the long run, transfer risk away from the government, and provide a hedge against a problem with the primary power plant. On May 24, GE-Rolls officials again lobbied for a chance to compete annually against the Pratt engine, part of a broader lobbying push on Capitol Hill this week.

The source said Blumenauer and Larson have been "working the phones" in recent days to drum up support for their coming amendment, but did not say whether the duo believes they have enough votes to pass it.

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Superhornet on time, on budget? Riddle me this, spunky: JSF, Unit cost growth of 38%. F/A-18E/F unit cost growth of 33% (GAO 2009 Selected Weapons Programs, page 9). How in the world is that "on budget"?! I gues it depends on what budget you use, and how apples to apples you want your comparison to be.

It is convenient for you not to mention that you are citing the summary table and left out a few details:

(1) The estimate of the F/A-18E/F was based on 1000 aircraft purchase and the actual is based on 493 aircrafts. You expect the unit cost to go up when you buy less. Is 33% too much? Probably not.

(2) The F/A-18E/F unit cost increase is the THIRD lowest behind the CVN nuclear aircraft carrier and the P-8A, both of which had no reduction in procurement numbers.

On the other hand, the JSF unit cost is up 38% with less than 15% reduction in procurement numbers. But the F/A-18E/F program is not included in the detailed analysis later (probably too old in start time).

The GAO report does have a detail analysis of the EA-18G Grawler program (p. 73) cost, which will allow you to compare it to other aircraft programs including the F-22 and JSF. You should read the whole report before jumping to conclusion with misleading interpretation of the summary numbers.

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Superhornet on time, on budget? Riddle me this, spunky: JSF, Unit cost growth of 38%. F/A-18E/F unit cost growth of 33% (GAO 2009 Selected Weapons Programs, page 9). How in the world is that "on budget"?! I gues it depends on what budget you use, and how apples to apples you want your comparison to be.

Mark, I'll through the BS flag on that table. That shows the top 10 programs by total cost, and you'll note that E/F isn't in the book for 2009. When you read their Nunn/McG application from 2007 (I think) all of that growth was due to jockeying the program size - large, small then ramping it back up again. Also, since that's TOTAL cost, you're looking at adjustments for higher usage and longer service lives of the airframes than was orginally programmed. EVERY Navy program is going to show growth in total program cost since 2001 for that reason alone.

As for the capability discussions.... I've got valid reasons for my view. Not the forum.

Spongebob

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I think I made my point. Everyone says Superhornet was on budget because...everyone say it was on budget. But, you can easily cook the books to show it is almost as bad as JSF, if you cherry pick the data. And cooking the books aside, the much celebrated Superhornet was NOT as entirely on budget as "everyone" says.

There is no denying the program has cost problems that are pretty bad. Nunn-McCurdy pretty much covers that. Problem is, and I've seen this on every program since the late 80s when I started paying attention, every development program comes up short in one way or another. And there are always going to be advocates and angry naysayers who absolutely love or hate the program. Remember how terrible A-12 I mean C-17 I mean F-22 I mean B-1B I mean B-2 were? Most older US fighters get a bye because frankly nobody was paying attention until $400 coffee makers and hammers started showing up. With the exception of the A-12, which self aborted, the other systems I listed are considered the cornerstone of our defense. And all were TERRIBLE acquisition programs in one or more ways.

Just some perspective, FWIW.

Spongebob--look me up next time you are in Crystal City. We can chat about models and other things.

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Most older US fighters get a bye because frankly nobody was paying attention until $400 coffee makers and hammers started showing up.

Not really.... I was still a youngster but I remember reading plenty of articles back in the late 70's / early 80's about the outrageous costs of the F-15 and how it would be so much more logical to purchase F-5's and upgrade all those perfectly good Phantoms with better engines and radars. The perfect hi / low fighter mix.

