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What Happened to Lockheed Martin?

on Thu, 09/01/2016 - 15:23

Sorry for the break. It has been a busy summer, but you can now expect a return to regular blogging and articles. To get back into the swing of things I just wanted to highlight for you once more why I fear the US military's position as the planet's dominant military power is slipping to something less (a topic I discussed in my last post before my summer vacation). The labor day celebration of this nation's industrial strength is upon us, so in beginning to answer this question let's focus on perhaps our nation's foremost weapons manufacturer: Lockheed Martin.

At one time Lockheed Martin built high-quality weapons systems. For instance, who can forget the iconic C-130 Hercules that first flew in 1954 and is still in service, or, more recently, the F-22 Raptor. But now? 

Let's start with the F-35 JSF, where last week we have this update from Bloomberg news:

A week after the Air Force declared its version of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet ready for limited combat operations, the Pentagon’s top tester warned that the U.S. military’s costliest weapons program is still riddled with deficiencies. "In fact the program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver” the aircraft’s full capabilities, “for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion by the scheduled end” of its development in 2018, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, said in an Aug. 9 memo obtained by Bloomberg News. “Achieving full combat capability with the Joint Strike Fighter is at substantial risk” of not occurring before development is supposed to end and realistic combat testing begins, he said of the F-35...The program “is running out of time and money to complete the planned flight testing and implement the required fixes and modifications” needed to finish the phase successfully, he said. “Flight testing is making progress but has fallen far behind the planned rate.” The most complex software capabilities “are just being added” and new problems requiring fixes and verification testing “continue to be discovered at a substantial rate,” Gilmore wrote to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James; General David Goldfein, the service’s chief of staff; and Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisitions chief...Gilmore cited at least 15 capabilities in the F-35’s most advanced software, known as 3F, that either have unresolved deficiencies or aren’t ready for testing. These include capabilities to process warnings of enemy ground and airborne radar signals that spot the fighter, to track moving targets on the ground, to share imagery between aircraft and to make use of the new Small Diameter Bomb.

This dovetails on a recent report from the U.S. Air Force that as summarized by the military themed blog War on the Rocks finds:

America is on track to lose air supremacy in contingencies involving near-peer air combat. Even as soon as next year, achieving air superiority in a war with China within a politically and operationally effective time frame might be doubtful. In a 2025 war, American aircraft losses are expected to be severe. In a 2030 war, the U.S. Air Force, after assessing currently funded improvement programs, now expects to no longer be able to win the air superiority battle. This downward progression in U.S. airpower has been matched in terminology. After the Cold War, the buzzword was “air dominance.” In the last decade, “air supremacy” became more common and covered situations when the opposing air force was rendered ineffective. Today, the objective is “air superiority,” when the air threat is manageable at certain times and places. In the words the Air Force uses, we can see the service’s way of thinking about projecting airpower has changed from a period when own aircraft losses were unimaginable to one in which losses would hopefully be limited to an acceptable level. And 15 years hence, meeting even this low bar will be doubtful.

This is in part because of the problems with the F-35 which War on the Rocks describes as follows:

The aircraft is small, heavy, and already densely packed with electronics. Thermal management has proven difficult, which makes adding new capabilities without significant changes to internal plumbing problematic. Furthermore, the aircraft’s design means fuel consumption is already high, adversely impacting range. Additional modifications may exacerbate this by adding weight. Some suggest fitting the aircraft with a new engine for range and payload improvements, but given the limited space available, this might require a major redesign. Moreover, meeting the Air Superiority Plan would mean moving the F-35 design away from its primary air-to-ground focus. History suggests turning “bombers” into “fighters” is hard.

