Nice article in the Herald sun recently on this a/c.
58 million bucks a piece??? thats gotta be a misprint, its a steal.
Unless the yanks have a catch up there sleeve that we dont know about.
June 13, 2008 12:00am
Deep in the heart of Texas, a $59 million jet fighter is being built that soon could be patrolling Australian skies.
THE private dining room on the 35th floor of the Petroleum Club in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, screams prosperity.
From its timber-panelled walls and impressive artworks to the waiters in crisp white jackets and bow ties, this is clearly a place where deals are done.
In days gone by it was oil and cattle, but today the focus is another of Fort Worth's famous exports -- military aircraft.
The accents might be Texan and the location post-modern wild west -- the locals boast that nearby Dallas is where the east ends and Fort Worth is where the west begins -- but the subject matter is stealth jet fighters.
And this means big money, even by Texas standards: they are $58.7 million apiece.
Lockheed Martin executives had spent a long day singing the praises of their F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter to a group of Australian journalists.
The legendary Texan hospitality and public relations patter was broken only by a tour of the impressive JSF production line and a long debate about how much the so-called fifth-generation fighter planes would cost Australian taxpayers.
Lockheed, which has 140,000 staff and annual sales of $40 billion, is reluctant to commit to a firm price for its wares.
So it was with some relief that by day's end the company had, for the first time, revealed a realistic figure on the fly-away price for Australia's new frontline air combat aircraft.
That $58.7 million will be for each of the first 368 foreign-bound fighters to roll off the line.
It was the price the Pentagon, which sells military gear to foreign countries, quoted to Norway as
it decides between the JSF and other options, including the European-built Eurofighter and SAAB Gripen.
According to those who know, it is a very competitive price.
Even allowing for inflation, the price, to be offered to the eight JSF consortium members (Australia, Britain, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada and Denmark) early next year, is up to $10 million a plane below what Australia had expected to pay.
Given the RAAF is due to sign up for 100 planes next year, that is a potential saving of $1 billion.
"That pays for an awful lot of flying hours and support systems," an Australian official said.
It also puts a cap on the project's cost, allows Australia to buy with an unprecedented degree of certainty -- and it virtually eliminates the incentive for the Government to delay its order.
George Standridge, the vice-president at Lockheed in charge of the JSF, said: "This is going to be the most affordable fighter out there for the future because we have such a large production base."
Lockheed's Fort Worth plant employs about 14,500 and has a long history of aircraft production under various owners.
This stretches back to the B-24 bombers that saw service during World War II, and the legendary F-111 still flying with the RAAF.
The production line is 1.3km long and after producing thousands of F-16 fighters for the global market, and hundreds of F-22 Raptors exclusively for the US Air Force, it is geared up to build 3173 JSF fighters, including 2500 for America.
The line uses cutting-edge technology, from the gigantic autoclaves that bake radar-absorbing composites on to metal components, to the precision tools that hone parts to tolerances measured in micro-millimetres.
In sealed rooms, production workers apply sheets of composite material to the curved surfaces of an F-22, setting them in place with a hair dryer.
This is labour-intensive stuff -- more than 100 people work in the composites shop alone.
Laser ultrasound machines survey each part of the plane, looking for flaws in the composite surface and creating a digital record for customers.
More than 14,200 holes were drilled in the first JSF and just 50 were found to be slightly imperfect.
Farther down the line, a finishing shop has been built where robots will apply special paint to the planes.
"It doesn't matter what colour you paint these airplanes because you can't see them anyway," Mr Standridge said.
Ultimately, 105 fighters will be in production at any one time with one a day rolling off the end of the Fort Worth line.
Lockheed said the JSF hits its straps with its ability to operate invisibly, or to appear the size of a fist on radar outside of visual range, where its pilot can choose which targets to pursue and when to engage them.
As the JSF production line cranks up, more than 20 firms across Australia are watching the project with bulging eyes and expectant order books.
Already about $150 million worth of work has come their way under production partnership deals and up to $10 billion more could follow to support the overall project worldwide.
The project has been plagued by predictable development problems, but it received a major boost with this week's successful first flight of the "short take-off, vertical landing" version.
If the Government signs up for the JSF, the RAAF will take delivery of four aircraft in 2014 for pilot training in the US, a further eight the same year, and 15 a year between 2015 and 2020.
Ian McPhedran travelled to the US courtesy of Lockheed Martin