AIR FORCE: Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
Sep 15, 2006

Okay, so you decided to replace the old banger with the latest model. You actually bought into it‘s development back in 1997 and even put some cash down – along with eight of your friends and neighbours. That down payment gave all nine of you certain privileges and responsibilities. For unlike other cars that you just drove off the lot, now you could design and build the vehicle – according to your own needs. Okay, so you won’t take delivery until 2018, and the sticker price (depending on the options selected) is about US$50 million. But hey, there has never been anything like it – this is the vehicle of the 21st century. It makes everything else obsolete.

On June 20, 2006, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme migrated from the development phase to actual aircraft production. The four major subassemblies for the first aircraft were joined at Lockheed Martin, Fort Worth, Texas, and manufacturing of parts for the second aircraft got underway. A total of 15 flight-test aircraft are to be built and the first one is scheduled to lift off by late October/early November 2006. The F-35 program had actually achieved its first major technical milestone when the engineers finalized the external lines of the aircraft – amazingly, the configuration is almost the same as that of the X-35 JSF demonstrators that underwent flight testing back in 2000.

Then on July 7, 2006, with appropriate ceremony, the first F-35 was unveiled and christened “Lightning II,” evoking the legacy of two historic fighter aircraft: the Lockheed P-38 Lightning of World War II, and the English Electric (now BAE) Lightning of the Cold War.

With the technical issues settled, as part of the production-and-sustainment agreements with the JSF partner countries, contracts for subassemblies, totalling nearly US$330 million, were awarded to partners in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

By establishing so-called Level 1 to Level III involvement in the project, (whereby countries’ roles are determined by the funds they have committed) Lockheed Martin was able to offer a greater degree of scope for partnership with nations that wanted to develop both their military and national industrial capa­bilities. Aimed especially at countering the European fighter industry, with its Gripen and Eurofighter programs, Lockheed Martin’s “family approach” hoped that potential customers would leap at the opportunity to participate in the design of the JSF. This was better than the industrial offsets that the Europeans offered.

The JSF had always been envisaged as an international co-development program. The United Kingdom, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Australia and Turkey – all either NATO countries and/or close US allies, currently fly a multitude of aircraft – F-16s, CF-18s, F-111s and Harriers. By taking part in the JSF program, they would all operate the same aircraft – economising on the aircraft’s commonality of design and affordability.

But Lockheed Martin took it a step further. By inviting these eight countries to actively participate in developing the F-35, each customer would be allowed to participate in design, building and testing of the aircraft – no longer would they be buying off-the-shelf, “one size fits all.”

Lockheed Martin Vice-President (JSF) Tom Burbage promised that the “export JSFs” would be designed to national-specific Operational Requirements Documents (ORD) that would be different from the Joint ORD (JORD) signed by the U.S. and UK services. It was unprecedented – an aircraft that had a commonality of design with eight other countries yet was individually tailored to each participant.

  • The partner countries agreed to invest $4.375 billion over 10 years in the Joint Strike Fighter program:The only Level I partner in the program, Britain had pledged $2 billion.
  • As Level II partners, Italy pledged $1 billion and The Netherlands pledged to invest $800 million.
  • The Level III partners included Canada ($150 million), Denmark ($125 million), Norway ($125 million), and Turkey ($175 million).            

Canada has been an active partner in the JSF program since 1997 (second after the UK) when it joined the Concept Demonstra­tion Phase. In 2002, it joined the System Develop­ment and Demonstra­tion Phase, contributing US$10 million to the first phase and an additional US$150 million over the 12 years of the second phase of the project.

Bob Russell, Simulation Mgr on the JSF program and retired U.S. Air Force pilot, shows off the “cockpit demonstrator” during its brief display at the Cdn Aviation Museum. Featuring a triple-screen panoramic real-time display, it has the touch-screen flat-panel glass cockpit, sidestick controller and unique sliding throttle control found in the actual JSF aircraft.

Participation allowed the Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian industry to be part of a cutting edge international military program. With the expected retirement of the CF-18s in the 2020 time frame, involvement in the JSF program helped evaluate future defence require­ments and capabilities, and new methods and procedures to enhance the affordability of next generation weapon systems.

As of May 2005, Canada and the other foreign partners entered into negotiations with the United States Government for the third phase of the program: the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development of the Joint Strike Fighter.

In June 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was negotiated for the period of 2007-2051. It is essentially a “road map” detailing the rules that Canada would follow should Ottawa elect to buy, sustain and further develop the aircraft after acquisition. And of course, membership in a $25 billion program has its privileges. Because of Canada’s participation in this phase of the JSF program, Canadian companies have secured approximately 150 contracts valued in excess of US$ 100 million.

GasTOPS in Ottawa, for example, will be designing and developing an advanced oil debris monitoring sensor for the lift fan of the aircraft propulsion system. The contract calls for 30 sensors, which are used to detect engine damage and wear by detecting metallic particles in the lubrication system. Data from the sensors will be processed to provide maintenance and pilot alerts of damage level and remaining safe operational life. See the text box insert for a list of Canadian companies involved in the JSF project.

There is no doubt that the JSF programme has been a successful venture for Canada and the defence industry is keen to participate in other multinational projects. While the Lightning IIs will be assembled in Fort Worth and Europe but there will be a lot of Canada in them.
Peter Pigott is FrontLine’s aviation correspondent. This article was researched with the help of Krista Hannivan Communications Advisor at DND.
 ©  Frontline Defence 2006