back to article We're cutting F-35 costs, honest, insists jet-builder Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin aims to knock 14 per cent off the cost of Britain's F-35B fighter jets over the next couple of years, the firm's director of business development told The Register. At a press event in London last week, Steve Over told us: "We're currently negotiating [production] lots 12, 13 and 14 to get costs down. Lot 10 [ …

  1. Steve K Silver badge

    Moog Hydraulics - wow!

    Moog hydraulics - I bet they make a lovely swooshing sound when they operate

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Moog Hydraulics - wow!

      I've now got the old Moog songs that Mark Radcliffe used to play on the "graveyard shift"* going through my head

      *When Radio 1 used to be good... **

      **This might be a function of getting old...

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: Moog Hydraulics - wow!

        It would fix the pilot Oxygène deprivation problems they had also.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Moog Hydraulics - wow!

      Surely you're both wrong? Moog is a character from Willo the Wisp.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Moog Hydraulics - wow!

      I never realised that there was another company with the same name as the music company.

      There's a Moog office in Tewkesbury (well, Ashchurch), near what used to be a cluster of aerospace firms, (Dowty, Smiths Industries etc.). Ever since I was a kid I'd assumed they were making synths, but they must have been building aircraft parts.

      Interesting that they're still based there when all the other firms have gone.

    5. JasonLaw

      I hope you're all saying it right....

      Bob Moog (the music Moog) rhymes his surname with Vogue.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sensor fusion?

    You asked a bloody salesman what made his product so expensive, and you TOOK AS AN ANSWER "sensor fusion"? Shame on the Reg, who suddenly appear to be towing the official line in return for access to bigwigs prattling on about what a bloody marvel the F35 is. Remember the days of "biting the hand that feeds it"? Evidently long gone, and now replaced by "Your lap dog in technology".

    I'll tell you what makes the F35 so expensive, and it isn't "sensor fusion", it is a vast excess of complexity, novel and largely unproven approaches to VTOL, to control systems, an utterly unreasonable specification trying to try and cover every fast jet combat role (because multirole aircraft have been soooo successful before). Then factor in having three different airframe variants, bonkers multi-country maintenance and procurement, and the endless spec variations that military equipment buyers are addicted to.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Sensor fusion?

      I thought "Sensor Fusion" was a type of razor from Gillette (which, whilst it might be the best a man can get, still seems overpriced)

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Sensor fusion?

        Well the adverts have fighter jets in...

    2. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Sensor fusion?

      I also asked him how his super-duper jet was going to talk to every other piece of military hardware out there, given that MADL is F-35 only, and his answer was "err, well, we do have Link 16 on board as well".

      Compare the F-35 to Typhoon. If the salesman is being truthful (and we all know how much reliance to place on sales talk) it'll be within the same price bracket as that by 2020. When he says the price is high because they're still not out of LRIP, that makes sense to me: you achieve economies of scale when the production line is running flat out, not at a drip-feed rate while they get round to freezing the HW and SW designs.

      For sure, the glacial pace of the F-35 purchase is an absolute joke and that's the real reason it's costing a kidney, but sometimes it's easiest to simply write down the things people say and bring them to a wider audience to be torn apart - as your comment neatly illustrates. I'd have been really surprised if nobody here picked up on the mumbo-jumbo answer.

      Last but not least, remember who wrote all the previous Reg stories about the bloody stupid F-35 maintenance arrangements with Turkey and Italy. ;-)

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Sensor fusion?

        My understanding is that Sensor Fusion is getting the inputs from the various sensors, so RADAR, IR camera, RADAR Warning Receiver etc. coherent. So that if a RADAR return is in a certain position that aligns with an RWR return you can classify that return as being a certain thing, based on the other information about it. Earlier aircraft have relied on the sensor operator to do this which is a not insignificant workload and basically means you only do it for a contact of interest, the F-35 tries to do it for everything and then presents the pilot with the information in an easy to process way. So in the Helmet Mounted Display the little symbol where the other aircraft is will tell you everything it knows about it.

        I think MADL just extends the concept to take information from multiple aircraft, versus Link which just tells you what the other aircraft has already decided, i.e. there's a contact there that I have decided is hostile.

