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As F-35 costs soar, Boeing enters the fray

March 14, 2013 at 3:29 PM   |   Comments

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OTTAWA, March 14 (UPI) -- As international concerns grow over the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 costs, Boeing is offering Canada a rival warplane that the company says can beat Lockheed Martin on price, performance and operational expense.

"In a dogfight of defense contractors, the hunter can quickly become the hunted. It's happening now to the F-35," CBC News said.

Canada has been at the forefront of controversy over JSF costs, which have been contested by other prospective buyers elsewhere.

Boeing senior executives told CBC the defense manufacturer's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was "a proven fighter" in contrast to F-35's "paper airplane" and could be available to Canada at half the price tag.

Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin claim superiority of their aircraft in different features but independent analysts see JSF having an edge over Super Hornet in stealth capability. However, Boeing's offer of a cheaper aircraft is aimed at budget conscious procurement agencies in Canada and elsewhere.

Boeing also claims the Super Hornet has "effective stealth."

The Super Hornet sells for about $55 million, half the anticipated cost of an F-35. Industry data indicate as much as 80 percent of the F-35 cost is operations-related, from training and paying for the pilots to maintenance and spares.

Shifting cost estimates for the JSF has helped critics of the Lockheed Martin contender not only in Canada but also in other markets, including Japan which in 2011 chose the F-35 over Boeing's Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon.

Italy and other prospective buyers have also protested JSF costs, cut their orders or announced reviews.

"We know that the Super Hornet has effective stealth and that's really the key," Boeing's vice president in charge of the Super Hornet program told CBC. "We believe we have a more affordable stealth than many other platforms that are being designed specifically and touted as stealthy platforms."

The F-35 was spotlighted in technical troubles in addition to debates over its costs. In February the U.S. Department of Defense suspended flights of all 51 F-35 planes after a routine inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in the jet engine of an F-35 test aircraft.

It was the second grounding of the aircraft, central to the Pentagon's $396 billion JSF program.

The program has faced frequent restructuring and is reported at risk of further cutbacks.

The Ottawa Citizen cited critical comment on the F-35 program by Time magazine and Postmedia News in stories carried by Canada.com.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, current head of the JSF program, this week announced plans for restructuring to pare down expenditure.

The F-35 program is about seven years behind schedule and estimated to be at least 70 percent more expensive than originally envisaged.

Bogdan said cost cuts were needed to make the JSF more affordable to buyers worldwide and forestall further reductions in orders.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government this week gave a $56,217.50 contract to Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Consulting Inc. to conduct an independent review of costs related to plans to buy a new generation of fighter jets.

Canada plans to purchase 65 F-35s that the government estimates will cost $9 billion to buy and almost $37 billion to operate over the next 42 years. Boeing says it can deliver the same number of Super Hornets at half that cost, including maintenance.

Boeing has also dangled benefits, similar to those offered by Lockheed Martin, for Canadian industries that will be invited to take part in the building and supply of the winning fighter jet and related activities.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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