But don't take it from defense publications that the F-35 is inadequate and playing a pivotal role in America's slipping military advantages. Let's see what the Air Force's own General Mike Hostage says about the F-35 in this interview with Breaking Defense:

The F-35’s cross section is much smaller than the F-22’s, but that does not mean, Hostage concedes, that the F-35 is necessarily superior to the F-22 when we go to war. In fact, Hostage says that it takes eight F-35s to do what two F-22s can handle. “The F-35 is geared to go out and take down the surface targets,” says Hostage, leaning forward. “The F-35 doesn’t have the altitude, doesn’t have the speed [of the F-22], but it can beat the F-22 in stealth.” But stealth — the ability to elude or greatly complicate an enemy’s ability to find and destroy an aircraft using a combination of design, tactics and technology — is not a magic pill, Hostage reminds us...Bear in mind that the F-35 is the first US aircraft designed to the requirement that it be highly effective at neutralizing S-400 systems and their cousins. “The F-35 was fundamentally designed to go do that sort of thing [take out advanced IADS]. The problem is, with the lack of F-22s, I’m going to have to use F-35s in the air superiority role in the early phases as well, which is another reason why I need all 1,763. I’m going to have some F-35s doing air superiority, some doing those early phases of persistent attack, opening the holes, and again, the F-35 is not compelling unless it’s there in numbers,” the general says. “Because it can’t turn and run away, it’s got to have support from other F-35s. So I’m going to need eight F-35s to go after a target that I might only need two Raptors to go after. But the F-35s can be equally or more effective against that site than the Raptor can because of the synergistic effects of the platform.” The F-35, critics say, can be spotted by low frequency radar (as can almost any aircraft, no matter how stealthy) and isn’t as good at dogfighting as is the F-22. But Hostage says, as do other senior Air Force and Marine officers, that an F-35 pilot who engages in a dogfight has probably made a mistake...

That's great to know. I mean it's absolutely wonderful that Lockheed Martin is building nearly 2,000 glorified Wild Weasal aircraft that can't do much else but take out enemy ground based air defenses but god help them if they run into an actual interceptor or air superiority fighter. Meanwhile, as the F-35 program flounders Lockheed's other big current weapons program remains the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) which starting in 2019 will be redesignated as a fast frigate (FF) offering much needed boosts in protection and hitting power. Careful readers will note there are two types of LCS in production.The other being the trimaran design Independence Class LCS being built by General Dynamics and Austal USA (an Australian shipbuilder's US subsidiary). Six of these ships have been commissioned (three from each manufacturer) and they are among the worst ships in the U.S. Navy in terms of mechanical reliability. Last week the Coronado (an Austal built ship) broke down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and has been forced to turn back to Hawaii (under escort of a Military Sealift Command oiler, mind you).

However, the Austal class failures pale in comparison to what Lockheed has engineered. In the past eight months alone three Independence Class ships have been out of service. In December, the brand-new Milwaukee also broke down at sea and had to be towed to port. Then, in January, the Fort Worth was severely damaged by an in-port accident to its propulsion system. The ship spent the entire year in port and only last week began it's return to San Diego for an overhaul and full repairs.

If this wasn't bad enough we have last weekend's news that Freedom (the first Lockheed manufactured LCS and pictured above) has sustained a damaged main propulsion diesel engine that will either have to be rebuilt or replaced. Whether this turns out to be due to human error or not, there is something fundamentally wrong with a warship that spends the bulk of its time in port or drydock. Which leads me back to my original question: Why is it that this nation's biggest arms manufacturer can't make weapons that work?

Or, more to the point, what role does Lockheed Martin's failures play in the numerous reports circulating about the U.S. military establishment's now contested ability to successfully wage war against near it's biggest peer competitors? But, maybe that's a secondary goal, with the idea of winning wars almost quaint in today's day and age. After all, Lockheed's stock is through the roof. High-ranking generals and admirals as well as congress-critters continue to revolve out the government door and into lucractive jobs with military contracting giants just like Lockheed Martin. It's a win-win for everybody but our nation, and the men and women who will be forced to pay the highest price as unreliable weapons break down or underperform when needed the most.

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