      2. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Sensor fusion?

        Personally I would have asked "where did the term 'Sensor Fusion' come from then?", and sat back and waited the stammering response, "err, well, you see I used this razor this morning and it had 'Sensor Fusion' on the pack"

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Sensor fusion?

      a vast excess of complexity, novel and largely unproven approaches to VTOL

      Nothing "novel" to it. It is a licensed copy of the old Soviet Union Yakovlev 141 design which USSR and Russia abandoned in favour of short take-off/arrested landing. That design by itself is an improvement on the Yak 38 which has been around since 1971. and has been operated by USSR for 20+ years until it retired its Kiev class. This makes the design nearly 50 years old with decades of use.

      The difference between it and the Harrier is that the Harrier has no dedicated extra lift fans. Harrier is all clever air direction and distribution, no brute force. This, however mandates forward placement of the engine so that its nozzles are around the centre of gravity. That, in turn, makes stealth or hypersonic versions of the Harrier design nearly impossible. While Yak38 is well known to be INFERIOR to the Harrier due to it having to carry the extra lifting fan weight, the design also allows supersonic and stealth - something Yak141 and F35 have demonstrated.

      The moment either supersonic or stealth in combination with VTOL go in the spec you have a choice of the Yak38/Yak141 design or Yak38/Yak141 design. The only way of avoiding it was to go for STVL or CATOBAR.

      So it is not the "multirole" which is the core issue. It is the VTOL from which all the clusterf*ck originates. It is further compounded by UK going for near-CATOBAR size and spec carriers instead of making full leverage of the VTOL the way the Spanish have done for their "multi-role" next gen F35 carrier which they have now sold to 2 (or 3?) countries (they should start assembling them on an assembly line).

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Sensor fusion?

        If I remember correctly, wasn't the Yak38 a complete failure that the pilots were most happy when the planes were grounded (or whatever the most appropriate term would be for planes on a carrier) and unable to perform their duties considering how bad the aircraft was?

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Sensor fusion?

          'If I remember correctly, wasn't the Yak38 a complete failure that the pilots were most happy when the planes were grounded'

          It wasn't the best, the range with anything approaching a payload was poor, becoming non-existent when they deployed them to Afghanistan as a trial. Because obviously if you're fairly rubbish at sea level on a cold day going up a few thousand feet and increasing the temperature is only going to help.

          It did have the nice feature of an automatic ejector seat if the aircraft went outside certain parameters, although slightly worrying they thought it necessary in the first place.

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Sensor fusion?

        'Nothing "novel" to it. It is a licensed copy of the old Soviet Union Yakovlev 141 design which USSR and Russia abandoned in favour of short take-off/arrested landing.'

        Not strictly true, LM licensed the Yak-141 design because at the time of the initial proposals the world's premier authority on VSTOL flight were partnered with McDonnell-Douglas (remember them) to produce a JSF entrant. LM were trying to force BAe to share data from the P1214/P1216 program which also had a single post rear nozzle. Subsequently Mc-D lost the competition and were bought out by Boeing, while BAe partnered with LM taking their intellectual property with them. Note the Yaks didn't have a lift fan, they had whole engines dedicated to the concept which is significantly more dead weight in forward flight.

        As the practicality of the VSTOL approach was proven in the mid-90's, achieving a STO, supersonic flight, and vertical landing at Edwards, I don't think that's been an issue for a while. Getting the Sensor Fusion to work and recovering some weight gain that wasn't properly managed in the early '00s has definitely been an issue though.

        The size of the carriers meanwhile is dictated by the desired sortie rate (I think 72 per day for QE) rather than the type of aircraft you're operating.

    4. thames

      Re: Sensor fusion?

      The F-35 is far from the only fighter to combine sensor data to present the data in an integrated fashion to the pilot. Even the cheapest western fighter on the market, the Saab Gripen, does that in its new version.

      "Sensor Fusion" is just part of LM's branding and marketing, along with "5th Generation" (which the F-35 isn't, if you go by the original Pentagon definition of what a 5th generation fighter would be).

