There is a stark lesson in the escalating cost nightmare of the F-35 fighter jets that holds more ominous implications for Washington than even for Canada’s Harper government.
Quite simply, it is that allied Western nations are finding the once-vaunted high-tech American weaponry no longer politically affordable. Not in large numbers.
Canada’s grief over its share of the F-35 price tag — now estimated to be almost $46 billion over 42 years — has been shared by a half-dozen countries, including Britain, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, which have been forced to either cut back on their orders or contemplate outright cancellation.
This political fallout is upending the whole global arms bazaar. Around the world, America’s big-ticket defence items are being increasingly challenged by cheaper products from Europe and now Asia as well.
More developing countries are shunning extravagant U.S. weaponry for the cheaper but quite-good-enough products of Russia, China, India, and South Korea.
India itself recently rejected a large F-35 purchase in favour of buying more Russian and, possibly, French fighters for its fleet.
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t is a problem that goes well beyond the F-35s.
American insistence on super-smart combat designs has pushed the price tag of one destroyer to $1.2 billion and a new submarine to twice that. Even Congress has started to gag at such numbers.
Ironically, it was Washington’s concern over rising foreign competition that led to the F-35 woes.
The Pentagon recklessly raced the Lockheed Martin F-35 into early production in 2007, even before it was flight tested, in an attempt to corner the market for the company’s new stealth technology.
As aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia told the New York Times, “there was this big desire to kill the competition.”
Bypassing flight tests before production was extraordinarily risky and some officials inside the Pentagon warned it would end badly. But apparently higher-ups insisted that any kinks would be worked out in computer simulation.
The F-35 was originally to have been a relatively affordable mix of three different plane types. But it turned out to be a far more complex hybrid than imagined.
Start-up costs have already consumed $65 billion, and the whole mess was denounced as “acquisition malpractice” by the Pentagon’s new procurement chief, Frank Kendall, earlier this year.
The F-35s are now the most expensive weapons program in history, so over the top, in fact, that the Pentagon’s original hope to produce some 2,400 of these fighters, spread across nine nations, is fading fast.
The estimated unit price per plane has doubled from $69 million to $167 million today and some industry experts warn that only half that projected production run may be achievable. . . . (Read more)