(CORRECTION: The first two paragraphs of this story, stating that the Pentagon first mentioned that it was developing a less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter for its foreign partners on Nov. 15, are wrong and have been corrected.
The first mention of the “Delta SDD” version of the Joint Strike Fighter was actually made four years earlier, on Nov. 10, 2003, when the original, $603 million contract was announced in a similarly low-key format.
The rest of the story stands. Our apologies for the error— Editor.)
By Giovanni de Briganti
PARIS --- As several foreign partners prepare a final decision on whether to commit themselves to procuring the Joint Strike Fighter, or instead buy a competing aircraft, the Pentagon has increased funding for the development of a different, and less capable, aircraft for foreign partners that cannot satisfy US export restrictions.
The prospect of receiving less-capable aircraft may dissuade some JSF partner countries from buying the aircraft, especially since degraded capabilities may no longer justify its high price. The crucial issue in this respect will be the precise technical definition of the “export” JSF, and which features and capabilities it will lose compared to the baseline US version.
On Nov. 15, the Pentagon announced it was awarding Lockheed Martin Aeronautics a $134,188,724 contract modification “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 Nov. 15 release explains that the purpose of this “Delta SDD” contract is to “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.”
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.
When they signed the MoUs to join the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) phase in late 2006 and early 2007, several partner countries were particularly insistent that their signature did not commit them to buy the JSF. This was the case of Australia, Britain, Canada and Norway, which together account for 383 of 722 JSF aircraft earmarked for foreign partners.
The same four countries are also financing 7.5% of the program’s first (and current) System Development and Demonstration Phase, and may balk at the program’s ballooning costs.
In April 2007, the Pentagon revealed that the total cost of the JSF had increased to $299.8 billion for 2,458 aircraft, or $121.97 million per aircraft. This is far in excess of the prices mentioned by Lockheed Martin, the program’s prime contractor, which are generally in the $60-$70 million range.
Lowering the unit cost of JSF for partner nations could be one reason for developing a less-capable Delta SDD version. However, reference to US National Disclosure Policy clearly implies that it has proved impossible to deliver on the Pentagon’s promise that countries participating in the JSF program would obtain full access to all the technology of the US version, including the avionics source codes that sparked a major row with the United Kingdom in 2005-2006.
The problem is that sharing technological data with JSF partner nations is severely constrained by the strict export controls contained in the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) legislation.
This led to a major row between the US and UK governments in early 2006, and other JSF partners, including Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark have also raised the problem with the Pentagon. US Senator Joseph Lieberman said, during March 14, 2006 hearings on JSF by the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, that “very interestingly, [from] the representatives of the U.K., Italy and Australia, I hear a strong, unified voice of concern, complaint, even grievance, about the question of technology transfer.”
The British government tried in vain to obtain a waiver from the ITAR to ensure access to the software codes and other data that they will need to maintain and upgrade their JSFs, but this option was dropped because of “insurmountable” opposition in Congress.
The issue appears to have been solved with Britain, the only JSF Tier I partner, by a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding, signed at the end of 2006 for the JSF’s second phase. This document, which has not been made public, includes a highly classified supplement that details assurances given by the US to the British government, and which deals with the issues of operational sovereignty, incoming UK Defence Procurement Minister Baroness Taylor of Bolton told the Commons Defence Committee during Nov. 21 hearings.
No similar arrangements have been concluded with any of the other JSF partners, although several, including Australia and Norway, have publicly stated that they would demand unfettered access to all of the system’s technology as a condition of their purchase of the JSF.