    5. DougS Silver badge
      Trollface

      Its expensive because

      It costs a lot to make a kitchen sink fly!

  3. Roger Greenwood

    You talked to Mr Over

    How on earth did you resist?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You talked to Mr Over

      Did they confirm with an appropriate 3rd party that they were authorised to discuss sensitive matters? "What's out clearance Clarence?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You talked to Mr Over

        Think you missed the joke.

        Hint:

        Dunn was under Ove(u)r and I was under Dunn.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Low, low, low...

    At a press event in London last week, Steve Over told us: "This is not the low point."

    No - the low point was...

    The UK government building carriers that can't support the F-35C, F/A-18, Dassault Rafale or any other carrier based aircraft. Still think we should have kept a few AV-8B harriers.

    1. Stork Bronze badge

      Re: Low, low, low...

      Can't you dust off the drawings and make some new ones?

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Low, low, low...

        Can't you dust off the drawings and make some new ones?

        I don't think so; IIRC we (the UK) sold everything to the US - Lock, Stock and Barrel Drawings.

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Low, low, low...

          'I don't think so; IIRC we (the UK) sold everything to the US - Lock, Stock and Drawings.'

          No, we only sold the airframes, the US already had drawings as they'd been making their own under licence for a number of years. The fact is the factory was shut down after the last few Harriers were delivered in the late '90s, Sea Harriers oddly with the original tin wing. The question is why would you make new ones? They don't have the range/payload/speed of an F-35B, there's no infrastructure left to support them so you'd have to pay for that as well, and they were challenging to fly so actually getting sufficient numbers of pilots was a difficulty. At this point it'd take longer to regenerate a UK Harrier capability than it will to introduce the F-35.

          This isn't to say getting rid of them prematurely in 2010 was the right decision, but it's not 2010.

    2. Stuart

      Re: Low, low, low...

      "Still think we should have kept a few AV-8B harriers."

      UK never had any AV-8B Harriers.

  5. eldakka Silver badge

    > Lockheed Martin aims to knock 14 per cent off the cost of Britain's F-35B fighter jets over the next couple of years,

    And in other news, maintenance contracts and spare parts for the F-35 have increased by 14%.

  6. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    I'm sorely disappointed

    Eighteen comments and not one taking up the purple knobbly knob joke.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: I'm sorely disappointed

      Sorry - I am working on something incorporating the pilot's helmet but it's not quite polished yet

  7. spold Bronze badge

    Reduction

    Each wing will be 7% shorter and the cockpit will be an optional extra.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Reduction

      At some point LM were talking up the late production run F-35s being unmanned so the second half of your statement may well end up being true.

    2. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Reduction

      And it will come with a compulsory monthly subscription fee. Don't pay up and your plane becomes as useless as a working Adobe subscription.

  8. JLV Silver badge

    >lots 12, 13 and 14 to get costs

    Recently there was news about some of the early lots of F35s really weren't mission-ready, because they were in the initial startup lots. You know, as the F35 is really an agile, iteration-driven, fail often, fail fast, prototype-as-we-go, airplane. Just what you want in airplanes.

    So apparently the USAF is sitting on top of a bunch of dud-lot initial models. Being the USAF, that would the F35A, the simpler of the 3.

    One such article: https://sputniknews.com/military/201709261057691172-pentagon-considering-retiring-f35-early/

    Kinda strange, btw, that a "software upgrade" would THE factor that blocks getting up to scratch. If they can't even tweak early-gen software, does that give you any confidence they can tweak early-gen hardware?

    Anyway, should I assume, or is that too much to do, that the UK bought from the flies-for-real batches?

    p.s.

    "Cobham makes the purple knobbly bit, which is the weak link that breaks in emergencies". Did that bit give any other lads a bit of a shudder?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      'Kinda strange, btw, that a "software upgrade" would THE factor that blocks getting up to scratch. If they can't even tweak early-gen software, does that give you any confidence they can tweak early-gen hardware?

      I suspect it's a combination of the early airframes being different to the later build standard* and older IT hardware. Essentially you'd need to have bespoke code** for those airframes depending on which Lot they came from. Not impossible to overcome but if you're buying as many as the USAF plan to it's cheaper to just restrict the role those airframes can carry out e.g. initial pilot training or trials.

