It seems like the F-35 has been under fire for being too expensive since it was in the planning stages. Recently President Trump specifically targeted the program for a cost reduction, and Lockheed, the jet’s manufacturer credited his personal involvement with accelerating negotiations that led to a 7.3% reduction in cost for the next batch of planes.
Trump: We Cut Approximately $600 Million From F-35
Can the F-35 Be Cheaper than Advertised?
On February 22nd USNI News (produced by the U.S. Naval Institute) published an article on ways the Navy will be able to leverage systems like the F-35 to use dumb bombs where before they needed much costlier “smart” bombs to do the job. The F-35 could act as an “over the horizon” guidance system for missiles without their own expensive guidance systems on board. Every missile fired using the integration would essentially drive down the cost of the F-35 program. USNI writes:
Though there are many challenges associated with integrated new systems into NIFC-CA, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate (OPNAV N9I) Cmdr. David Snee said that if the ability to see over the horizon and share information quickly and accurately were to be achieved, “then I have a world where I could have a very sophisticated high-tech weapon, or not.”
“Right now we’re in a world where if I can’t see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself,” said Snee, who also serves as the deputy for the Chief of Naval Operations’ Task Force Netted Navy.
“But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don’t need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn’t need to have all that information; I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time.”
The Navy has long acknowledged it is on the wrong side of the cost curve for many engagements, where a relatively inexpensive target from an adversary would force the Navy to respond with a very expensive smart weapon. Under the scenario Snee described, the weapon would need a guidance system and the ability to receive targeting data from a ship or aircraft, but not the sensors to seek out a target on its own.
Obviously, every time a missile carrying very expensive guidance systems detonates, those guidance systems are gone forever. But by having the F-35 supply the guidance system, it can be used over and over again.
F-35 Integration Already Underway
In September the Navy tested the F-35B variant with its Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test proved the compatibility between the F-35 and the Navy’s state of the art Aegis Combat System. The Navy wrote of the tests:
During the test, an unmodified U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1, based in Edwards Air Force Base, acted as an elevated sensor to detect an over-the-horizon threat. The aircraft then sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target.
While the goal of this test was to prove the compatibility of these systems within existing NIFC-CA architecture, this future capability will extend the Navy’s engagement range to detect, analyze and intercept targets in operational settings. Using any variant of the F-35 as a broad area sensor, the aircraft can significantly increase the Aegis capability to detect, track and engage.
“This test was a great opportunity to assess the Navy’s ability to take unrelated technologies and successfully close the fire control loop as well as merge anti-surface and anti-air weapons into a single kill web that shares common sensors, links and weapons,” said Anant Patel, major program manager for future combat systems in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS).
The test was a collaborative effort across the Navy and Marine Corps, White Sands Missile Range and industry partners leveraging a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System to support the distributed lethality concept in the fleet.
“This test represents the start of our exploration into the interoperability of the F-35B with other naval assets,” said Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, VMX-1 F-35B det. officer in charge. “We believe the F-35B will drastically increase the situational awareness and lethality of the naval forces with which it will deploy in the very near future,” he added.
Read more about this test here.