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:: August 2001 Newsletter ::

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Dear Fellow Aircraft Observers,

The big news of the month is the Defense Acquisition Board’s decision to approve LRIP of the first ten F-22s. This important step effectively guarantees the aircraft’s future, transitioning it from a research program (easy kill) to a procurement program (difficult target). This means no more Jerry Lewis (D, or perhaps R—Wherever) pot shots.

I feel good about this outcome. The F-22 was nearly a fashion victim. Its design started in the mid 1980s, a time when the Commies were about to do an end run on Paris, when the phrase Cost as an Independent Variable was a frightening story DoD program managers told their children to scare them at night. The resulting plane really is the best fighter ever. To start its development in today’s environment would be foolish. But spending $25 billion on its development and not deploying it would be even more foolish.

Now for some criticism. How to put it gently? The F-22 program will be studied for years as a monumental example of dysfunction and stupidity. That should do it. And it’s true. Far as I can figure out, the F-22 spent the past few years locked in a pathetic death cycle. DoD and Congress refused to give the program any real security, because they wanted to pressure the contractors to keep the costs down. The contractors couldn’t spend any money to control costs, because there was no real program security. And so costs rose, security fell, and it went on and on, until now.

The DAB compromise is a brilliant bit of aesthetically pleasing nonsense. The current cost cap ($38 billion, or $45 billion—depends on who you ask) will be maintained, but with procurement of only 295 aircraft, instead of 339. Anyone who can’t see through this should find a different business, perhaps children’s confectionery. After all, (a) uh, that’s not keeping the cost cap, in the real and legal sense, and (b) when has a fighter program ever had the final procurement number accurately predetermined at the start of the program?

What’s the fallout of the DAB decision? Well, in today’s budget environment, the F-22’s good fortunes basically hurt everyone else. Unless the Air Force and Navy compromise on F-22 and F/A-18E/F procurement numbers, JSF will keep getting pushed out, and possibly killed. That’s bad. The train wreck of FY 2008 looms ahead, more than ever. I guess you could say the F-22 LRIP decision is both the light at the end of the tunnel and an oncoming train.

Of course, the one way we can make the US defense system feel better about itself is to look across the Atlantic. The French have just released their FY 2003-2008 defense budget. They plan for blocks of years, just like QDR. And their primary fighter, like ours, is trying to shake its image of being an unaffordable political football. The budget calls for 76 Rafales (57 air force and 19 naval versions), which is just over one per month. And the air force Rafale version has slipped yet again, with IOC now scheduled for 2006. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented show of support for the A400M airlifter, the ’03-08 French budget calls for…three aircraft. I think that’s called damning a program with faint praise, although they claim that 50 are still needed.

Clearly, governments over there also do a pretty ineffectual job of guaranteeing programs. But historically, that’s what European exports are for. And the Australians have come through, securing the Eurocopter Tiger’s future with an order for 22. This small number helps the program far more than any of the jargon-filled Franco-German Tiger announcements that were endemic to air shows in the past decade.

Anyhow, it’s time for a binder supplement. There’s a new Jetliner Overview, with a few new graphs. There is indeed a downturn coming, although it should be far milder than the mid-‘90s. Other updates include the F-117, BAE RJ/RJX, Challenger/Global Express, and a new military aircraft inventory appendix. Next month, we’ll update the Rafale, Tiger, AH-1, 767, C-17, and the Military Transports overview. Call with requests, and enjoy the last days of summer.

Yours, ‘Til I Break Down And Get A Cell Phone (oh yeah…I did),

Richard Aboulafia
 

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