      I believe the UK has a few airframes from the earlier non-upgradeable batch, possibly <5, but as all the ones to be built from now on will be upgradeable, at least 90% of the planned buy won't be affected.

      *So when you talk about tweaking early-gen hardware you're suggesting taking the aircraft apart and rebuilding it with a few different parts.

      **Side fact, due to the differences between the UK Apache and the ones everyone else bought the MoD had to pay quite a bit of money to have bespoke software updates, which came out around every 18 months.

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

    Cut costs. Or corners

    How long till they find out they cut a bit much?

  10. JLV Silver badge
    Boffin

    seems like a cool F35 watch site, just found it

    http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=65&sid=6d3e4dae899c203cec066ac81376bced

    The posters seem knowledgeable, but keep in mind that the F16 lead designer or some such came out very publicly decrying the difference in philosophy between what he saw as KISS F16s and overly ambitious F35 program. Basically "this is no way to run an aircraft design and manufacture process".

    So an F16 fan site may be somewhat biased.

  11. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    I can help!

    their unique weak link is designed to shear and cut off fuel flow only "under very specific loads", such as a pilot in an emergency needing to pull away from the tanker ASAP.

    Introducing the Unexpected Fuel Uncoupling Kit. Only $666,000* and a free No Smoking sign with every order. But this makes me wonder if the operation is big or little-endian, ie tanker can abort the F-35, should it so need.

    (*it may look like a tap, but it's an F-35 tap)

  12. Banksy
    Joke

    I'll take three!

    Well, it is only £90m per plane.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Avionics cooling fans

    With all the avionics, they should have just exhausted the avionics cooling fans out the bottom and you'd have enough vertical lift to put the thing into the stratosphere. The only reason that they didn't do this is that those crazy 400Hz cooling fans are as noisy as Krakatoa, and the baddies would hear you coming 1000 miles away.

  14. Tony Horrocks 1

    The air to air refuelling probe. Does look like a cock doesn’t it? Very El Reg.

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Now that we have one NATO member bombing the allies of other NATO members, is it still looking like a good idea to have to send all the F35 engines to Turkey when a full overhaul comes due?

  16. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Queen Elizabeth Class

    I'm just glad someone has finally solved the problem of landing aircraft onto ships. Brown buying two aircraft carriers for £6 billion+ seems visionary now we can put aircraft on them. The Germans and Japanese will think twice before they mess with us again.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Queen Elizabeth Class

      Well the Japanese are looking at putting F-35Bs on their not at all aircraft carrier like Helicopter Destroyers*, so I guess in a decade or so we can relive the Battle for Ceylon.

      *It's a bigger name stretch than calling the Invincible class Through Deck Cruisers.

  17. Sanguma

    Urgent Upgrade

    Like, when are we going to get the F-52s President Chump was boasting of selling to Norway?

  18. x 7

    "Honeywell UK integrates some of the Onboard Oxygen Generation Systems components, though these, company reps told us, are actually manufactured in France"

    So another damned American company takes over a British company (Normalair-Garrett in Yeovil, was part of the Westland Empire: they had a 51% holding, Garrett of the USA had the rest), strip out the technology and move manufacture outside the country.

    This kind of technology export should be banned: its why we lose jobs and lose productivity.

    Westland / Normalair were the world leaders in aircraft air supply. Now the business has been stolen

    1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

      x 7, practically the entire US Aircraft industry exists because of this style of technological development (let someone else bear the costs to invent and develop it, offer to share some whizzo bit of kit you bought/stole/swapped from someone else, then forget to hand over the stuff in return when you get what you want...) - assuming you don't simply relocate the brains behind it to a US location anyway.

      Boing, so quick to accuse other people of getting unfair Government subsidies, seem to forget that they get a lot of Tax Dollars to fund their military conversions of their civil aircraft - and the development thereof - plus free access to anything NASA do... which is also taxpayer-funded.

      Of course, it would have been a LOT harder if our own politicians and the shareholders, accountants and /or management of the British companies hadn't been so keen to put short-term profit ahead of long-term viability...

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