PARIS --- Are the United States developing a “dumbed-down” version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for export customers, or not?
Brigadier Gen. David Heinz, program executive officer for the F-35, rejected a claim by Boeing executives that Washington was selling a "dumbed down" version of the F-35 to international partners, Reuters reported June 16 from the Paris Air Show.
"I state categorically that I am not doing a different variant of aircraft for my international partners today," Reuters quoted Heinz as saying in an interview. He said foreign countries who bought the F-35 would be subject to a U.S. disclosure process and U.S. export controls, but [that] the aircraft being sold today were the same airplanes that were also being built for the U.S. military services.
"So for Boeing to make statements about a 'dumbed down' variant ... is absolutely incorrect and it is speculative and I believe, a very disappointing marketing ploy to drum up business" [for its F-15 Silent Eagle], Heinz added.
Heinz appears to be suffering a bad case of memory lapse, however, as the Pentagon has in fact awarded Lockheed Martin two separate contracts, worth a total of $737 million, to develop such an export version of JSF or, in Pentagon-speak, to “design, develop, verify and test a version of the JSF air system that is as common as possible to the U.S. air system within the National Disclosure Policy.” This version is designated “International Partner Version.” (see below).
As we noted in a Nov. 26, 2007 story on the subject, “This raises the question of exactly how this degraded “Delta SDD” version will differ from the standard US version, and which capabilities and features will be removed to comply with US national disclosure policy. Given that the JSF’s high-tech features, including stealth, and the capabilities of its electronic systems are the prime reasons which attracted foreign partners in the first place, it remains to be seen whether they will remain as committed to a degraded, less capable yet more expensive aircraft.” This still stands today.
Heinz’s categorical June 16 statement to Reuters can be read to imply either that work on the JSF export version has been dropped as quietly as it was originally launched, or that the JSF program office is trying to keep it secret so as not to scare off potential export customers who might not be interested in a “dumbed-down,” less capable aircraft.
In any case, a clarification is urgently needed.
(Update: Asked to clarify the issue of the Delta SDD, Gen. David Heinz provided the following response on June 30:
“Delta SDD deals with the unique national requirements such as Crypto. Additionally, it does the design and testing necessary to assure critical technologies are protected and therefore exportable.”
The implication is that, although export aircraft will in fact differ from those built for the US armed forces, they will not be “dumbed-down,” but adapted to buyers’ national requirements. (end of update)
These are the two contracts awarded to date for the JSF’s export version:
November 10, 2003
Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $602,594,580 cost-plus-award-fee modification against a previously awarded contract (N00019-02-C-3002) for the procurement of supplies and services to support the performance of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) International Partner Version Delta Systems development and demonstration effort.
Lockheed Martin will design, develop, verify and test a version of the JSF air system that is as common as possible to the U.S. air system within the National Disclosure Policy.
Lockheed Martin will also implement a manned tactical simulation (MTS) capability, hold MTS events for the international partners on the JSF Program and conduct planning for future efforts and upgrades.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (83 percent); El Segundo, Calif. (10 percent); and Orlando, Fla. (7 percent), and is expected to be completed by April 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
The Naval Air Systems Command, Arlington, Va., is the contracting activity.
November 15, 2007
Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $134,188,724 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3002).
This modification is to continue the design, development, verification, and test of Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Partner Version Air System development under the JSF Delta System Development and Demonstration Effort (Delta SDD).
The purpose of the Delta SDD is to develop a version of the JSF Air System that meets U.S. National Disclosure Policy, but remains common to the U.S. Air System, where possible.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (68 percent), Orlando, Fla. (24 percent), and El Segundo, Calif. (8 percent), and is expected to be completed in October 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.