That logic wasn't just specific to the air force. As an ex-army guy I was fascinated by all the "experts" out there who were adamant that the M1 Abrams and M2 Bradleys were overpriced, unreliable deathtraps. All we needed to do was to purchase upgraded M-60's and M-113's. The thought of those relics from the 60's fighting a modern war was disturbing.

Regards,

John

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Gregg, thank you for NavyTimes link.

Should the Navy cut back its commitment to the F-35 Lightning II and spend its money on new F/A-18 Super Hornets? That’s a question addressed head on in a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.

Navy officials have been dodging that question for months, saying only they are “committed†to the Joint Strike Fighter program.

The CBO report laid out several options for closing the Navy’s “fighter gap,†a term for the projected shortfall in carrier-based jets between older Hornets and the JSFs’ arrival. The option of reducing the F-35 commitment was one of four in the report, which drew no firm conclusions about which one was best or most cost effective.

The CBO report is designed to inform lawmakers on Capitol Hill about the details and options for naval aviation. It is not a Navy policy document.

The congressional staffs who authored this report probably had Naval background. But I don't believe that they could create these options by themselves. I wonder how and what input they got from the Navy. Obviously, the Admirals do not want to contradict their boss at the DoD and, thus, dodged answering the question directly.

It sounds logical that if the JSF is delayed and the Navy will buy the planes they wanted on a later schedule, they can re-allocate the unspent money on other planes or on upgrade of the old ones for the near term. It is just a matter of deciding which is the most cost effective option. Of course, it is assuming that Navy do not have to spend all the extra money without getting what they need for the fleet to just keep the JSF program alive.

All these options will cost additional budget "to fill the fighter gap". I am not sure that the CBO report drew no conclusion. It clearly stated that Option 3 offers the most airplane near the lowest cost per plane. Yes, it is for information only with no firm recommendation, but isn't the message clear enough?

Edited by Kei Lau

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:worship: , Hi Kei Lau,

That's one thing that also worries me. After we have invested so much money already in this program that some of the larger partners may axe the program altogether, which would mean the program would be dead and buried or that some of the larger (and smaller) partners may reduce their purchases which may put us in the position of having to reduce our purchase or be left with nothing if the program is axed altogether, and noone seems to be saying that can't possibly happen, or having to pay much more for the number of aircraft we do get. We have been pouring so much money into the program since 1992 or so that I feel concerned that we may be pouring good money after bad if either of these possibilities ever occurs.

We have a final year med student working in our ED who flew Hornets in the RAAF for 10 years after flying Hercs for 18 months, reaching the rank of SqnLdr and flight Commander Fighter Combat Instructor at 2 OCU, so he's no idiot. He reckons the general feeling in the squadrons is that it's too expensive for what we really need. It's also a single engined a/c and the RAAF vowed after our experience with the Sabre and Mirage they would never again buy a single engined fighter, and both he and I acknowledge that although the engine is a fantastic donk, very powerful and relatively economical, but it can still swallow a bird at low level and there goes your A$245 million fighter (more if some partners pull out). Perhaps such a loss may be acceptable and accepted in the US but it would cause an absolute furore here. If I'm wrong on this point I'm always open to correction.

Last year we had an ex Herc driver (20 years experience driving Hercs reaching SqnLdr) in the same position, as a final year med student. He was flying along one day and out of the blue decided "I don't want to do this anymore". His wife was also a pilot after a career as a radio technician and the Project Officer on the RAAF's C-130J program and reached WgCdr so she's no fool either and is now in a civilian public health role and their opinions of the JSF was the same as our current final year med student. In other words, these guys opinions left a great deal to be desired and they are far more experienced than I. I'd trust their opinions far more than those of someone I don't know or have never met even if they work on the project. That's my feeling on the matter. I know it's an opinion that goes against many here but the forum is for the expression of opinions of all colours as long as no offence is done to any other member such as name calling etc. My opinion hasn't changed, and for very good reasons. I still think it's overpriced and not value for our (read also my) money.

:worship:,

Ross.

Edited by ross blackford

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