Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sorry for the long silence...

...but I've been a bit busy, and wrestling with the 'flu (not Swine 'flu, probably, but bad enough), and trying to balance work and study - more of which in future posts.

I was interested in Prometheus's response to my last post (OMG - that was way back in Feb - ouch!). There's still plenty for the JSF to prove and much of the burden of achievement lies ahead of the project, but as I've noted before the JSF project is like no other fighter project I've ever seen.

Prometheus wrote: "The stealthpart of the Raptor are still handmade in a special of LockMart. So we will see how the JSFs NextGen will be made." When I visited Lockheed Martin's Ft Worth factory in 2008 the group I was part of was shown the surface coating bays where the low-visibility coatings (invisible paint?) will be applied by hand and machine in what, for this type of technology, amounts to a mass production technique.

The game-breaking intent for the JSF program is to make a 5th generation stealth fighter as affordable to buy and operate as a 4th generation fighter. That puts the focus on production engineering as much as on designing and developing the warfighting capabilities of the aircraft. Developing and proving the manufacturing and assembly techniques, getting the supply chain to work to this new paradigm - that's hard work, but it's what's needed to challenge the traditional cost base for combat aircraft. And you couldn't even contemplate such a radical approach without a massive production program and the buy-in of the USAF, USN and US Marines. The Europeans between them don't buy enough of the jets they build to be able to capture these production economies, and the glacial progress of the Eurofighter program has pushed its costs to ridiculous levels.

The challenge for the Europeans is, somehow, to make their collaborative programs more efficient - that means getting several European governments to agree to bite the same bullet that the US government did when it embarked on the JSF program.

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